As a player, person, ex-Colt Berry never was one to drop ball

John Steadman

June 25, 1993|By John Steadman

This was a homecoming for Raymond Berry, who was such a remarkable young man that some teammates, given to a torrent of profanity, would clean up their language when he approached. That was the ultimate sign of respect.

Berry didn't "wear religion on his sleeve" and wasn't about to force personal beliefs on others. He was, though, an extraordinary man and football player, graduating from SMU before a 13-year career as a pass receiver with the Baltimore Colts earned him enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"I dream," he said, "of waking up some morning and hearing Baltimore has another football team. Also that Robert Irsay decides to give back the Colt name that rightly belongs to Baltimore. It would be good for him and Indianapolis, too."

Berry has been a stand-up witness for Baltimore. He was coaching the New England Patriots when asked his reaction to the loss of football in the city where he had gained so much distinction. Berry could never be political. He told a wire service it was appalling such a despicable incident could have happened.

By way of contrast, another ex-Colt, Don Shula, coaching the Miami Dolphins and with a forum similar to Berry, merely said, "I heard a lot of bad things happened there."

Shula, for reasons known to himself, didn't take the same stance in 1984 as Berry, who denounced the robbery of the Colts without qualification or deliberation.

Berry and wife Sally decided Baltimore meant so much to them they wanted to come back for a visit.

"We had been here for overnight stays, but nothing lengthy," said Raymond. "I had a hankering to see Western Maryland College, where we trained. It's a beautiful school. It's where it all started for me. I drove through Westminster. The town is pretty, well-kept and has a lot of character. I never saw it much when I was a player. I rarely went into town.

"Just to be back in Baltimore, though, is a high point. My being here is different. So many of the other players stayed. I went into coaching after playing and have moved around. I talked to a lot of people about the Colts and some became so emotional they had to walk away."

He rejoiced in relating his Baltimore past. "The 1958 championship in New York was my biggest thrill. I was 25 years old at the time. I got to play with John Unitas and there's not much else you can do in a football way after being with that kind of a talented quarterback."

It was in Baltimore where he admits to finding the spiritual side of life. "I had always gone to church but a teammate, Don Shinnick, talked to me about the Lord in a special way," he said. "Playing in the '58 championship was a powerful experience. But I wondered what else the future held. I remember being at National Guard camp in 1960 and knowing the Lord and true peace for the first time."

Berry comes from Paris, Texas, and saw how blacks were segregated and put down. But not with Raymond. His treatment all men, regardless of race or religion, emphasized a compassion that was never a grandstand play.

A sportswriter, observing Berry close up, once wrote he was the "finest man to have walked the earth since Jesus Christ." That was a strong statement, not intended to be sacrilegious but an effort to convey the exemplary qualities of an individual.

"Raymond is that one person you meet in your lifetime," offered Lenny Moore, a fellow Hall of Fame member, "who is totally genuine. He is free of the kind of faults so many of us have."

Berry's father, now 89, was a high school coach. He had an ability to extract the maximum in application. How?

"Because he always felt his team was capable of winning and got each boy to believe he could achieve," said Raymond. "As a young coach, my father saved his money and would go to clinics put on by Knute Rockne. He has high respect for Rockne and what he meant to the game."

"We've been deeply touched," said Raymond's wife Sally, a native of Tyler, Texas. "We felt very blessed to be a part of something special, how Baltimore loved the Colts."

The Berrys plan to go to Washington to visit the Holocaust Museum before returning to Denver. Yes, Raymond Berry is a man of depth. He once went to Pearl Harbor and the reaction to being in such a location was more than he anticipated as he dwelled on the loss of so many young men in a war they didn't start.

Raymond Berry is in a Hall of Fame for football achievement, but more importantly, a Hall of Fame for humanity. He elevates his fellow man.

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