Newaygo’s Berger named to Muskegon Area Sports Hall
N3 Editor Mercer captured the spirit of the Joe Berger Football Camp in her recent story on the event. The Camp has become a magnet for kids who have flocked to the Newaygo football field in hopes of honing their skills for their future feats on the gridiron.
This past Spring Joe Berger was inducted into the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame, a fitting honor for the former Newaygo Lion who spent 13 seasons facing down the best defensive linemen in the world, primarily as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
Beyond his football skills Joe is first and foremost a family man. He is also an engineer having earned a degree from Michigan Tech while playing football for the Huskies and now finds himself using the skills taught in what might be called a ‘second career’.
We caught up with him recently and posed a few questions about the HOF honor.
The last Newaygo inductees into the HOF were the Lion Girls basketball teams from the mid 80’s who entered in 2010. How does it feel to be chosen?
It is an Honor to be chosen. It was great to take time to reflect back on my career and all the memories and people that helped me along the way. My Aunt was part of that basketball team, so I'm not even the first Berger in the HOF.
Was football the first love when it came to sports?
Yes, as soon as I was old enough, I begged my mom to get me to camp. I believe there is no sport like it, and feel privileged that I got to play the game until I was 36.
When did you know you could compete on the highest level in the sport? How did you know?
It really wasn’t until I was into my NFL career a few years. I had a successful college career, but that didn't guarantee anything for the NFL. I feel like every year but maybe one of my NFL seasons I was fighting for a roster spot in training camp. I'm not sure I ever "knew" that I could compete, I had to prove it to myself and my team every time I put my cleats on.
You mentioned in your speech the support from your wife Abby during your years in the NFL. Can you reprise some of that for our readers?
Emotionally, physically, and mentally the NFL takes a toll on your body. The physical is obvious, I think. To have someone at home that you knew was taking care of the kids and handling the day-to-day tasks of raising a family and running a home was a relief. Mentally and emotionally is harder to quantify. The expectations and stress that a season puts on you are hard to describe. Having Abby as a partner in all of this, someone to talk with and confide in, helped get through all kinds of tough moments in both football and life. Having that same person to celebrate victories with makes them all that much sweeter.
Your family has lived in a number of larger cities before returning to Newaygo where you and Abby are both from. What city felt the most like home and was it an adjustment to return to the pace of a smaller town?
The small town was always home to us. I don't feel like I ever really fully left it. We enjoyed each city. Charlotte is a beautiful city and though short, was a great transition to the city culture. Miami was a bit of a shock my first time there, but we really enjoyed my second stay in South Florida. We found some friends and a great church, and it really became home to us. I'm not sure I'd choose to live there, but it is still my favorite place to vacation. Being a part of football in Texas was fun. The people there love football and love Texas. The food in Dallas was exceptional. After six years of being down south, coming north to Minnesota really did feel like home. Our daughters were born there, and kids went to school there, we made lifetime friendships in Minneapolis. Though I enjoyed each stop, MN definitely feels like a second home, and I love getting to go through there anytime I can. We have seven years of memories and built our family in the twin cities area. We were ready to get back home to Michigan and settle in. Having the chance to travel the country I'm confident that there is no better place than West Michigan to settle down. The seasons, the lakes, and the people in this region are unlike any place I have been. I am so thankful that I was able to grow up in Newaygo and am happy that I can offer that to my kids as well.
You were involved in highly competitive activities since you strapped on a helmet. What do you do these days to scratch that itch?
There is nothing that can compare to the rush of running out onto an NFL field on game day, but since my retirement from football I have transitioned to my other love, manufacturing and automation. I had the opportunity to work at a controls company 11 months out of football. The job allowed me to get back into the engineering world and learn about business and management on the job. Then, a little over two years ago an opportunity close to home came available that I couldn't turn down. I currently work for Modern Produce Equipment right here in Fremont. We sell vegetable handling equipment to farms and packhouses all over the country. I have enjoyed working with the equipment as well as having the ability to travel and work with farms. We sell equipment that is made in England, making that international connection has been a joy as well. I have gained a lot of respect for farmers all over. It's a tough job and at times it doesn't seem like anything is on their side. If I've learned anything, it's that next time you enjoy a meal remember to thank a farmer. The food didn't get there without a lot of stress, sweat, and some sleepless nights.
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