January 21, 2011

Steve Solloway: A lineman that time won't forget

The phone call inviting Gerry Raymond to Maine took the big man by surprise. So many years have passed. Hadn't football people back home forgotten who he was?

"I tried explaining to my kids I used to be someone," said Raymond, laughing. The boy from Lewiston is now a 51-year-old furniture store executive living in Texas. He has a loving family, a good life, and two surgically repaired knees from a career in football's trenches that ended too soon.

On some days the knees protest more than usual. Raymond's doctor shakes his head when he hears how his patient once abused them. Stuff wears out, Gerry. Don't you know?

He does. He will be in Augusta on Sunday to speak at the inaugural presentation of the Frank Gaziano Memorial Offensive and Defensive Linemen Awards. Raibone Charles of Windham and the University of Maine will also talk. But with all due respect to Charles and the late Chet Bulger of Rumford, Raymond is the standard by which all schoolboy linemen from Maine are measured. Even after nearly 35 years.

"I find it fascinating. I'm humbled by it. I always feel so fortunate."

Raymond was not a humble player. On the field he was confident and aggressive. In a sport where quarterbacks and running backs are so visible, linemen can be invisible. Raymond was not. In 1977 he was the first lineman to win the Fitzpatrick Award. We're now in 2011 and Raymond is still the only lineman to win it.

With the Gaziano Award, linemen will be brought out of the shadows. Interestingly, there is already a Gerry Raymond Award and a Chet Bulger Award for linemen, although neither, despite best intentions, generates the buzz of the Fitzy.

Fitzpatrick Award organizers celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1995 by inviting all the previous winners to attend that year's dinner. All but one was on hand to march into the hotel banquet room. Raymond was among them. He was the night's featured speaker, too.

He started all four years at Boston College at guard. He was a fourth-round draft pick of the New York Giants, behind running backs Butch Woolfork of Michigan and Joe Morris of Syracuse. The Giants had traded away their third pick.

The Baltimore Colts picked up Raymond after he was among the last of the Giants' cuts in 1982. From 1983-85, Raymond played for the Breakers of the USFL, following the club from Boston to New Orleans to Portland, Ore. He was named all-league at guard in 1984. He's listed as one of the short-lived league's all-time all-stars. At 6-foot-3, 265 pounds, Raymond was smaller by today's NFL standards but a presence.

Torn ACLs in both knees ended his career prematurely. He coached high school football in Oregon, relocated to Texas and became the umpire in a Dallas-based high school officiating crew at the highest level of Texas football. He's worked playoff games in front of tens of thousands of fans. He's worked games in JerryWorld, as Raymond calls the stadium built by the Dallas Cowboys' owner, Jerry Jones.

He didn't want to leave football. Being an umpire put him on the field for kickoffs, for when the games were on the line and everything in between.

He watched his son play defensive tackle for a high school in Dallas. The team reached the state semifinals, playing before 35,000. Reggie Beaulieu, Raymond's former line coach at Lewiston, visited about four years ago and called the younger Raymond a classic over-achiever. Dad was thrilled. His son didn't have all of his father's gifts but no one questioned his work ethic.

"My parents were very grounded, very blue-collar. They taught me to be thankful for what you have. To hear Reggie call my son a classic overachiever . . . how special is that?"

Gerry Raymond has worked his last game as an umpire. Traveling between a new home in Houston and Dallas while devoting time to family and business became too much.

"From my first football team to now has been 40 years," said Raymond. "Just being a fan will be enough. It's time to look back."

He paused for the briefest of moments. "And be pleased."

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

 

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