The Best Game Ever
This was the game that launched pro football into the stratosphere of billion-dollar franchises and multimillion-dollar player salaries. With 17 future Hall of Famers on the field and on the sidelines, it was watched by a TV audience of 45 million, the largest ever to witness a football game to that point. It remains in the memory of many sports fans
Fifty years ago, on a freezing afternoon in Yankee Stadium, pro football's best offense, led by the Baltimore Colts' John Unitas, met the best defense, led by the New York Giants' Sam Huff, for the 1958 NFL championship. The teams fought a brutal seesaw battle that ended, fittingly, in a draw. What followed was the first sudden-death overtime in league history and still the only one in an NFL championship game or Super Bowl.
Few fans have understood that the key to victory in that game was not its celebrated coaches nor any of its marquee stars, but an ungainly wide receiver who lacked the pure athletic ability to play pro sports and whose peculiar obsessions made him an oddball to his teammates. He was, nevertheless, the prototype of the modern football player.
The tall, skinny young man in glasses who moved next door to Al Brennan had some unusual exercise habits. Every morning in the fall and winter, like clockwork, he emerged from his house in Lutherville, Md., dressed in a gray sweat suit and carrying a weight with a rope tied around it. He stood at the top of the stairs that led from the sidewalk, set the weight on a lower step, tied the loose end of the rope around his thigh and started lifting his leg and setting it back down. After a number of repetitions he untied the rope, fastened it to the other leg and started lifting again. Every morning, the same routine.
Brennan had only this glimpse of his neighbor's training methods. If he had followed the young man into the blazing hot summers of Paris, Texas, where he had grown up the son of the local football coach, Brennan would have seen him perform the same exercise on the steps of the empty grandstand at Wise Field and then walk out to the center of the sun-baked gridiron. There he would set a piece of paper down on the grass and, for an hour or more, race off carrying a football in one direction or another, stop, return, catch his breath, consult the paper, assume a set position and sprint off again. Sometimes he would angle off to the left for a short distance, sometimes to the right. Sometimes he would stop and turn back a few steps, or perform a shuffle that looked like little dance moves before abruptly changing direction. Sometimes he would run only 10 yards and sometimes the length of the field before he came back. There didn't seem to be any pattern to it, so it would have been hard for anyone to guess that the young man was playing an entire football game at the split end position in pantomime.
He had chosen the film of a particular game, observed each route run by the wide receiver, timed each play and interval between plays with a stopwatch and, in tiny, meticulous handwriting, sketched the patterns and noted the sequences. Every play, whether the receiver was thrown the ball or not; every huddle; every timeout; every stretch the wideout spent on the bench between offensive series. Then, consulting this handwritten script out on the grass, he acted out the game from whistle to whistle. Out on the playing field of his hometown in the dead of summer, there was no one to observe his obsessive devotion, no teammate, no neighbor, no coach. There was no one he was trying to impress. It was pure desire. No, not just desire. The young man in gray sweats and glasses was desperate.
His name was Raymond Berry, and he was a football player unlike any other his Baltimore Colts coaches had ever seen. A lowly 20th-round draft pick, he was not expected to last long when he reported to his first training camp in Westminster, Md., in the summer of 1955. It was the job of Charley Winner, the Colts' ends coach, to check him in. "Hey, Ray, welcome to training camp," Winner said. "We're glad to have you."
"My name is Raymond," he replied.
The famous 1958 championship game would turn on a sequence of three plays in the fourth quarter, but to fully appreciate it you first need to appreciate Raymond. At a time when most NFL players had full-time jobs off the field, he was, at age 22, a full-time football player. He worked at the game night and day. NFL and college teams had long used film to break down the formations and tendencies of their opponents, to plan strategies and to instruct players, but the players themselves generally viewed such classroom sessions as a chore, and a bore. Not Raymond. He bought a 16-mm projector, and when his day of practice and mandated classroom work was done, when his teammates were out drinking beer, he would go home and study film on his own. He focused on his position alone. He scrutinized the men who would be defending against him, cornerbacks mostly, but also linebackers and safeties. He sought out film of successful receivers and studied their routes and their moves, making page after page of notes in his tidy little handwriting.
He was different in other ways, too. While most young athletes spent their paychecks or bonus money on cars or booze or women, Raymond spent his on things such as contact lenses, then an expensive novelty, and a specially fitted tooth guard -- a precaution that many of the rough men in the game would have considered borderline unmanly. It didn't stop there. No detail was too small to absorb Raymond. He found the canvas fabric of his practice football pants too heavy and binding, so he had the manufacturer make him pants out of the stretchy, lightweight material used in the Colts' game uniforms. To keep the pants from getting lost in the team's daily piles of laundry, Raymond would hand-wash his gear after practice and hang it up in his locker to dry.
Imagine how professional football players in the 1950s viewed a teammate who insisted on wearing custom-made practice pants, on doing his own laundry and on being called by his full first name. These were men with missing teeth and broken noses. Most were hard-drinking, fun-loving rowdies, many of them veterans of World War II and Korea. To them there was something unnatural about Raymond's approach to football. A real man showed up hurt, or with a hangover, and he didn't outthink his opponent -- he kicked his ass.
He had always been extraordinarily organized and self-possessed, a tall and lean boy with narrow, wide-set eyes, wavy brown hair and a thin smile that unfolded at a slight angle and made you wonder what else he meant by it. He looked more like a grocery-store clerk than a football player. He was quiet but not shy. His dad was known to one and all back in Paris as Ray, which is why young Raymond insisted on his full name. He was his own man. He was poised, as though he pondered everything a little harder than anyone else. This made him generally impervious to what other people thought and made him, among other things, uncoachable -- or, more accurately, in no need of coaching. The way you handled him was to leave him alone. Off the field he carried slips of paper in his shirt pocket on which he made observations and lists of reminders.
Sportswriters found that he could talk your ear off, not just about how and why he had made a particular move but also about when and where he had dreamed it up. He had sketched it out at some point, broken it down into its component parts and named them, rehearsed the move a thousand times in his head and then a thousand more on the field, and held it in reserve to use at precisely the right moment. To a degree considered hilarious and sometimes tiresome, Raymond was cerebral in his approach to the game -- or, more precisely, to his position, because he knew he was suited for only one job at the pro level. He was deconstructing and reinventing the position of wide receiver.
The idea of splitting a player out to one side so he could concentrate exclusively on running pass routes was relatively new. It had been only nine years since Los Angeles Rams coach Clark Shaughnessy, one of the game's greatest innovators, had created the position by placing Elroy (Crazy Legs) Hirsch seven yards wide of his teammates on the line of scrimmage. Inspired by Hirsch, Raymond decided he, too, would play that position.
His father was coach of the Paris High football team. Raymond wanted to play, but he was skinny and slow. He had a bad back. He was nearsighted, and because he couldn't wear glasses on the field, he competed in a fog. He wore special shoes to correct his gait because one leg was shorter than the other. His feet were so big that his nickname was Skis.
Ray Berry put his son on the team, but Raymond didn't become a starter on the varsity until his senior year. Ray was the kind of football coach who liked intelligent players, so much so that he didn't abide by the tradition of always letting the quarterback call the plays in the huddle. He picked the smartest kid on the field. Raymond called the plays. By then he was the best football player Paris High had ever seen.
Along with those big feet came big hands, really big hands, and Raymond could jump. He had always been told he was too slow to play football, but he discovered that he could use what speed he had intelligently. He could fool a defender into thinking he was slower than he really was, then startle him with a burst at a critical moment. When he couldn't outrun a defender, Raymond figured he could outsmart him, outposition him and outjump him, and with those big hands he could catch better than anyone he knew.
It was the kind of skill that could only be demonstrated in action, however, and in football your chance to see action depended entirely on a coach's evaluation of your skill. So Raymond's career proceeded catch by catch. No major college wanted him, so he spent one year at Schreiner Junior College in Kerrville, Texas, before Rusty Russell, the coach at SMU, gave him a shot in 1951, as much in deference to Ray Berry as to the young man's potential.
"I'll give you a one-semester trial scholarship," said Russell. "You're not eligible to play because of the transfer, so you'll work against our varsity squad every day, and I'll watch you this fall."
It was a chance to practice with the Mustangs, to be a member of what Russell called his T-team. The coaches would program the T-team with the offensive plays run by whomever SMU faced next, and Raymond would run that team's pass patterns against the varsity defense. Throwing passes for the T-team was SMU's star quarterback, Fred Benners. Together he and Raymond started to light up the practice field. Raymond earned his scholarship, but his skill was considered so specialized that he was used sparingly. He caught only five passes as a sophomore and 11 as a junior.
At the end of the latter season he still had not started in a college game, which was why his selection by the Colts in the 20th round of the draft in January 1954 was such a surprise. With another year of college eligibility remaining, he was what was called a "futures" pick, a throwaway category down in the lower echelons of the draft, where teams grabbed players in a what-the-hell frame of mind. Without sophisticated scouting networks, pro clubs relied on word-of-mouth from coaches and sportswriters. Some of those 11 catches in Raymond's junior year had been spectacular. A
He made the Colts in 1955, one of 12 rookies the team kept, but he caught only 13 passes that season, and he knew why. He was overmatched by pro defenders. In college Raymond had run only simple, predetermined routes: hooks, posts, crossing routes. All he had to know was his assignment on a given play. If it worked as planned, he would find himself in an uncovered spot. In the pros there were no uncovered spots. NFL defenders played mostly man-to-man, which meant that once the ball was snapped, Raymond had a superbly trained athlete in his ear. Defenders bumped him, pushed him, tripped him, threw him off stride and then slapped the ball out of the air or intercepted it if it got close. Raymond could not catch a pass unless he could shake off his man, and he lacked the quickness and speed to get away from most of them.
No one was more aware than Raymond of how badly his rookie season had gone. So as his teammates went home to enjoy the long off-season, he went to work. Using his father's 16-mm film projector, he set about breaking down and studying the position of wide receiver like no one else ever had. The Colts provided him with all the game film he wanted. He asked for games that featured the best receivers in the NFL -- Harlon Hill especially -- and slowed down the projector to dissect their moves. He began to develop his own repertory, naming each juke and fake after a player he admired. He picked the brains of collegiate wide receivers. From Howard Schnellenberger, a star tight end at Kentucky who would go on to a long career as a coach, he learned the double fake. He practiced zigzag moves in pantomime at Wise Field. Then he began experimenting with triple fakes.
He also got himself in terrific shape. He was neither a smoker nor a drinker, and he watched his weight carefully. Motivated by what he would later call "absolute terror," he started lifting and running. He remade himself.
Football coaches always talked about "game shape." Players, they said, could do calisthenics all they wanted, but the only thing that could get you in shape to play football was to play. That's why Raymond got out his stopwatch and began simulating entire games by himself. He began in March. By early summer he could play an entire game without feeling winded. When the Colts' grueling two-a-day drills started in July 1956, his obsessive training methods paid off. The workouts were a breeze.
One thing Raymond absorbed watching all that film in the off-season was that the great receivers had what appeared to be an almost mystical connection with their quarterbacks. They would run a route that delivered them to an open spot on the field at the same moment the ball arrived, which meant that the quarterback threw the ball before the receiver was actually open. How could a struggling wide receiver who was unlikely to make the team cultivate that kind of relationship with Colts quarterback George Shaw, one of the hottest young stars in the game?
He couldn't. But there was a new quarterback at training camp in 1956, a tough kid from a working-class ghetto in Pittsburgh whom the Colts had picked up from a semipro sandlot league after he was cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a skinny, bow-legged, slightly stoop-shouldered young man with abnormally long limbs, enormous hands, a blond flattop, a big crooked-toothed smile and an utterly unflappable manner, and he had about as much of a chance of making the team as Raymond had. Raymond got his first look at the new arm when he reported to training camp.
"That's the free-agent quarterback," one of his teammates said. "Unitas."
John Unitas had the best and most eager arm on the practice field that summer. He knew this was likely to be his last chance to latch onto a pro job, and he wanted to make sure the coaches got a good, long look at what he could do -- an ambition that would meet its perfect complement in Raymond Berry's sophomore-year desperation. The receiver arrived that summer looking for a quarterback to enlist for his personal practice sessions, someone to work with him on timing long after the rest of the players had left the field.
Unitas wasn't just obliging, he was eager to stay after practice and throw for as long as Raymond wanted to catch. This was a quarterback who never worried about wearing out his arm. His throws uncoiled with an almost exaggerated smoothness, right down to the wrist snap as he released the ball, which left his long fingers splayed downward. The motion seemed effortless.
Passer and receiver became fast friends. John understood Raymond's perfectionism and the advantage of close coordination and timing in the passing game. Don Shula, one of the team's defensive backs in camp that summer, saw how the extra work between John and Raymond was paying off. When Shaw was throwing to Raymond, Shula had no trouble defending, but when Unitas was throwing, he struggled. It wasn't just Shula's imagination. As a member of the Washington Redskins the following season, Shula had to defend against Raymond in a real game, and the receiver caught 12 passes from Unitas for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
Both Raymond and John made the team in 1956, and their bond deepened. Raymond was living as a bachelor in a walk-up apartment in a row house near Memorial Stadium, the Colts' home field. He was the only teammate John began inviting to share dinner with him; his wife, Dorothy; and his children. Raymond invited John to private film-study sessions in his apartment. On their own time, the man with a magnificent arm and feel for football was teaming up with the Colts' resident nut.
The Colts flew to New York on Saturday morning, Dec. 27, 1958. They landed at LaGuardia Airport and boarded a bus that took them across the Triborough Bridge into Manhattan and then up to the Concourse Plaza Hotel at 161st Street in the Bronx. Much to the amusement of his teammates, Raymond wore a blackout mask on the plane and bus to shut out the card games and foolery that always accompanied team travel. He carried an overnight bag and a scale on which he weighed himself daily. He had determined that 186 pounds was his ideal playing weight, and he monitored it scrupulously. Over the season he had dropped down to almost 175, so he had been trying to bulk up through the relatively light practices of the previous two weeks.
On Sunday at Yankee Stadium, Colts defensive tackle Art Donovan, ever the showman, honored his game-day ritual by vomiting theatrically in one of the bathroom stalls. To Raymond it sounded like a hippopotamus heaving a goat. He understood that the big lineman's rowdy displays just masked his anxiety, but it annoyed him anyway. Different players had different ways of coping with tension. The receiver's was to absorb himself in preparation.
He was mightily prepared for the NFL championship game. He pored over the 25 pages of notes in his microscopic handwriting that he carried in a binder: diagrams of the routes he had run successfully against the Giants cornerback he would face that day, Carl Karilivacz; insights he had gleaned from hours of solitary film study; plays he wanted to try; reminders of everything else from head fakes he had designed for specific routes to basics like watching the ball all the way into his hands. WATCH YOUR FOOTING ON STARTS he had written in large block letters in the middle of one page. He had the careful planner's habit of dividing each page into segments with perfectly straight lines. Under the heading DURING RUNS he had written BASIC THREE, which were:
Below that, with stars penciled in alongside, was written *BE BEST COMPETITOR ON FIELD *KNOCK #20 & #21 ASS OFF *GO ST AT 21 TO SET UP 136, referring to safety Jim Patton, who wore number 20; Karilivacz, who wore 21; and play number 136. Under the heading DURING SHORT YDG & GOAL LINE Raymond had written, *KNOW SNAP COUNT *DO YOUR JOB.
There were pages and pages of meticulously drawn plays on sheets divided into 12 neat squares, with arrows indicating every pattern he had ever run against the Giants and tiny notes about outcomes. Raymond knew at least some of this would be in Karilivacz's head, and he wanted his own thinking to be one level deeper -- he wanted to anticipate the cornerback's thoughts. He also had almost an entire page devoted to "#84," Giants outside right linebacker Harland Svare.
Some of the notes were cryptic, others straightforward:
WHEN YOU SQUAT TO BLOCK 71 HE WILL GRAB YOU, referring to tackle M.L. Brackett.
WILL HOLD YOU ON GL-6-1, SHORT YARDAGE, TOO, POSSIBLY
WILL STAY ON YOUR NOSE, THEN JUMP BACK WHEN COUNT STARTS
GETS TO OUTSIDE FAST!
KNOCK HIS BUTT OFF EVERY CHANCE YOU GET
Long before the fans began to file in, Raymond was out on the field carefully inspecting the turf. He did it primarily to decide what kind of cleats to wear, but also to look for wet, loose or frozen patches he might be able to exploit. He had his regular playing shoes and his mud shoes, which had two extra-long cleats under the ball of each foot, on which he would pivot. If the turf was wet and soft, the mud cleats gave him advantage, but on a hard field the longer cleats hurt the soles of his feet and slowed him down. It was a tough call for this game, because most of the field was dry, but there were a few wet spots. Raymond knew where to find them. There was a pattern to the way the grounds crew removed the tarp after a snowfall or rain. If they weren't careful, the water would pool toward the center and then drain out the edges as they removed it, leaving wet spots on both sides of the field near the 50-yard line. Sure enough, Raymond found a big wet patch at midfield right in front of the Giants' bench. He found another in the far southern corner of the field, which during the winter was almost always in shade. He didn't want to get caught at a critical moment in the game on one of these slippery spots, so he decided to wear his mud cleats.
All game long the Giants had been double-teaming Lenny Moore when he lined up as a wide receiver to the right, and the Colts had countered by throwing often and successfully to Berry on the other side. He had caught seven passes, including one for a touchdown. He was clearly Unitas's favorite target in second-and-long and third-and-long situations, and it was equally clear that the Giants' right cornerback, Karilivacz, was struggling to stay with the canny Colts receiver one-on-one. So now, with New York leading 17-14 and just two minutes left to play, Giants defensive coach Tom Landry decided to do something drastic. He would take away Berry. If Unitas wanted to move the ball upfield in this final drive, he would have to do it without his favorite target. Landry instructed his right-side linebacker, Svare, to abandon his usual position and split way out, lining up directly in front of Berry, head-to-head. Svare's assignment was to stay with Berry, get in his way, prevent him from running his route.
The move was radical. It was designed to rattle Unitas, who would be in his hurry-up offense, calling two or three plays at a time in the huddle. From all of his film study and charting of tendencies, confirmed by what had happened in this game, Landry knew that at this critical moment the Colts quarterback would go to Berry, almost certainly on a sideline pattern. It was basic clock-management strategy, and nobody was better at the sideline pattern than Berry. If the Giants could take that away, they would throw the Colts off stride. Once derailed, they wouldn't have time to regroup.
Starting from his own 14-yard line, Unitas completed an 11-yard pass to Moore for a first down, then missed on a short pass to running back L.G. Dupre, which stopped the clock and allowed the Colts to huddle. One minute and 15 seconds remained to play. This was Baltimore's last chance. What followed were not just the most important three plays of the game but also the most important three plays of Raymond's and John's careers.
The Colts had second-and-10 from their own 25, clearly a passing situation. John called two consecutive passing plays, both sideline patterns to Raymond. On the first, the receiver was to run an "L-cut," a simple down-and-out toward the Giants' sideline, exactly what Landry had guessed he would do. Karilivacz had been playing well off Berry, guarding against a deep route, more or less conceding the short sideline pattern. But when Raymond trotted out to his spot along the left sideline, much to his surprise, Svare came with him. The linebacker set himself directly across from the receiver, just three yards deep.
In all of his meticulous note-taking for this game, in all of his film study, Raymond had never seen a Giants linebacker do this. It was the perfect counter to the play John had called, because even if Raymond could shake Svare on the route, he would be slowed enough for Karilivacz to jump him from above -- just as Karilivacz had done in the first quarter, for an interception. It appeared as though Landry had outsmarted the Colts.
What the Giants' coach could not have known was that years earlier, in one of their private film sessions, Raymond and John had seen this defensive maneuver. Not by any Giant. Raymond could no longer recall which team it was. But he and John had seen in the flickering image on his white apartment wall a linebacker drift out and line up nose to nose on a wide receiver. It surprised them, and they had come up with a countermove. This exact situation. They had decided that Raymond should make a quick outside release to fake the linebacker and then slant pell-mell toward the center of the field. A linebacker split wide like that leaves a gaping hole in the secondary. John told Raymond he would hit him in stride.
In the seconds before the ball was snapped, Raymond looked over at John, and their eyes briefly met. Did John remember? Raymond assumed his three-point stance, and at the snap of the ball he took two steps wide, pulling Svare outside, and then broke toward the middle at such an angle that Svare couldn't touch him. John's quick pass reached Raymond six yards downfield, in full stride. He had remembered.
Sam Huff, the Giants' middle linebacker, was so surprised that he ran right past Raymond as he angled across the field. Huff turned back upfield and caught the slow-footed receiver from behind, but only after a 25-yard gain. Baltimore called timeout. One minute and five seconds remained, and the Colts had just leaped to midfield. Landry and Huff felt as if Unitas were inside their heads.
The Colts could not afford to waste a play now. John called two in the huddle, the first to Raymond. The Giants gave up on moving Svare out wide. This time he lined up split about halfway out. Huff was no longer positioning himself at the center of the line. He was cheating a little back and to the right, something that Unitas noted and filed away. The Colts' most likely move was to the sideline, to stop the clock, but John called for a square-in. It was a gamble. He was choosing surprise over caution. If the play was successful, it would not stop the clock, and every second now was precious. Raymond broke straight downfield, then cut across the middle behind Svare and in front of Karilivacz. Again he caught the ball in stride and turned up the center of the field. This time he was hauled down on the Giants' 35-yard line, a gain of another 15.
With less than a minute to play, the Colts lined up again without huddling. The second of the two plays John had called was known as "come open late." John would drop back and check off three receivers: Moore on the far right, Dupre in the middle and, if both were covered, Raymond on the left. The pass routes were staggered so that Dupre would make his final cut a few seconds after Moore and Raymond a few seconds after Dupre. In all the years they had run it, Raymond had never known John not to throw to one of the first two targets.
One of the wet spots Raymond had found when he scouted the field -- the place where water tended to drain off the tarp as it was removed -- was right in front of him, right where Karilivacz was standing. Now his change to mud cleats would pay off. When the ball was snapped, Raymond ran about 10 yards upfield and then curled back two steps to the wet spot, which had begun to ice over. John rapidly looked off his two primary receivers and drilled the pass to Raymond. As he caught the ball, he pivoted sharply to his right on the long cleats, and when Karilivacz tried to make the same cut his feet slipped out from under him. Raymond had nothing but open field ahead up the sideline. He made it to the 13-yard line before the Giants' pursuit brought him down from behind.
"Unitas to Berry," said the Yankee Stadium public address announcer for the third consecutive time. Three plays, three passes to Raymond Berry, 62 yards. The Giants' defense was reeling. There were 15 seconds left. The Colts' offense raced off the field, and the field-goal-kicking team sprinted on.
Shaw was the holder for Steve Myhra, who was thinking what a long, cold winter it would be for him back in the wheat fields of North Dakota if he missed. The ball was snapped, Shaw placed it, Myhra took one step and swung the wide toe of his shoe into the ball. He glanced up in time to see it sail cleanly over the crossbar. The score was 17-17.
Once Raymond saw Colts fullback Alan Ameche cross the goal line for the winning touchdown in overtime, he ran for the locker room as fast as he could. He found an empty toilet stall and closed himself in for more than five minutes, a tall, lean man in a dirty white-and-blue uniform, his shoulder pads filling the small space. He thought about the high school team he had fought to make, the provisional scholarship at SMU, the fluke of being drafted as a futures pick by the Colts. He thought about the desperation he had felt two summers earlier and about meeting John and about their fortuitous partnership. And now they had done it. They were the best team in all of football, and he had made himself into a key player. He thought about how his 12 catches, for an NFL-championship-game-record 178 yards, had helped his team to victory. He thought about the three pass plays in the critical fourth-quarter drive and about the play he and John had improvised when Svare drifted wide to take him out.
Raymond had never been certain that all his years of obsessive work, all the pages of handwritten notes he kept in worn three-ring binders, were worth it. He thought that they made a general contribution, but day in and day out he did the work mostly on faith; it was something he had to do. Now fate had delivered a moment that proved its worth, at the pivotal point of the ultimate game of his career. How spooky that was, and how wonderful. It went beyond just being good, or being lucky. Raymond eventually would come to see it as the hand of God.
When he emerged from the stall, he ran into Tex Maule, a writer for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, and told him, simply, "It's the greatest thing that ever happened."
Raymond Berry came out to meet me at the airport in Nashville in June 2007. He stood at the bottom of the escalator by the baggage claim jotting notes to himself on a small piece of paper, which he slipped into his shirt pocket when I introduced myself. Back at his home, in a spacious office, he showed me the faded, worn loose-leaf binders that filled an entire upper shelf, one for each of his 13 years as a professional player, containing the notes and play diagrams he made before every game.
No one was surprised when he eventually became a coach. He was named head coach of the New England Patriots in 1984 and took them to the Super Bowl the following year. He coached for six seasons before the team let him go, and he retired from the game.
When he helped the Colts win their first championship, his career was just getting started. He told me he didn't really begin to work on serious head and body fakes until after that season. He kept on getting better. His catch total went from 56 in 1958 to 66 the following year and then to 74, his career high. But Raymond Berry's most remarkable statistic, which speaks directly to his discipline and his character, and which may be the most remarkable number in the NFL's record book, is this: In 13 seasons, through 631 receptions for 9,275 yards and 68 touchdowns, Raymond Berry fumbled exactly once. When he retired in 1967, he owned the NFL record for most receptions in a career. Weeb Ewbank, his Colts coach, introduced him at Raymond's induction into the Hall of Fame five years later, noting how unlikely it was, given Raymond's physical limitations, that he had even played pro football, much less become the most successful player at his position in NFL history. "Raymond and Raymond alone turned himself into the receiver he became," Ewbank said.
That is his legacy. Today many of the techniques Raymond developed are standard at all levels of football.
"After the first four years of being in the league," Raymond says, "I asked myself, Where does this drive come from? I began to realize that I was doing this so differently from everybody else. I began to get very curious about the source of this drive. It was a powerful thing. I began to realize it was a tremendous gift. It had everything to do with how I was playing, and it just did not get deterred by obstacles. I finally realized God gave me that drive. It was just as much a part of me as speed, jumping ability, strength, weight. The desire and the drive were more important than all of them. They made me."
Like those of any pioneer, Raymond's obsessions redefined his field. It just happened that his had goalposts at either end.