A dream months in the making finally came true Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
Eric Berry, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma last December, made his return to his home field, in front of his home fans, victorious over the cancer diagnosis that had threatened his career, and perhaps much more, just 10 months earlier.
By running out with his teammates during pre-game introductions, Berry — who was introduced last — delivered on a promise he made at the very end of a lengthy statement he released shortly after he took leave from the team late last season.
“I will be back!”
By making good on those words, Berry provided his team an emotional lift Thursday in spite of the end result: a 31-24 loss to the Denver Broncos.
“Listen, that’s a great story,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “And most of all, I think it’s a big tribute to him and his family and just believing that he was going to get better.
“His primary doctor that took care of him, and the nurses and everybody else. I mean, there’s a lot of people that got affected. But most of all, it’s just great that he’s alive and that he can play. It’s a beautiful thing.”
What’s more, Berry appears to be taking on more of a workload. After playing on 48 of 77 possible defensive snaps in the Chiefs’ season-opening win over Houston, Berry played in 71 of 73 snaps against the Broncos.
Berry replaced safety Husain Abdullah — a starter last year — in the Chiefs’ base defense.
“He’s just been doing well,” Reid said of Berry. “He keeps getting better and better.”
Reid said Berry, who finished with four tackles, is close to where he was physically before the illness.
“Yeah, I think he’s pretty close, I’d probably say he’s pretty close,” Reid said. “I haven’t seen where it’s not … maybe he wasn’t reading or his hips or something like that, but it looks like he’s got all of his stuff, he really does.”
That makes sense. Before the Chiefs allowed Berry, 26, to return to the practice field for training camp, they put him through rigorous strength testing. He shined, benching 275 pounds five times and squatting 325 pounds five times.
Much of that can be attributed to his work ethic. Berry continued to work out during his recovery, even as he was going through six rounds of energy-sapping chemotherapy.
After all that, how could Berry’s teammates not be fired up for him on Thursday? Or during the preseason, for that matter?
“I think that’s the way it’s been since he got back,” Reid said. “I just think that he’s stepped back in and hasn’t said much. He started off on special teams and he’s kind of worked his way through that and gotten himself back to where he can play.
“And we’re at it day in and day out, so I think the guys appreciate his effort and what it’s all about. I mean, what he had to go through to get where he’s at right now...”
Berry has indeed contributed on special teams, even serving as a corner — who is responsible for blocking one of the opponent’s gunners — in the Chiefs’ first two games. That kind of duty is considered to be dirty work, especially for a three-time Pro Bowler like Berry.
But, then again, Berry’s willingness to do it is consistent with who he is as a football player.
“I just want… if you’re a fan, if you’re not a fan, if you turn on the TV and you look at (number) 29 on the field, you can say, ‘That guy right there plays football how it’s supposed to be played,’” Berry said. “That’s all I want. That’s where I want to be at.”