|Though there was a time that Bob Berry excelled both on the ice and on the gridiron, he can't envision a day when someone could combine a career in the NHL and NFL.
Hockey Hall of Fame member Red Storey played in the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts from 1936 until 1941, then officiated in the NHL in the 1950s. Lionel Conacher played for the Argonauts in 1921 and started his NHL career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1925. He's a member of the CFL Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Butch Songin was a star quarterback and an All-American hockey player at Boston College in the late 1940s. He played for the CFL's Hamilton Tiger Cats in 1953 and 1954, and during the 1954-55 season he played one game with the Worcester Warriors of the newly formed Eastern Hockey League.
Gerry James actually played both football and hockey in the same calendar year -- he was a running back with the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers throughout the 1950s and played 149 NHL games with the Toronto Maple Leafs between 1955 and 1960. James, a member of the CFL Hall of Fame, joined the Leafs following the CFL season, which generally ended in November. James helped lead the Bombers to four Grey Cup championships and played in the 1959 Grey Cup and the 1960 Stanley Cup Final. His Winnipeg team won the Cup, but the Leafs lost to Montreal.
The last player who thought about combining a pro football and an NHL career was Bob Berry. Back in 1964, Berry was a member of the United Football League's Quebec Rifles, a minor-league team based in Montreal. Berry was also on the Montreal Canadiens' players list, but decided to go to college instead of turning pro after his junior eligibility expired. Berry played football with the Rifles and attended George Williams College, where he played hockey.
"I like to say I was," Berry, now a pro scout for the Los Angeles Kings, said of being a hockey-football player. "They tried to put an American League Football franchise into Montreal to go against the Alouettes. It didn't really last. They brought back Sam Etcheverry and some of the players that were great CFL players, but it didn't last."
Berry got into football for a simple reason: He liked playing sports.
"In those days, the seasons dictated what we did as kids," he said. "You played baseball in the summer, you played football in the fall and you played hockey in the winter. Now they overlap so much, (so) it doesn't make a lot of sense. But that is what we did."
Berry was fearless on the football field -- or so he claims.
"I was a flanker, a split end … I don't know what you call them right now, but I could catch a ball in a crowd," he laughed. But as far as going over the middle to catch a ball, he said he did it "only when necessary."
Berry recalls just one instance where he played both pro football and college hockey in the same day.
"One time I did play a hockey game in the afternoon and the other one at night. We were stupid then," he laughed.
Berry, who played in 541 games with Montreal and the Kings from 1968-77, scoring 159 goals and adding 191 assists, said he isn't sure if he were playing today what would be tougher: going over the middle to catch a pass or going into a corner to dig out a puck.
"I would still not want to have to go in a corner with some of those kids now with the size they are," he said. "The rules are a little bit different now, but there were a lot of tough people in our business. Certainly, Wayne Cashman was one of the most respected."
Berry was a rookie when Gordie Howe was in this 40s playing with Detroit in the late 1960s.
|Berry now serves as a pro scout with the Los Angeles Kings.
"He is still one of my most favorite people, and you looked out when he was around," said Berry, who made it clear that meeting Gordie Howe in a corner or along the boards was not one of his ambitions in life.
Could there be a day when someone can combine an NHL and NFL career? Berry said he cannot see that happening.
"At the amateur level, your time could be divided for a month or so," he said.
It would be virtually impossible for any athlete to try both the NHL and NFL. NFL training camps start in July, the season ends for non-playoff teams at the beginning of January and for Super Bowl teams in February, which means a potential football-hockey player would lose half of the hockey season. NHL training camp and the first half of the season takes up the entire NFL calendar. It is possible that a player could play in the CFL and NHL because the CFL season ends in November, but how many NHL teams would allow a player to spend four to six weeks playing pro football and join the team 20 games into the season?
The days of Gerry James-type athletes playing in both the CFL and NHL are probably over.
Berry made the right in sticking with hockey -- although he can make a claim to being a two-sport professional athlete, just not in the same year.
"I played junior hockey in Verdun, I played two years in the American Hockey League (with the Cleveland Barons) before I went and played for the L.A. Kings for seven years. I am very proud of my playing days," he said.
After he hung up his skates, Berry coached the Kings, Montreal, Pittsburgh and St. Louis and was an associate coach in San Jose. He has been involved with the NHL for four decades.