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Pats’ Past: Raymond Berry’s final game as Patriots head coach

Four years after leading New England to its first Super Bowl, Raymond Berry coached his last game – against the Los Angeles Rams.

21 years ago, professional football left the second-biggest city in the United States when the Raiders and Rams moved to Oakland and St. Louis, respectively, following the 1994 season. After their intermezzo in Missouri, the Rams have moved back to California this season – and on Sunday the "newest" team in the NFL will travel across the country to take on the New England Patriots.

Sunday’s game will mark the fourth time that the Patriots host the Los Angeles Rams. It will also be the first time a team from Los Angeles will visit Foxboro since December 24, 1989 – the day Raymond Berry coached his last game as head coach of the Patriots.

After a Hall of Fame career as a wide receiver with the Baltimore Colts, Berry went into coaching. He eventually took over as the Patriots’ head coach during the 1984 season, when the team fired the unpopular Ron Meyer even though New England held a 5-3 record. Under Berry, they finished the season 9-7 and out of the playoffs. Still, with a strong foundation of players, the groundwork was laid for the 1985 team.

It would finish with an 11-5 record and go on to win three road playoff games to reach the franchise’s first championship game: Super Bowl XX. The Patriots ultimately lost the game in lusterless fashion but reaching the Super Bowl was the franchise’s biggest success until that point. It was also the closest Berry would come to winning a championship as a head coach.

His 1986 team would also finish the regular season 11-5 but go one-and-done in the postseason. After going 8-7 and 9-7 and missing the playoffs the following two seasons, Berry had his worst year as a head coach in 1989. The team lacked both the solid ground game and stout defense of past squads and had won only five games by the time the 10-5 Los Angeles Rams visited Foxboro Stadium on a freezing Sunday in December.

The game against the Rams was a microcosm of sorts of Berry’s tenure as a head coach: without a doubt entertaining but in the end coming up just a bit short. New England started well and registered two early interceptions of Rams quarterback Jim Everett but was unable to capitalize. Los Angeles, on the other hand turned the last of its three interceptions of the first half – one by Mark Wilson, who was benched for Steve Grogan, who himself threw two – into a touchdown to take a 10-0 lead.

Before halftime, Berry’s team cut the lead to seven points but gave up its second touchdown of the day early in the third quarter. New England started to fight back, though, and scored its first touchdown of the day on a long pass to Irving Fryar. After Los Angeles missed a field goal, the Patriots tied the game thanks to a John Stephens touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.

With momentum on their side, the Patriots took the lead thanks to a 48-yard field goal. However, Los Angeles responded with a touchdown drive to go ahead 24-20 late in the final period. The Patriots were not yet finished, though. Grogan drove his team down to the Rams’ 5-yard line to set up one final play. However, his pass attempt sailed over his intended target – ending the game, the season, and, as it would later turn out, the tenure of the franchise’s first ever AFC-winning coach.

Not even two months after the game against Los Angeles, the Patriots parted ways with Raymond Berry. Reportedly the head coach and team owner Victor Kiam were in disagreement over personnel questions, which led to Berry’s firing. Without Berry, who was replaced by defensive coordinator Rod Rust, the team went into the least successful season in franchise history: The Patriots finished the 1990 season 1-15 and Rust was fired. They then went 6-10 and 2-14 under Dick McPherson, who himself was fired after the 1992 season leading to the arrival of Bill Parcells.

Overall, Berry finished his Patriots career as the second-most successful head coach in franchise history with 51 victories (he since slid to third thanks to Bill Belichick). He also was the first to lead the team to a Super Bowl. In the end, he failed to bring a championship to New England but his tenure certainly was one of the most stable and successful eras of Patriots football.