Two days after being informed that star safety Eric Berry might have lymphoma, his teammates were still marveling at the enthusiasm, optimism and strength he showed during his brief message to the team Monday morning.
Meanwhile, Chiefs coach Andy Reid confirmed perhaps the most illuminating story of all — that the first thing Berry asked when told of the mass in his chest is whether he could still play Sunday in the Chiefs’ huge home test against Denver.
“He did ask that, and he asked it to me again,” Reid said. “That wasn’t an option.”
Here Berry was, dealing his discomfort in his chest that might possibly be cancer, wondering if he could still play the game he loved. Not that Reid was surprised.
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“No, nope,” Reid said. “That’s the way he’s wired.”
That is a good thing. In his farewell statement to the team before heading to Atlanta, where he family and a lymphoma specialist are taking care of him, Berry vowed to return to play. His teammates expected him to do this, but it’s the way he delivered his message — upbeat and positive — that left a lasting impression.
“He came in here with all smiles, just telling us to push on,” defensive end Jaye Howard said. “We got positive vibes ... he just told us don’t worry about him, he’s going to get through this, he’ll be back.”
But for all of Berry’s strength, there’s no doubt they haven’t quite gotten over the aftershocks of the announcement, which began from the moment they left that meeting Monday to continue with their normal work day.
“I’m shocked,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “You know when you first find out you’re just completely shocked. You just never expect it. It’s sad for him and his family and everybody. It’s a tough situation as young as he is and you never expect something like that.
“Certainly walking away the day when he did tell us, you felt better just from his attitude and his frame of mind and how positive he was and the type of person he is. But certainly I was shocked and saddened at first.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton also remembers being surprised at how this fit, 25-year old athlete in the prime of his career potentially could be forced to face such a serious illness.
Sutton, however, believes Berry’s decision to speak to his teammates was incredibly beneficial for all sides.
“I think one of the best things he did was be here Monday and let everybody see him,” Sutton said. “That meant, I think, a lot to the players because if you just disappear, you’re wondering what happened to him. But he assured the players of his attitude and what he was going to do and how he was going to attack it. And I think that made us coaches, players all feel really good.”
Quarterback Chase Daniel also said Berry’s situation certainly serves as a wake-up call to the players.
“It makes you want to fight even harder and make you realize how little this all means in the whole scheme of things of life, especially when your teammate, who you go to war with everyday, comes down with something like that and is able to have the attitude he has,” Daniel said.
“Sometimes you get in a monotony here and what you’re doing and it’s like, ‘What are you doing? Go out there, fight every single day as hard as you possible can because you really don’t know (what’s next).”
Several of Berry’s teammates also said they will miss his boundless energy. He had actively tried to be more vocal since veteran safety (and Berry pal) Kendrick Lewis was allowed to leave via free agency, and he had largely succeeded. Prior to the Chiefs’ regular-season opener against Tennessee, Reid approached Berry and told him to lead the defense.
“It’s your deal now, baby,” Reid said, as captured by the cameras of the NFL Network show Sound FX.
Berry proceeded to rack up 15 tackles in the loss, but his season was all downhill from there, as he suffered a high ankle sprain against Denver and missed the next five games.
During that time, other players have been forced to step into the leadership void.
“Other guys step up,” defensive end Jaye Howard said. “Justin Houston has taken over that role. Just how the offense goes as Jamaal (Charles) goes, we go as Justin goes.”
And on Wednesday, Berry wasn’t far away from Houston’s consciousness, or anyone’s consciousness, really.
“(Justin) gathered us together today, and before we broke the huddle, he said we just got to play hard for (Eric),” Howard said.
As of now, it’s unclear what kind of tribute the team might have in store for Berry on Sunday. Remember, while he is feared to have lymphoma, the exact nature of his ailment isn’t 100 percent known which is why he’s seeing a specialist in Atlanta.
But since Berry has been placed on the season-ending non-football injury list, it is known he will not return to the team in 2014 — an unfortunate turn of events, regardless, for a player who loves the game so much that he still wanted to play Sunday despite the potentially life-threatening mass in his chest.
This is not lost on his teammates, nor will it be.
“We know how bad he wants to play,” defensive Kevin Vickerson said. “We know how (much) he gives his all to it when he’s out there on the field with us.
“So we’ve just got to play for E.B. man, and dedicate this — not just game — just this whole season to him.”
Charles agreed, though he noted that Berry’s situation is certainly bigger than football.
“I know we will probably dedicate the game to him as well,” Charles said. “I just want him to have the best health in the world right now. I want him to get himself better. I don’t care about the game right now, I just want him to be okay, so I can see my friend forever.”