When the phone call came, asking if he would present the silver trophy at the Super Bowl in February, Raymond Berry took it for a prank.
"You've got to be kidding," he told the caller. "Is this a joke?"
Frank Supowitz, the NFL's senior vice president of events, assured Berry that the offer was legit. The league wanted the Baltimore Colts Hall of Fame receiver to take part in the post-game ceremonies, with the world watching, at Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.
Berry said yes and hung up, agog.
"Mercy, that call about floored me," the 78-year-old football great said. "I was totally blown away. Man alive, it got my adrenalin going, and I didn't even know I still had any."
After the game, Berry will parade the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy, a 22-inch, sterling silver award, to the winners' stage at midfield. There, he will hand it to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who'll present the seven-pound trophy to the victors.
It marks the seventh straight year that a Hall of Famer has taken the red-carpet walk with the prize. Previous honorees include Roger Staubach (last year), Bart Starr, Don Shula, Joe Namath, Doug Williams and Len Dawson.
"It's another way for us to salute the greats of the game," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "Raymond Berry meant so much to the league, as player and coach."
Berry is the first of that group never to have won a Super Bowl. He spent his whole 13-year career with Baltimore, retiring in 1967 with a then-record 631 receptions. He caught a record 12 passes in the Colts' 23-17 sudden-death championship victory over the New York Giants in 1958. A year later, the Colts repeated as NFL titlists.
Berry later coached the New England Patriots and led them to the Super Bowl following the 1985 season, losing to the Chicago Bears.
That this year's game will take place in Indianapolis, now home to the Colts, played into Berry's selection, McCarthy said: "But, quite frankly, he would be a great choice in any year, at any location.
"Also, as it's known that he is a man of perfection, he'll definitely not drop the trophy."
Perish that thought, Berry said.
"You know I'm big on practice," he said. "I expect they'll drill me out there.
"If they want, I'll even carry it to midfield in my old Colts' uniform."
His only concern is the girth of the trophy.
"I'm going to have to start working out with weights," he said. "I just hope I can lift the durn thing."
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