He has two NFL championship rings, a bronze bust that sits in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the gratitude of Baltimore Colts fans who saw him play. Today, before 900 students at a high school assembly in his hometown, Raymond Berry will receive a plaque acknowledging the accomplishments of the skinny, near-sighted kid from Paris, Texas.
It's a stirring honor for Berry, 79, one of the greatest receivers of all time. He can guess the audience's reaction.
"The kids will sit there, look at each other and say, 'Who the hell is this?' " he said, laughing. "This is ancient history to them. They haven't a clue."
Berry's memories are all that matter. It was at Paris High where, as a two-way end, he played football for his father, called plays in the huddle and led the Wildcats to their first district championship in 1949.
"That team was my world from age 6, when I stood on the sidelines wearing the Wildcats mascot uniform during games," he said. "Those high school boys were my heroes; our colors were blue and white.
"When we won the districts, 13-7 at Gainesville on Thanksgiving Day, well . . . nothing ever topped that experience," Berry said. "Only two things have tied it – the Dec. 28, 1958 overtime win against the (New York) Giants, for the NFL title, and New England's 1986 AFC championship win over Miami, when I was the Patriots' head coach."
Sixty-two years after graduation, Berry will be honored as part of the Hometown Hall of Famers, a national program established by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate Insurance, to salute the roots of some of the game's greatest players. Begun last year, the program is expected to fete 90 Hall of Famers by 2015, including Roger Staubach, Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Ozzie Newsome, Rod Woodson, Willie Lanier and Art Shell.
At today's assembly, Berry will be introduced by Sammy Morrow, a tailback on his Paris team.
"Raymond Emmett was small in body but he had big feet. We called him 'Skis,' " Morrow said. "He caught, maybe, 27 passes in high school, because we ran the single wing and only passed if it was, like, third-and-eight. But his daddy taught him the proper way to catch a pass. His daddy had a saying: 'If you can touch it, you can catch it.' "
Upon accepting his award, Berry will present it to his alma mater, where the plaque will be mounted on a wall in the school's rotunda.
"It should serve as an inspiration to our kids to know that the school they attend is the one that holds to roots of people who've made their mark in the world to the degree that (Berry) has," principal Gary Preston said.
"He did some pretty amazing things when he left here."
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