In an otherwise animated Chiefs locker room after their now-or-never, season-salvaging 26-15 win over Oakland on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, defensive backs Ron Parker and Steven Terrell quietly stood in a corner dressing and speaking in awe about Eric Berry.
Since they were on the topic already, let’s pick up there on how the injured Berry imposed his unique, powerful and infectious will on this game — by being around the team all week (including at the hotel on Saturday night), addressing the mesmerized group before the game and being a constant on the sideline.
“When I see him, it’s like, ‘I can’t let him down,’” Parker said. “That’s every man’s feeling in this building: When you see him, it’s almost like you fear letting him down.”
“If I let this man down, he might look at me in a different type of way that I don’t want him to look at me like,” Parker added. “I want to be a man, and I want him to look at me like a man.
“I don’t want him to look at me like a little boy. So I’ve got to man up.”
Or as Terrell playfully-yet-seriously likes to tell Berry: “‘I need you, I need you around me.’ He just elevates everything.”
This isn’t token stuff. It’s telling, heart-felt testimony.
Now, surely, there was more to the Chiefs’ defensive atonement a week after their exasperating performance in a 38-31 loss to the Jets, an exhibition in which the Chiefs looked plodding and listless and directionless and left you wondering what they had left.
It can’t just be that simple, right?
Some combination of desperation to stay in the playoff hunt, pure professional pride, a revamped game plan and determination to offset Marcus Peters’ suspension factored into Sunday’s win over the Raiders.
But you better bet Berry made that all surge alive, too, in a way that few injured players could do or may even want to take on.
(Because the Chiefs have a puzzling policy that prohibits injured players from speaking to the media, they declined to make Berry available after the game on Sunday.)
“Sometimes guys get hurt, and they want to disappear; they don’t feel part of the team,” coach Andy Reid said. “He’s part of the team. A big part of the team.”
After Berry suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in the opener against New England and was lost for the season, it seemed the Chiefs would do well to try to have him around as much as possible considering the spellbinding impact he seems to have on teammates.
He’s earned that, between his stature as a cancer survivor and the prestige he enjoys because of his work ethic and sheer charisma.
But that would also have to come on the right timetable for Berry, whose stage of recovery from his injury is uncertain but was seen jogging out of the locker room on Wednesday.
And while he’s been around some this season, he hadn’t regularly appeared in meetings and spoken in the huddle before the game as he did in the last few days.
“I wish y’all could see everybody’s eyes when he’s in the middle,” said Terrell, who snuffed out any hopes of a late Raiders rally with an interception. “He just has that it. He’s just it.”
Call it coincidence, but Berry’s re-entry couldn’t have been a more harmonic convergence for the Chiefs, who had lost six of seven games and would have been hard-pressed to recover from one more loss.
For that matter, they’ll be challenged to repeat this sort of performance next week against the Los Angeles Chargers (7-6), who will come to town sharing first place in the AFC West.
But one step at a time here.
After giving up 31 points to the Raiders in a loss in Oakland, the Chiefs had them blanked through three quarters on Sunday.
The lull that enabled the Raiders to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter kept the Chiefs from their first regular-season shutout since 2011, but the defense still looked faster, quicker, more intense and energized than it had in weeks.
It generated three turnovers and three sacks and actually created momentum.
“Oh, yeah, it’s a swag — once you get swag and playing, nobody’s uptight about what’s going on,” said linebacker Reggie Ragland, who says Berry persistently keeps him on his toes with pop quizzes during the week about his responsibilities on any given play, and added, “That’s a great guy to have in the locker room.”
Because so much is fickle and inexplicable in sports, it’s naturally tempting to seek some sense of rational order in simple, tangible forms we can process.
That’s why it’s easy to embrace and overstate the mystique of a team meeting that somehow resets everything, rants or theatrics that coincide with galvanizing a group gone adrift, or just the power of the old-fashioned pep talk.
But sometimes maybe there is something to this stuff, a chemical reaction that just can’t quite be defined but takes on a life of its own … at least for a day that included Parker saying Berry even was helping the coaches do their jobs.
“He’s a legend in my eyes,” defensive lineman Chris Jones said. “E.B., he’s a remarkable guy. Any time he says something, you know it’s legit from the heart and we can relate to it.”
Everybody “feeds off” his words of wisdom, cornerback Steven Nelson said, including guys who are his elders, like linebacker Derrick Johnson.
“We look up to him,” Johnson said. “When he speaks, we’re listening.”
And maybe it’s not so much always the words as the passion with which they’re delivered.
As Johnson recalled it, Berry’s message in the huddle was simple enough: seize the moment; make sure preparation during the week carried over to the game.
Others said Berry basically just said … have fun and play hard.
But sometimes it’s the messenger more than the message when you have the currency Berry does as a terrific player and spiritual force.
“He’s just overcome everything,” Terrell said. “I’m his sure his (Achilles’) rehab is way ahead of schedule. You just know he’s going to be back better than ever. It’s not even a question.”
Meanwhile, here’s a question for the Chiefs:
If Berry is willing, why not find a way to extend his presence as much as possible down the stretch?
Because sometimes you just need something to believe in.
And there’s little doubt that he was just that to a defensive unit that had precious little of that to work with before Sunday.
“We do,” Parker said, “feed off Eric Berry’s presence.”