Joe Berger’s Improbable Career Comes to an End

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Oct 31, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Joe Berger (61) takes the field before a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 31, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Joe Berger (61) takes the field before a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

To call Berger’s career arc unlikely would be an enormous understatement. There were many reasons why Berger should not have had the lengthy career he did. Not the least of all is his alma mater; only a handful of NFL players have ever come from Division II Michigan Tech. Before Berger, the last to play multiple NFL seasons was Bob Lurtsema, who played until 1977.

The even crazier part of it was the football was not in Berger’s plans when he enrolled there. As told by Chris Tomasson in the Pioneer Press in 2014, Berger was seeking an engineering degree. He had played linebacker in high school and had some size at 6-foot-5 and a shade over 200 pounds, but walking on was an afterthought. Berger’s father suggested he talk to the coach, who gave him a shot on the offensive line. Over time, his scrawny frame ballooned to nearly 300 pounds.

But then things got even crazier. Michigan Tech decided to cancel the football program in 2003 after Berger’s redshirt sophomore season. Still an engineering student primarily, Berger chose to stay and forgo two more years of football. That is, until the school reconsidered and kept the team intact.

Against all odds, Berger caught the eyes of NFL scouts and was drafted in the sixth round in 2005 by Carolina. He failed to make the Panthers’ roster but spent the season with Miami, playing in three games. After bouncing between Miami and Dallas over the next few years, Berger finally found a more permanent gig as the Dolphins starting center in 2009. He held that spot for much of the next two seasons before winding up in Minnesota in 2011.

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Initially a special teamer and reserve lineman, Berger got his chance to start in mid-2014 following an injury to Brandon Fusco. Berger would start all but two games for the Vikings at guard and center from then on. In fact, Rick Spielman thought so much of Berger that he was the lone holdover from the 2016 starting line when he did his 2017 overhaul.

Berger will not end up in the Hall of Fame. He will never be remembered as an all-timer. He was never an All-Pro or even a Pro Bowler. But Berger’s career is significant as a testament to the little guy. He is living proof that small school linemen can do more than get a scout to watch them, can do more than simply make a roster, can do more than just hang around. They can have productive, decade-long careers.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Berger got that mechanical engineering degree, graduating magna cum laude in 2005. So he can do that, too.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Full Press Coverage NFC North. Like and

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