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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #33: Raymond Berry

Things a local child of the ‘80s never thought he’d hear himself say:

“Sure is strange not to have the Patriots playing in the Super Bowl this year.”

And yet, it’s true. The last three NFL title tilts (and four of the last five) have featured our Pats. Nine times in the last two decades we’ve had the chance to root on our home team in the quest for the Lombardi. That’s the height of absurdity, especially since our aspirations as young fans were much more modest.

And so on this oddly unpatriotic Super Bowl Sunday, we take a look at the first man to Coach New England to the final game of the NFL season. Raymond Berry will be best known in NFL history as the favorite target of Johnny Unitas, a Hall of Fame wideout who made six Pro Bowls and won consecutive NFL championships with the Baltimore Colts.

Berry turned to assistant coaching after his playing days, including a stint as wide receivers coach for the Pats. From 1984 to 1989 he was the top man in the Foxboro sideline, compiling a 48-39 regular season record (3-2 in the playoffs). The 1985 team went 11-5 and qualified for the playoffs as a wild card. Those Patriots became the first NFL team to win three postseason games on the road, beating the Jets, the Raiders, and the Dolphins all away from home. For many years that AFC Championship win in Miami stood as the biggest win in team history. “Squishing the Fish” not only propelled the Pats to the Super Bowl, it was the team’s first win in Miami in 20 years.

Despite exorcising their Orange Bowl demons, New England fell victim to a historically dominant Chicago squad, by a then-record 46-10 spanking. There would be no Berrying of the Bears that day. The Pats would return to the playoffs the following season with another 11-5 finish, but would be promptly escorted home by Elway’s Broncos.

The 1987 strike and then the sale of the team to the feckless Victor Kiam brought an end to the tenure of the then-best head coach in Patriots history. He’s probably third now, but lots of New England icons are finding themselves farther down the list than they once were.

Still, we should remember Coach Raymond Berry. And remember a time, 35 years ago, when just getting to the Super Bowl was unique and special. The time may be upon us when that’s true again.

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