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.
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