February 9, 2012

Vanderbilt played role in this year’s Super Bowl

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Pro football hall of famer Raymond Berry carries the Vince Lombardi trophy through a throng of happy New York Giants players following Sunday’s Super Bowl in Indianapolis. Berry was sporting a Vanderbilt-themed necktie designed by his friend, André Churchwell, M.D., during his walk to the podium to present the trophy to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Images courtesy of Super Bowl XLVI broadcast)

Vanderbilt played role in this year’s Super Bowl

Raymond Berry, a former wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and former coach of the New England Patriots, wore a little bit of Vanderbilt at Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVI when he presented the Vince Lombardi trophy to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell following the game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.

The 78-year-old Berry wore a tie designed for the Vanderbilt Heart & Vascular Institute by his friend André Churchwell, M.D., associate professor of Medicine (Cardiology), Radiology and Biomedical Engineering, and associate dean for Diversity for Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. The tie has a black background with tiny gold V’s and a small red heart within each V.

Berry and Johnny Unitas, the Colts’ legendary quarterback, gave the Colts one of the “greatest pass-catch teams of all time,” according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Three straight times Berry led the league in receptions and caught a then-record 631 passes for 9,275 yards and 68 touchdowns in his 13-year career.

Berry’s story is one of “determination, dedication and desire,” according to the Hall of Fame. He wore special shoes because one leg was shorter than the other and didn’t become a starter on his high school football team until his senior year — even though his father was the coach.

“He was a hero of mine as a child growing up in East Nashville,” Churchwell said. “I related to him on a number of levels. He had to wear glasses and he wasn’t the most physically gifted player, but he worked hard. I studied him intensely, like I was studying for an exam. I wrote No. 82 on the back of my t-shirt with a magic marker.”

About two years ago Churchwell found out through a mutual acquaintance that Berry was living in Murfreesboro and asked to meet his childhood hero. The two spent more than two hours together.

“I went in with about 50 to 100 questions that I had written down that I wanted to ask him,” Churchwell said.

Berry carried the 22-inch, sterling silver trophy to the winner’s stage at midfield of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, walking through a line of Giants players who reached out to touch the trophy, to kiss it, and to pat him on the back. Berry handed the seven-pound trophy to Goodell on the stage, who presented it to the Giants.