Catching Up With ... former Colt Raymond Berry
Each week in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's happening in his/her life in a segment called, "Catching Up With ... " Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ... "
Think of Baltimore sports in its glory days and two pictures come to mind.
One is of the Orioles’ Brooks Robinson – airborne, outstretched and spearing a line drive headed past third base.
The other is of the Colts’ Raymond Berry, same pose, his body parallel to the frozen turf while hauling in a sideline pass.
Berry, 76, smiles at the analogy of the two men whose focus and work ethic made them shoo-in Hall of Famers.
"We were a whole lot alike," he said. "Not too many balls got by either of us."
Was there ever a football receiver as resolute as Berry, the Colts’ go-to guy for 13 years and two NFL championships? Obsessed with perfection, he pored over grainy game films, night after night, looking for an edge against the Colts’ next foe.
"I must be the only player whose contract included his own Bell and Howell projector," said Berry. "People thought I was nuts."
He still has that 16mm machine in his home in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
He retired in 1967 with 631 receptions – then an NFL record – and a storied career filled with spectacular catches that old Colts fans could only describe. Until now.
Berry has managed to unearth many of his finest catches and put them on a DVD. It’s a project close to his heart, and one on which he has been working, off and on, for more than 40 years.
"I had this idea in the mid-1960s to make an instructional film about pass receiving," he said. "The year I retired, the Colts let me go through all of their old films and pick out the game footage that I needed, all the way back to 1956."
Had he not acted quickly, Berry feared, the archives would have been lost forever.
"All of that stuff eventually wound up in an alley, with the trash, behind the Colts’ office on Howard Street," he said.
At that time, Berry was also allowed access to the NFL film library in Philadelphia. What he has cobbled together, with editing help, is a historic glimpse of a legendary player, coupled with a how-to segment for Berry wannabes.
The Southern Methodist alum also stars in the instructional part. That’s Berry, at age 35, running the slants, quick outs and post patterns on a practice field in his native Texas in 1968.
Soon after, he shelved the project and took up coaching. Eventually, Berry took over the New England Patriots, leading them to the Super Bowl in January 1986.
Nowadays, he works as spokesman for a national insurance company. Married 49 years, Berry and his wife, Sally, have three children and nine grandchildren.
The DVD is his legacy to family, friends and fans.
"Why did I make it? I really don’t know. It just persisted in my mind that I needed to do this," Berry said.
"There’s nothing else out there like it, and there never will be."
The 90-minute video, which went on sale last month, goes for around $30 and is available online at raymondberry.com.
You’ll see No. 82 drop a ball or two. Berry made sure to keep several miscues.
"I learned how to catch from my failures," he said.
Also featured: A catch he ranks as his finest, a 10-yard touchdown grab against San Francisco during the Colts’ championship season of 1959.
"I made my fake on (49ers cornerback) Abe Woodson, broke into the corner of the end zone and looked over my left shoulder," Berry said. "John (Unitas) must have eaten something extra that day because that ball was going so fast I swear I saw smoke on it."
Trouble was, the pass was thrown high and behind Berry – and it was coming at warp nine.
"Somehow, I made a complete turn and leaped at the same time to stab that ball," he said. "Best catch I ever made."
Unitas’ reaction was typical.
"John acted like it was routine," Berry said.
In 13 years with Baltimore, Berry fumbled just once. That goof is there on of the DVD, too, although, to this day, he firmly rejects the referee’s call.
"We were playing Minnesota in the early 1960s," Berry recalled. "I ran a short post pattern, John threw, and the ball, the safety and I all got there at the same time.
"I never really caught it. The officials blew the call, but I forgive them. They miss one every once in a while."
Photo credits: Baltimore Sun archives