Seven weeks before the Sudden Death Game

The Cowboys played the Jaguars in London today, but the NFL wasn’t always this big.

Consider: On this day in 1958, the Colts lost to the Giants at Yankee Stadium, 24-21 – a preview of their overtime thriller later that year in the title game. Afterward, their Hall of Fame receiver, Raymond Berry, went to CBS’s studios in New York and had a panel of celebrities try to guess his occupation on the game show What’s My Line?

Except for a pair of glasses — which were no disguise (he needed them) — Berry did nothing to hide his identity. He even signed in, with wonderful penmanship, as “Raymond Berry” — instead of, say, R. Emmett Berry or R. E. Berry, which would have been trickier.

But again, this was 1958. So even though Berry had led the NFL in receiving yards the year before — and would lead it in receptions and receiving touchdowns in that ’58 season — he wasn’t immediately recognized. The panelists were very observant, though, noticed his athletic physique and ramrod-straight posture, and quickly figured him for a jock.

The exchange between Bennett Cerf, the publisher/humorist, and Berry was just priceless:

Cerf: You’re playing at the present time on some professional outfit. Is that correct?

Berry: Yes, sir.

Cerf: Is it a football team?

Berry: Yes, sir.

Cerf: Is it a football team in the National Football League?

Berry: Yes, sir.

Cerf:: Did you play today in that fantastically exciting game up at the Yankee Stadium?

Berry: Yes, I did.

Cerf: Well, then, you’re a football player on either the Colts or the Giants. . . . Uh, Berry, . . . Raymond Berry. . . . You’re the end who almost caught a pass in the last quarter that would have beaten the Giants. You’re an end for the Baltimore Colts.

Berry: That’s right, sir.

Here’s the whole clip:

Did you notice, by the way, how Cerf pronounced Johnny Unitas’ last name as “YOU-knee-toss”? (Unitas had missed the game with broken ribs, and backup George Shaw had thrown three TD passes, including a 23-yarder to Berry.) Yes, it was a different world in 1958 — before London games and the NFL Network. But you have to remember: In those days, the Colts-Giants game would have been blacked out in New York. The only way Cerf or anybody on the panel could have seen it is if they had a ticket — unless, that is, they wanted to drive to Connecticut, outside the Blackout Zone, and rent a hotel room.

Anyway, on Dec. 28, Raymond Berry returned to New York and caught 12 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown as the Colts defeated the Giants, 23-17, in OT. Had he gone on “What’s My Line?” that night, Cerf probably wouldn’t have said to him, “You’re playing at the present time on some professional outfit. Is that correct?”

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2 thoughts on “Seven weeks before the Sudden Death Game

  1. Jack Finarelli

    Dan: This post leaves me with an obvious – yet unanswered – question:

    Any relation to “What’s My Line” host, John Daly?

    Enquiring minds … and all that stuff.

    1. Dan Post author

      I probably should have had a line in there that said: Full disclosure: The host isn’t a relative.

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