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THE METICULOUS MOTIVATOR RAYMOND BERRY : Locked Into His Own Private World, He's Still Been Able to Leave It Long Enough to Reach the Hall of Fame and Super Bowl

January 20, 1986|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

A search for Raymond Berry starts with the understanding that he dislikes being called Ray, and that he does not do telephone interviews.

The coach of the New England Patriots doesn't like to do any kind of interviews and, when he does, it's almost as if he weren't doing an interview at all.

A member of the Patriots' front office ran into publicity director Jim Greenidge the other day. Greenidge's job, as the title suggests, is to get publicity for the organization, preferably in major media.

"Jim was looking all depressed, so I said, 'What's wrong?' He says, 'Raymond just turned down the New York Times.' "

A typical postgame exchange between Berry and reporters is a study in evasion.

Reporter: "You threw more short passes today."

Berry: "Is that right? I didn't know that. That's why I like talking to you guys."

Reporter: "Why did you run the ball on third and 19?"

Berry: "Sometimes you do what you feel like doing."

Reporter: "Why did you use six different running backs (in last week's AFC title game at Miami)?"

Berry: "Because (backfield coach) Bobby Grier suggested it."

Reporter: "Well, why did he suggest it?"

Berry: "I don't know, but I respect his opinion, so we did it."

Reporters, walking away: " Arghh !"

A few things are known. Berry was born in Corpus Christi, Tex., 53 years ago next month. He had an undistinguished career at SMU and was drafted in the 20th round by the Baltimore Colts. He caught a lot of passes from John Unitas and 19 years later was in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. How he got there is a study in determination.

But you aren't going to find Raymond Berry with his psyche lying out in the open, waiting to tell you all about it. To find the secrets behind that thin smile and those squinty, piercing eyes it's better to go to the people that have known him best.

The consensus is that he is a man who takes his job but not himself seriously. He carries both facets to the extreme, and he disarms those misled by his quiet demeanor.

THE PLAYER

Remember Silly Putty? Berry used to squeeze it to strengthen his hands. Constantly.

"He was the first one I'd seen use Silly Putty," said Weeb Ewbank, who was Berry's coach for nine years at Baltimore. "I remember when he was the receivers coach up there (at New England), one of the disappointing things to him was that he couldn't get players to stay after practice and use the Silly Putty. As soon as practice was over they'd all run for the locker room."

Today, Patriot receivers squeeze Silly Putty when they watch films or sit in meetings.

"Once he became the head coach, he got it done," Ewbank said.

But Berry's dedication as a player extended far beyond Silly Putty.

"When we used to go to the West Coast, Raymond would get his time of eating and sleeping on the same time we'd have to have when we were out there," said Ewbank, now retired and living in Oxford, Ohio. "He even wanted us to practice the same time we'd play out there.

"We'd stay a week out there on that West Coast trip, and it would be late in the fall when that sun's down low, and in the third quarter that can get pretty bad. Raymond had contact lenses but he'd also put on (sun) goggles. He's the only player that I've ever seen that used goggles. He was so meticulous about dropped balls that he didn't want to drop any because of the sun."

The Patriot press guide says that Berry practiced all 88 of his "moves" every week. Ewbank is skeptical.

"I would guess he had 88 pass maneuvers, but one of the things he stressed was to save your legs. Along that line, he was the first one I'd ever seen to get down 20 or 25 yards from the quarterback, start running in place and then take off and they'd throw to him. He'd save 20 yards of running on a deep pattern."

Berry's biggest problem was finding someone to throw to him after practice.

"One of his drills was to throw nothing but bad balls to him," Ewbank said. "I used to have to run John (Unitas) off--'John, you've had enough throwing today'--and he'd say, 'Yeah, talk to that guy out there.' "

Berry was charged with only one fumble in his 13-year career--and he insisted that should have been ruled an incomplete pass. But then, he didn't have many of those, either.

"We graded every pass that we had--how well it was thrown or why it was incomplete but I don't remember ever giving him a dropped ball," Ewbank said. "It was either an underthrow or an overthrow, or you'd have to give the defense credit.

"He was not gifted with tremendous speed. He had quickness, but the way he could catch a ball, the drills certainly helped. I don't think he would have become as great as he was if he hadn't done all those things. I remember after a game when Raymond had two or three fine catches, a newspaperman said the credit shouldn't go to great passes by Unitas as much as great catches by Berry."

Berry played his last four seasons for Don Shula, who explained recently how Berry worked with Unitas:

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