Football: The last remaining member of the Irish Law Firm, Chris Bergin leads linebacking corps


Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

Chris Bergin celebrates after a play. The graduate student is the only starting linebacker from 2020 returning this season.

Lawrence Price, Reporter


While analyzing the dominant defense Northwestern flexed last year, the core of the unit could be found in the middle at linebacker.

Blake Gallagher, Paddy Fisher and Chris Bergin, the trio known as the Irish Law Firm, anchored a Wildcats defense that allowed just 15.89 points per game. Each player finished in the conference’s top ten tacklers in 2020 and Fisher finished the season as the NCAA’s active career leader in tackles (404) and forced fumbles (11).

But after two years of booming business, the firm’s partners decreased from three to one, as Gallagher and Fisher moved on to the National Football League as undrafted free agents, leaving Bergin ready to lead a revamped room.

“It has not happened because he went to bed and woke up, it is all because of what he does from a work ethic standpoint, an attitude standpoint, and then when he gets on the field he just plays relentlessly,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

The graduate’s journey in Evanston began during the 2017 season as a preferred walk-on. He proceeded to win NU Special Teams or Defensive Practice Player of the Week five times by the coaching staff as a freshman and worked his way into the starting lineup two years later.

After becoming a starter, Bergin racked up 86 tackles over 12 games in 2019 and 78 in nine contests a year later. While opponents may recognize Bergin, he is leading a new linebacker group that looks to continue a streak of being one of the Big Ten’s best year in and year out.

Senior Peter McIntyre, junior Khalid Jones and sophomore Bryce Gallagher — Blake’s younger brother — will work to replace Fisher and Gallagher’s 2020 production, which included 173 combined tackles and 14 tackles-for-loss. Junior Jaylen Rivers and sophomore Xander Mueller may see the field as well.

McIntyre, who Fitzgerald said would have possibly transferred if at a different school, joins Bergin as one of the room’s veterans. Entering his fifth year with the Cats, McIntyre earned his first starting gig at Will linebacker after playing behind the Irish Law Firm for years. Although he has racked up only 10 tackles during his career thus far, McIntyre’s time with the program makes him a valuable asset to the group.

“I have always wanted the opportunity to play under coach Fitz and (linebackers) coach (Tim) McGarigle,” McIntyre said. “I have been lucky to play behind Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher (and) play alongside Chris Bergin for the last few years. (It) taught me a lot and I benefited a lot from their game and added that to my game this year.”

Gallagher, who secured three tackles last season, is one of the options to start at Mike linebacker in the season opener against Michigan State with Jones. He credited the linebacker’s competitive spirit with making each player better.

The Massachusetts native is looking forward to contributing when his number is called.

“We are focused on making sure that we are the most physical and best linebacking corps in the Big Ten,” Gallagher said. “We definitely got the group to do that and are excited to go out and get to work with those guys and play next to them.”

The linebackers may have their hands full against the Spartans with a running back room that returns its top three leading rushers from last year and added Kenneth Walker III from Wake Forest.

Facing a conference opponent to start the season may result in first-year starters being thrown into the fire. But Fitzgerald is optimistic that Bergin and McIntyre will lead the unit and help set the defensive tone on Friday night.

“Those two guys are older and experienced in a lot of different ways,” Fitzgerald said. “Those guys will shoulder the load from a leadership standpoint in that room.”

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