Raymond Berry is one of the greatest wide receivers ever to play the game of football. Playing split end for the Baltimore Colts from 1955 to 1967, Berry won two consecutive NFL Championships and was selected to six Pro Bowls. He led the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards three times, and in receiving touchdowns twice. As a 20th round draft pick in 1954, Raymond Berry was not expected make the Colts roster. However, he went on to have perhaps the most successful career of any wide receiver thanks to the impact he made in his era as a player. In the 1958 NFL Championship Game, "the Greatest Game Ever Played," Berry caught 12 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. He ended his career as a player with 631 receptions, 9,275 receiving yards, and 68 receiving touchdowns, legendary numbers for a player in the 1950s and 1960s. Berry was a versatile, durable player who didn't miss a single game until his 8th year in the NFL. Raymond Berry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973.
What made Raymond Berry great was not simply athletic talent; Berry was also one of the hardest working players ever to play the game. He constantly worked with Johnny Unitas after practice to prepare for games and to improve his craft. Off the practice field, Berry regularly squeezed Silly Putty to strengthen his hands, and constantly studied both his own craft and also his opponents. His hard work and dedication on and off the field helped him to form the greatest QB-WR duo of all time with Johnny Unitas, and also prepared him for a successful career as a NFL head coach, highlighted by a trip to Super Bowl XX following the 1985 season with the Patriots and a 51-41 career record. We were fortunate enough to have a chance to interview Mr. Berry here at Matt and Mike Sports, and here it is. Questions in red, Raymond's replies in blue.
Mr. Berry, you were the best receiver of your era. How did your preparation outside of practice prepare you for a dominant NFL career?
In the off season I took 2 months off, then went back to work; running, push ups, sit ups, catching, ball carrying drills, film study, pass route practice.
You played for the Colts in what was the franchise's best era. What are some of your favorite memories as a player?
-Having the good fortune to play for Weeb Ewbank, who was a master of simple fundamental football.
-Having the opportunity to play with John Unitas; No receiver ever had a better deal.
-The Colts defense featuring Gino Marchetti always got us the ball.
Who was the toughest opponent you faced (or teammate you had), and why?
-Toughest Opponent? Abe Woodson, 49ers and Irv Cross, Philadelphia Eagles then LA Rams. They knew how to cover man to man.
-In practice Lenny Lyles. I was glad when the game came.
One of your teammates with the Colts was Gino Marchetti, a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. What impact did the Second World War have on the NFL and its players?
World War II impacted my life since I had 2 older cousins die-one in Europe, one in the Pacific. As a young boy I saw the devastating effect this had on my aunts and uncles.
Gino said the Battle of the Bulge was in the coldest winter in European history. "I've never been so cold," he said.
One lesser-known fact about your career is your use of custom sun-goggles to protect your eyes during games. Where did you get the idea for the goggles? How were they made?
Playing in the LA Coliseum and San Francisco's Kezar Stadium in December, the sun set on the rim of the stadiums and blinded me. Dr. Joshua Breschkin, an eye specialist in Baltimore, designed the goggles which fit on the helmet.
Tell us about the 1958 NFL Championship Game. For you, what was the defining moment of that game?
The 1958 Championship game's defining moment: When Unitas hit me on 3 straight inside routes to move the ball into field goal range for the field goal that put the game in overtime (an NFL first).
How did your experiences as a player prepare you for success as a coach?
Playing for my Dad (a Texas high school coach) taught me my first lessons on basic fundamentals like blocking and tackling and the kicking game. Playing for Weeb Ewbank (a disciple of Paul Brown) re-emphasize the power of simplicity; very few plays, mastering the basics, not confusing the players, letting the players play at full speed with no hesitation. Let their natural athletic ability flow...get great athletes; they make a great coach. As a matter of fact great athletes make people think you are a great coach whether you are or not!
What coach or player had the greatest impact on your career, and why?
-My Dad, due to his example of combining simplicity with soundness.
-Weeb Ewbank because:
1) he recognized talent in me before anyone else.
2) he recognized talent in a free agent named John Unitas.
3) He combined simplicity with soundness.
Tell us about your preparation for games as a player and coach. What specific things helped you prepare to make plays and win games on a regular basis?
As a player:
-Physically worked out in March, April, May, and June in preparation for July training camp.
-Studied films of opponents and other receivers, in season and during the off season.
-I learned opponents' tendencies, their strengths, their weaknesses, how other people beat them, what to avoid.
As a coach:
-Film study to learn strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies to plan strategy, plays, and what to avoid.
What are some of the most significant changes in the NFL since your retirement as a player?
Holding. I call it the National Holding League.
How has the NFL Draft changed since your time in the league? What about NFL scouting?
The main thing I see is that there used to be 12 teams; now there are over 30! Spreading the talent thin.
What players today do you especially enjoy watching?
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Your faith has had a huge impact in your personal development. Tell us about your conversion. What was your personal Road to Damascus moment?
When I was playing in the NFL I began to realize there had to be more to life than chasing a football. I also had reached a realization that I had no piece; I had guilt. Then my best friend on the Colts, LB Don Shinnick, said to me: "Raymond, I don't think you have ever accepted Christ as your savior." That went over my head since I had gone to church all my life and believed Jesus was the Son of God. I had been baptized when I was 12. Don persisted, so I said "how do you do this?" He told me what to say: "God, I'm trusting Jesus as my Savior. I don't really know what I'm doing but I mean it." "Raymond," Don said, "If you trust Christ He will come and live in you. He's the power to live the Christian life. Your job is to let Him and when you screw up tell Him." So that's what I did. After that I started seeing my sin nature for the first time. I also began to be aware of Him for the first time. I experienced forgiveness. The Bible started becoming alive to me. I realized all my athletic ability and the opportunity to use it was no accident. My life changed forever. Now I'm writing to you about it.
What advice would you give to young people today who want to pursue a career as an NFL coach or player?
Check with God first to see if that's what he wants you to do or if He has other plans for you.
Mr. Berry, thank you for taking time out of your schedule for this interview. Here at Matt and Mike Sports, we consider you to be the greatest receiver ever to play the game, and it is a privilege to have an opportunity to discuss the game with you. Your career is a truly inspiring one, and you are one of the few players who's approach to the game redefined a position. We look forward to continuing to follow your legacy both as a player and a coach. Thank you again!
-Mike Bertasso and Matt Koontz, Matt and Mike Sports.
Here's my quick list of predictions for today's games.
Bengals at Ravens. I agree with Matt. Bengals win in a close game. No Ray Rice, but Bernard Pierce plays well in his place. Giovanni Bernard does his best young Ray Rice impersonation and explodes for a big game. Jeremy Hill joins in to add some thunder to Bernard's lightning. Oh, and Geno Atkins is back and ready to feast. Bengals win, 28-24.
Saints vs. Falcons. Falcons squeak out a win in this one. The Saints are a good team. A very good team. However, the Falcons are a very underrated team due to injuries last year, and right now, they are healthy. Falcons 35, Saints 28.
Vikings vs. Rams. The battle of the backup QBs 1.0. Vikings running game is better than the Rams, and the Vikings have Norv Turner and Cordarrelle Patterson. Vikings 21, Rams 14.
Browns vs. Steelers. Is this even a game? Cleveland still doesn't know if they'll put Johnny Manziel in at some point, and the Browns have no wide receivers. Pittsburgh 35, Cleveland 14.
Jaguars vs. Eagles. This game is going to be closer than people expect. Yes, Jacksonville is going to be hurting without Cecil Shorts. However, they have upgraded their defense as well. I have Philly winning, 24-17.
Raiders vs. Jets. And the NFL retirement/free agent matchup begins. What does the Jets name stand for? Just end the season. When was the last time the Raiders were relevant? When Rich Gannon was their QB. However, I expect the Raiders to turn some heads today. Their free agent acquisitions are better than the Jets' free agent acquisitions. Raiders 27, Jets 12. In a surprise turn of events, Michael Vick gets bitten by a pit bull after the game.
Bills vs. Bears. Upset special. Everyone expects the Bears to win this game. Heck, Kyle Orton probably even expects that! But the Bills are a team stacked with young talent, and Chicago's defense still has some major question marks. Bills 24, Bears 21.
Redskins vs. Texans. Way too much uncertainty on both of these rosters. This is probably going to look like a preseason game, but one team has to win. And do we call them the Washington Redskins or the Washington Racists? Too much uncertainty and boredom here. Who's the #1 QB in Houston? Does RGIII want to play football? Will Jay Gruden continue to gain weight this season? Will Arian Foster rescue some cats after the game? Will Andre Johnson retire at halftime? Redskins 9, Texans 2...since I have no clue how to call this game.
Titans vs. Chiefs. The Titans have some good young talent on the offensive side of the ball, and the Chiefs have a solid defense. Chiefs offensive line has some holes. Jamaal Charles can't carry this whole offense with Dwayne Bowe suspended. Titans 21, Chiefs 18.
Patriots vs. Dolphins. Tom Brady is Tom Brady and will play like Tom Brady against the Miami Dolphins. Did I mention Tom Brady? Patriots beat Dolphins. 35-27.
Panthers vs. Bucs. Derek Anderson might be starting for the Panthers. That isn't funny. Bucs 35, Panthers 14. At least one TD comes on a Derek Anderson pick-6 or offensive turnover. If Cam Newton plays, then Panthers 28, Bucs 21.
49ers vs. Cowboys. The Dallas Cowboys have no defense. The 49ers defense is decimated by injuries and suspensions. Still, 49ers 42, Cowboys 35.
Broncos vs. Colts. Peyton Manning and the Broncos may have a down year this year. However, don't expect that to start against Peyton's old team, the Colts. Peyton comes to play, and this turns into a shootout. Broncos 38, Colts 35.
Giants vs. Lions. The Giants are a wreck. If you've watched the preseason at all, you know this. Lions look good. Ndamakung Suh rips out Eli Manning's heart and does a happy dappy dance on it. Detroit wins, 24-7.
Cardinals vs. Chargers. The Cardinals will be a better team this year. However, the Chargers are the better team in this matchup. Sure, Antonio Gates might not play this week, but they've got LaDarius Green. Chargers win on a Carson Palmer pick-6. Chargers 21, Cardinals 17.
Sports give us as the human race something to cheer for and support and give hope to all of us.