Raymond Berry was the first person I sent out for in 2014. I had hoped he would be the first success, because of his impecable return rate. Well, 390 days and 67 returns later, I finally got the Hall of Famer on these cards- and I must say it was completely worth the wait. I’m sure that I was on the bottom of the mail bag that he was going through, as others were cashing in those successes earlier than I was. It was extremely touching because not only did he throw in a testimonial card and a signed photo, he also wrote me an incredibly kind one page letter, thanking me for the additional custom card I gave him, and telling me how much he appreciates fans like myself. His response is probably one of my favorite ever from an NFLer, little less a Hall of Famer!
Raymond Berry was a long shot to make the Colts. Back in 1954 when Ray was drafted, the NFL draft itself went 30 rounds deep. When he was taken in the 20th round out of SMU, teams probably recognized his heart for the game more than his uncanny route running skills and soft hands. His rookie season was typical of many of that era with 13 receptions for 205 yards in 1955, as he began to build a rapport with future HoF Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas. Berry quickly established himself as a starter that next year, and in 1957 led the league with 800 yards receiving. He’d lead the NFL the next 3 seasons in catches with 56, 66, and 74 receptions- respectively. In 1959, Berry had a career high 14 TD receptions, and followed that up with career marks in receiving yards 1,298 in 1960, averaging an astounding 108.2 yards per game. In 1961, Ray had a career high 75 receptions en route to his 4th of 6th career Pro Bowl honors.
Although Ray never quite saw the same titanic numbers that he enjoyed the remainder of his career, he continued to post healthy numbers up through his final year in 1967. Over a span of 13 years in the league, Berry averaged below 50 yards a game in only 3 seasons. Whether it was the skill of the quarterback or a combination of Ray’s precise route running and soft hands- Berry only dropped 2 passes, and fumbled once, in 631 targets over his career. At the time of Ray’s retirement, he was the NFL’s greatest receiver as his receptions and yardage ranked first in NFL history. He also holds the record for the most receptions in an NFL championship game with 12 in 1958.
Ray stayed in football and went into coaching, eventually joining the New England Patriots staff as a positional coach during the late ’70s. He’d leave after the firing of then head coach Chuck Fairbanks, but return in 1984 replacing Ron Meyer as head coach, immediately reversing the fortunes of the team. It was said that just Berry’s presence changed the attitude of the team, and they responded with an improbable Super Bowl run in 1985, marking only the second team to make it to the Super Bowl from a Wild Card slot. The only problem was that the Patriots ran into the historic Chicago Bears defense. The Patriots got buzzsawed 46-10. They’d get to the playoffs again in 1986, but not return to the post season after that. An in-house squabble over personnel matters resulted in Berry resigning after the 1989 season.
Berry didn’t return to coaching after that. He retired to Tennesee where he still lives today and for a while was a spokesman for a national insurance corporation. What Berry is not known for is being a visionary. Berry recognized a need to teach a generation about how to play wide receiver. He was able to get the archives of many of his game films at the time when he retired, and cobbled them together into an instructional video -An incredible rarity from that era. A few lucky fans over the years have been able to get a copy of it that has now gone as far as DVD from what I’ve been told.
Raymond earned many accolades post retirement. He is the 40th Greatest Player in NFL history and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1973. A member of both the 50th and 75th Anniversiary NFL teams, Berry had his number retired at the time, by the then Baltimore Colts.
G 154 Rec 631 Yds 9,275 Avg 14.7 Td 68 Lg 70
W 48 L 39 Pct .552