* Connie Mack Berry 2000
Connie Mack Berry was an athlete for the particular age in which he lived, the day of the multi-lettered collegian, the professional who played baseball in the summer, football in the fall. Even then, though, Berry was not through. He moved from football into the National Basketball League in the winter, the forerunner of what we know now as the NBA. Travel was by bus, pay was a pittance compared to the exalted salaries of today and play was in anything with a roof over it.
Connie Mack Berry was a virtual one-man athletic program at North Carolina State, end on the football team, center on the basketball team, pitcher on the baseball team, and a member of the track team. He was the heart of basketball at NC State, 6-feet-3, but looked taller, and long of limb..
He led the Southern Conference in basketball scoring in 1936 and 1937, and won all-conference honors in 1936, 1937, and 1938. The same years he played football for coaches Hunk Anderson and Doc Newton.
After college, he moved into the National Football League, first at Detroit, then to Cleveland and finally put in five seasons as an end with the Chicago Bears, when they were known as “Monsters of the Midway. The Bears won two NFL championships in 1943, 1946 and were runners-up in 1942. On the basketball side, two of his Oshkosh All-Stars teams won pro basketball championships. As if that wasn’t enough, in the summer Berry switched to baseball, pitching and playing first base in the Chicago Cubs farm system.
The Berry family, wife Virginia, two sons and a daughter, lived an itinerant life.
“We pinched pennies. Money was a touchy subject,” Virginia, now Mrs. Virginia Tibbetts, said. “We were coming out of the great depression, and so was everybody else. It was a different world. The guys played football because they loved sports. Money was never the reason.”
Berry grew up in South Carolina, playing baseball for textile mill teams in the summer, and later, semi-pro basketball. His active career came to an end in the late ‘40’s when a herniated disc required difficult surgery. He turned to salesmanship, working for the Riddell helmet manufacturers, later for the North Carolina State Highway Department, settling in Fayetteville.
There he died in 1980, at the age of 65, after suffering several strokes. His body had been severely punished by years of pursuing the games he loved. Though he came out of South Carolina, and there first developed his skills, he became a Tar Heel, the land of the long leaf pine, by choice.
by Furman Bisher