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As a player, person, ex-Colt Berry never was one to drop ball

Sun Columnist

This was a homecoming for Raymond Berry, who was such a remarkable youngman that some teammates, given to a torrent of profanity, would clean up theirlanguage when he approached. That was the ultimate sign of respect.

Berry didn't "wear religion on his sleeve" and wasn't about to forcepersonal beliefs on others. He was, though, an extraordinary man and footballplayer, graduating from SMU before a 13-year career as a pass receiver withthe Baltimore Colts earned him enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"I dream," he said, "of waking up some morning and hearing Baltimore hasanother football team. Also that Robert Irsay decides to give back the Coltname that rightly belongs to Baltimore. It would be good for him andIndianapolis, too."

Berry has been a stand-up witness for Baltimore. He was coaching the New England Patriots when asked his reaction to the loss of football in the citywhere he had gained so much distinction. Berry could never be political. Hetold a wire service it was appalling such a despicable incident could havehappened.

By way of contrast, another ex-Colt, Don Shula, coaching the Miami Dolphins and with a forum similar to Berry, merely said, "I heard a lot of badthings happened there."

Shula, for reasons known to himself, didn't take the same stance in 1984as Berry, who denounced the robbery of the Colts without qualification ordeliberation.

Berry and wife Sally decided Baltimore meant so much to them they wantedto come back for a visit.

"We had been here for overnight stays, but nothing lengthy," said Raymond."I had a hankering to see Western Maryland College, where we trained. It's abeautiful school. It's where it all started for me. I drove throughWestminster. The town is pretty, well-kept and has a lot of character. I neversaw it much when I was a player. I rarely went into town.

"Just to be back in Baltimore, though, is a high point. My being here isdifferent. So many of the other players stayed. I went into coaching afterplaying and have moved around. I talked to a lot of people about the Colts andsome became so emotional they had to walk away."

He rejoiced in relating his Baltimore past. "The 1958 championship in NewYork was my biggest thrill. I was 25 years old at the time. I got to play with John Unitas and there's not much else you can do in a football way after beingwith that kind of a talented quarterback."

It was in Baltimore where he admits to finding the spiritual side of life."I had always gone to church but a teammate, Don Shinnick, talked to me aboutthe Lord in a special way," he said. "Playing in the '58 championship was apowerful experience. But I wondered what else the future held. I rememberbeing at National Guard camp in 1960 and knowing the Lord and true peace forthe first time."

Berry comes from Paris, Texas, and saw how blacks were segregated and putdown. But not with Raymond. His treatment all men, regardless of race orreligion, emphasized a compassion that was never a grandstand play.

A sportswriter, observing Berry close up, once wrote he was the "finestman to have walked the earth since Jesus Christ." That was a strong statement,not intended to be sacrilegious but an effort to convey the exemplaryqualities of an individual.

"Raymond is that one person you meet in your lifetime," offered LennyMoore, a fellow Hall of Fame member, "who is totally genuine. He is free ofthe kind of faults so many of us have."

Berry's father, now 89, was a high school coach. He had an ability toextract the maximum in application. How?

"Because he always felt his team was capable of winning and got each boyto believe he could achieve," said Raymond. "As a young coach, my father savedhis money and would go to clinics put on by Knute Rockne. He has high respectfor Rockne and what he meant to the game."

"We've been deeply touched," said Raymond's wife Sally, a native of Tyler,Texas. "We felt very blessed to be a part of something special, how Baltimoreloved the Colts."

The Berrys plan to go to Washington to visit the Holocaust Museum beforereturning to Denver. Yes, Raymond Berry is a man of depth. He once went toPearl Harbor and the reaction to being in such a location was more than heanticipated as he dwelled on the loss of so many young men in a war theydidn't start.

Raymond Berry is in a Hall of Fame for football achievement, but moreimportantly, a Hall of Fame for humanity. He elevates his fellow man.

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