Before the preseason opener at Arizona and the exhibition and regular-season lid-lifters at Arrowhead Stadium, a tribute to Eric Berry flashed on the video boards. Crowds everywhere and opposing players and coaches were uplifted by Berry’s story, his return to action and conquering of Hodgkin lymphoma.
But nobody was quite sure what to expect of Berry’s performance level. Surviving cancer and pulling on the No. 29 jersey for competition was an achievement beyond what many outside of Berry’s camp dreamed.
Returning to a standard that earned him Pro Bowl recognition three times and All-Pro once at safety before the diagnosis seemed like a Disney movie script.
Instead, it’s reality, evidenced by his weekly solid performances and confirmed earlier this week when Berry was selected to the Pro Bowl, one of five Chiefs named.
“The thing that will probably stand out more to me is just the process to get to this point,” Berry said. “I feel like that was a big deal, and I had a lot people help me get to that.”
Dedication to the process helped Berry believe that not only would he physically recover, but that he could once again thrive in the NFL.
“I kind of brainwashed myself from the get-go, that was going to be where I was and better throughout the whole process,” Berry said. “I just kind of started mentally picturing myself where I wanted to be. I focused on that every day and kept striving for it.”
Berry’s sixth NFL season has been one of his best. He has two interceptions, and his 52 tackles rank fourth on one of the league’s top defenses. The play at San Diego when Berry submarined a blocker and got up to stop a play for a short gain remains one of the team’s defensive highlights in a season of many.
Berry referred the Pro Bowl selection as another “checkpoint.” Returning to action was a checkpoint; so was making his first start in the second week as the Chiefs didn’t rush him back to full-time status.
But with the Chiefs taking a 9-5 record into Sunday’s home game against the Cleveland Browns and a playoff spot within reach but not secured, this week’s announcement doesn’t top Berry’s priority list.
“Right now, I feel like I have more stuff to focus on,” Berry said.
To Andy Reid, the feeling is mutual among other Pro Bowl Chiefs: outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, cornerback Marcus Peters and tight end Travis Kelce, as well as Pro Bowl alternates quarterback Alex Smith, linebacker Derrick Johnson, punter Dustin Colquitt and defensive tackle Dontari Poe.
“What’s unique about these guys, I had a chance to talk to them all, and they really didn’t get caught up in that,” Reid said. “They just kind of go, ‘OK, thanks, we’ve got to get ready for Cleveland.’ ”
But if there’s one who brings out the joy in others, it’s Berry.
“It’s a great tribute to Eric and his family,” Reid said. “He was so driven that you had a feeling that was going to get there, as crazy as that sounds.
“When you look back on it, and now that it’s real, what a great story. True toughness and grit to be able to do that.”