Possible trip to hometown Super Bowl fueling Eric Berry’s second return to Chiefs

Eric Berry fueled by Super Bowl in his hometown of Atlanta

Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry is motivated to play in this weekend's AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots, to bring home the Lamar Hunt Trophy, and gain a trip to play in his hometown of Atlanta in the Super Bowl.
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Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry is motivated to play in this weekend's AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots, to bring home the Lamar Hunt Trophy, and gain a trip to play in his hometown of Atlanta in the Super Bowl.

Two weeks from now, two teams will take the field at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium for the Super Bowl.

Eric Berry, a native of Fairburn, Ga., wants the Chiefs to be one of them.

It’s part of what’s fueling his second return to the field this season.

“That puts a lot on it,” Berry said of the motivation to play a Super Bowl 20 miles away from his hometown. “Just the fact that, just look at the history behind the trophy. Look at the organization that we’re playing for. That’s great. Just to be in this position to have that opportunity.

“You don’t get these opportunities often. This is my ninth year in the league. And it’s my first shot at it. I’m going to cherish every moment.”

For the first time this season, Berry, 30, enters Sunday’s game without an injury designation.

The safety, who was a full participant in practice all week, appears slated to play in the AFC Championship Game — although he wouldn’t confirm that during Friday’s brief meeting with reporters.

“I feel pretty good,” Berry said. “Just talk to Coach and see what he wants to do and just go from there.”

Managing pain stemming from a sore heel, Berry missed the first 13 games of the season before returning in the Chiefs’ Week 15 Thursday night game against the L.A. Chargers. He only played the first half. But the next week in Seattle, Berry played all but the final drive of the Chiefs’ Dec. 23 loss to the Seahawks.

It appeared Berry was on track to play the entire Week 17 game against the Oakland Raiders until he hit a snag in his recovery. Berry didn’t practice the Friday before the regular-season finale and was inactive for that game.

“It was pretty frustrating, but you just got to keep rolling, stay focused, keep your head down and keep working,” Berry said, adding that it was “hard to explain” what the exact setback was. “Just build your own environment and just work hard to get back on the field.”

After resting for two weeks, Berry also missed the Chiefs’ divisional-round game against the Indianapolis Colts. But he said Friday that he wanted to play in it.

“Yeah, I wanted to go that game,” he said. “It’s just a lot of complications that I can’t really explain. So hopefully this weekend it’ll be different.”

Even if he’s not playing at full strength, Berry is still a difference-maker on the field, especially against the Patriots. In the 2017 season opener, Berry took Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski out of his game plan and held him to just two catches for 33 yards. Later in that game, Berry suffered a season-ending Achilles tear.

“Eric is a really talented football player,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He’s extremely talented. He has great speed and range. I think he’s our most physical football player. So, when you have those qualities you have playmaking ability, you have a chance to affect the game.

“The one thing about speed on defense is that it isn’t always the plays you make, it’s sometimes the plays you prevent. He has that ability in him.”

Berry’s impact on the field can be measured in tackles and plays prevented, but his presence is also about the intangibles. In his ninth year with the Chiefs, Berry is a cerebral player. He often acts as a coach on the field, directing traffic in the secondary and motivating his teammates.

“That’s my guy,” teammate and cornerback Steven Nelson said. “Eric Berry has kind of taken me under his wing since I got here. We call him ‘Coach’ in our room because he’s so knowledgeable.

“He means a lot to our team and our defense, so whenever we can have him out there, it’s a great thing.”

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Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, where she works to give readers a deeper understanding of the franchise and the NFL through daily stories, game coverage, and player profiles. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C.