INDIANAPOLIS – Raymond Berry was a classy wide receiver whose Hall-of-Fame career with the Colts included 631 receptions for 9,275 yards and 68 touchdowns.
Berry played from 1955-67 with the Colts, and his career was defined far beyond the numbers he amassed. Berry was known for his dogged work ethic and humble approach. His dedication allowed him to retire as the NFL's all-time reception leader. Berry was a five-time Pro Bowler who was an All-Pro and topped the league in receptions from 1958-60. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973.
Berry was a key reason the Colts earned a place in NFL history with one of the most successful runs over an extended period of time. Berry was a part of World Champions in 1958 and 1959, when the Colts topped the New York Giants. His 12 receptions for 178 yards in the 1958 title game, 'The Greatest Game Ever Played,' helped thrust the sport into the national limelight.
Berry had a third moment in a championship effort when the Colts met Cleveland for the NFL Championship in 1964. The Colts lost that day, 27-0, and it was the last championship game playing appearance for Berry.
His stature in the game allowed him to be a part of the commemorative coin toss at Super Bowl XXXIII. It was the 40th anniversary of the 1958 NFL Championship game, and Berry was among 10 Colts and Giants chosen to honor the moment. (He was joined by Colts teammates Lenny Moore, Art Donovan and Gino Marchetti.)
This Sunday in Indianapolis, Berry will receive another honor. The Hall-of-Famer will be part of the Lombardi Trophy presentation to the winning team. This is a league initiative started at Super Bowl XL that has involved (chronologically) Bart Starr, Don Shula, Doug Williams, Joe Namath, Len Dawson and Roger Staubach.
When Berry got the invitation this year, he was not sure the phone call was legitimate.
"I was absolutely floored when I was asked by the NFL," said Berry. "I thought the guy (Frank Supovitz, NFL vice president, events) was kidding me when he called. I thought somebody was pulling my leg. They told me they were deadly serious. I was just thrilled to death. It is quite an honor."
Berry will carry the Lombardi Trophy to the presentation stand in Lucas Oil Stadium. It then will be presented by Commissioner Roger Goodell to representatives of the winning team.
The moment will be special for Berry, and he does think back to Super Bowl XXXIII when he was a part of the pre-game festivities with men from the 1958 game.
"I remember walking out on the field," said Berry. "Frank Gifford and I always have a lot fun remembering our big championship game. We were razzing each other on the way out to midfield. It was a great time to see those guys after so many years, and to be a part of that was quite a thrill. This situation with the Super Bowl and being able to help present the trophy is hard to believe."
While Berry knows the moment will commemorate a fantastic moment in the lives of the victors, his previous emotions in title outcomes will have him thinking of others, too.
"I will feel for the team that loses, because I've been on a losing side," said Berry. "I'll know how thrilled the guys are who win. They're up on Cloud Nine for a couple of months and they won't come down. I was on that cloud a couple of times. It's a feeling that is unequalled, if you've never had it. You just have a hard time dealing with it, it's such a thrill. I'll be quite well aware of how both teams are feeling."
Berry likes the initiative created by the NFL. He feels there is a need to honor the past so touch with it is not lost.
"I think there is a whole lot to that. That is a real principle of life, with sports teams and the nation (of fans of teams)," he said.
Berry is proud of the heritage created by the Colts teams with which he played. Those teams are remembered for their greatness.
"I think the Colts' history is very significant to the National Football League," said Berry. "It's very rare for a team to have experiences that we had (when I played). It doesn't happen to everybody. There are a lot of players who go through their entire careers and never know what it feels like. It's an honor and privilege to be on a team that can put it all together and end up as a champion."
Berry attacked each playing Sunday with a dedication and an ethic that approximated championship play. While he contends a title Sunday does not typically include a different high, his first such day remains memorable.
"I don't think there was (a different feel) in most cases, but I will say our first championship as a Colts team (1958), that experience is sort of in a special place by itself," said Berry. "I don't think I've ever had, nor will I ever have, anything that will quite equal that. I've had a lot of opportunities and requests over the years to put it into words. I find it every difficult to even define what it is. There is no question it is the ultimate."
Berry coached in the league after he played. After coaching, he followed the game. One thing he knows is crucial is the support of fans. He believes players know it, or should know it.
"It was quite a relationship with the Colts and the fans," said Berry. "There was a closeness that we all felt like we were a part of something together. One of the things you realize after being in professional football for a period of time, at least you should realize it, we're just a bunch of kids getting to play a game we love to play and getting paid for it. The people responsible for it are the fans. Without the fans, you have no NFL. They're the most important element in the whole equation. Without them, there wouldn't be any of us. Once you realize that, you appreciate it more and more."
NFL SUPER BOWL NOTES
*Super Bowl ad rates have grown from $42,000 per 30-second commercial in Super Bowl I to $3.1 million for a 30-second spot in Super Bowl XLV. The first 'Million-Dollar Minute" in TV advertising occurred in Super Bowl XIX.
*30-second advertising rates involved in Colts Super Bowls: Super Bowl III-$55,000; Super Bowl V-$72,000; Super Bowl XLI-$2,600,000; Super Bowl XLIV-$2,900,000.
*Super Bowl I ticket prices were $12, $10 and $6. The first time Super Bowl ticket prices topped $100 was Super Bowl XXII. The first time Super Bowl ticket prices topped $1,000 was Super Bowl XLIII. Ticket prices in the Colts' four Super Bowls were: III -- $12; V -- $15; XLI -- $700, $600; XLIV -- $1,000, $900, $800, $500.
*Television Rating and Shares for Super Bowls involving the Colts – Super Bowl III – Rating-36.0/Share 70; Super Bowl V – Rating-39.9/Share 75; Super Bowl XLI – Rating-42.6/Share 64; Super Bowl XLIV – Rating-45.0/Share 68. Rating is a percentage of all TV Households watching the Super Bowl. Share is a percentage of all Households Using TV watching the Super Bowl. Total viewership for Super Bowl III was 54.5 million. Total viewership for Super Bowl V was 58.5 million. Total viewership for Super Bowl XLI was 139.8 million. Total viewership for Super Bowl XLIV was 153.4 million.
SUPER BOWL – Quote/Unquote
"I played 13 years and I would trade 12 to not win it, but to experience playing in a Super Bowl." – Dan Dierdorf, Pro Football Hall of Fame/CBS Sports