Raymond Berry stumped the panel when he appeared on the TV show What's My Line? How could this slim fellow in glasses be a professional football player? Had they known he needed special shoes because one leg was shorter than the other or that he wore a corset for his bad back, they would have been even more incredulous.
To add to his unlikely story, Berry (born 1933) didn't become a starter for his high school team until his senior year -- even though his father was the coach! As an end for Southern Methodist, he caught all of 33 passes in three seasons.
What possessed the Baltimore Colts to draft him as a "future" on the 20th round in 1954 is a mystery. And though he managed to stick on the team in 1955, his 13 pass receptions did not suggest he'd be there long.
But Berry was determined. He practiced and practiced, catching passes from anyone willing to throw to him, including his wife. He learned to catch passes thrown over his head or at his feet. He had, at best, average speed, but he developed, by his own count, 88 moves to get open. He ran patterns within a millimeter of how they were drawn up on the blackboard.
In 1956, Johnny Unitas became the Colts' quarterback. By then, Berry was ready to put all those hours of practice to use. He and Unitas emerged as one of the great pitch-and-catch duos in NFL history. In the next 11 seasons, Berry caught over 600 passes, most of them from Unitas. He led the NFL in total receptions three times and retired with the then-record of 631 receptions.
Perhaps his greatest moment came in the overtime 1958 championship game. He caught 12 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. Several of his grabs came in the Colts' life-or-death, last-minute drive to the tying touchdown. In the overtime period, two Unitas-to-Berry passes good for 33 yards were the major gains in Baltimore's march to the winning score.
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