By Mike Klingaman | email@example.com
January 10, 2010
Berry will root for the New England Patriots, the team he once coached to the Super Bowl. But he said he believes Baltimore will win.
"I've got to pick the Ravens by a touchdown," said Berry, 76, the Hall of Fame receiver whose 13-year career with the Baltimore Colts included two world championships.
One of the Colts' most celebrated players, he later led New England to its first Super Bowl appearance in 1986. A wild-card team, like this season's Ravens, Berry's Patriots won three straight games on the road before losing to the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX.
Few, besides Berry, can speak so authoritatively about Baltimore and Foxborough, Mass., the cities where he plied his craft. It was here that he helped the Colts win back-to-back NFL titles in 1958 and 1959. And it was there (New England) that he twice took the Patriots to the playoffs in his six years as head coach (1984-1989).
Now retired and living in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Berry predicts a Ravens victory in a hard-fought, low-scoring game.
Why? The Ravens (9-7) are healthy; the Patriots (10-6) are not. Baltimore has a proven ground attack; New England does not.
"The Patriots' running game doesn't scare anyone right now," Berry said, "and I don't like the odds of them winning a playoff without it."
But New England's chances improve if the Ravens start drawing flags, he said.
"When I played with the Colts, we hardly ever got penalized," Berry said. "And when we [Patriots] went to the Super Bowl, we were one of the least penalized teams in the league.
"I wouldn't condone [the flags]. It's amazing how the penalties drop off when players learn that you won't put up with it."
That Berry would cheer on New England isn't a slap at Baltimore fans, he said.
"When the Colts left town, psychologically, I was like a guy without a team," he said. "I've never felt any connection with the Ravens."
Still, Berry picks them to win on the road despite the fact that New England has won eight straight playoff games in Foxborough behind quarterback Tom Brady.
That streak matters, said Dan Sullivan, a former Baltimore Colts offensive lineman who grew up in Boston, attended Boston College and now lives in nearby Andover, Mass.
"The Patriots' home-field advantage is big," said Sullivan, who played on two Super Bowl teams during his 11 years with the Colts (1962-1972).
"This place is a hotbed up here. You're talking 60,000 fans screaming on an ongoing basis," he said of Foxborough. "It's like [Baltimore's] old Memorial Stadium, where the noise reverberated as we ran onto the field.
"It gets your juices flowing, and the Patriots will have that going for them."
Sullivan's prediction: New England 21, Baltimore 17.
"The Patriots have some holes this year, no question," he said. "I can't imagine them running on the Ravens' defense, so they'll probably use short passes just like a running game."
Baltimore's hopes might hinge on the arm of Joe Flacco, its second-year quarterback, Sullivan said.
"I fully suspect the Patriots will jam up the run and force the Ravens to beat them with the pass," he said. "Flacco has struggled this year, and I'm not sure why. I can't imagine that he's confused, because that would have shown up last year."
Sullivan, however, said he'll be pulling for the Ravens. He has too many good memories of Baltimore not to side with the club.
"The Ravens' owners have done a nice job of bridging the gap, of adopting us old Colts after the team left town [in 1984]," said Sullivan, 70.
"I hope the Ravens do it, I really do. But I just don't think they have the horses to beat this team."
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