The culmination of a long journey came to a head on Saturday evening, when Chiefs safety Eric Berry was named the NFL’s comeback player of the year.
Following a December 2014 diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma, Berry fast-tracked his chemotherapy treatments. Berry beat the illness, returned in time for training camp and led the Chiefs to an 11-5 record and their first playoff win in 22 years.
Multiple players and coaches noted that the way Berry dealt with his cancer ordeal galvanized the team as they bounced back from a 1-5 start. Berry also led with his play on the field, as he earned his fourth Pro Bowl nod by racking up 55 tackles, two interceptions and 10 pass deflections during a season in which he was also named first-team All-Pro selection.
During a tearful speech at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, Berry thanked many people, including his parents, Chiefs coach Andy Reid, outside linebacker Justin Houston and his best friends, Jason Stanley and Savion Frazier, among others.
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“I’m sorry if I’m taking some time, man,” Berry said through tears. “I knew I would be here, but I feel like I’m dreaming right now. I love you all, man.”
Berry noted during the speech that there were a lot of rough, lonely nights that he wouldn’t have gotten through without his friends and family. That’s why, he reflected later, he displayed that uncharacteristic bit of emotions.
“I guess it was kind of like, closure,” Berry said. “I could finally sit back and say ‘Man, I can put that year behind me. There were just a lot of things that happened. I kind of pushed it aside the whole season and never really dealt with it until now.”
Berry said the video that was shown in the arena before the presentation also got to him, too.
“Because it kind of put everything in perspective and showed me the timeline and reminded me of all the things I went through to get back to this point,” Berry said. “Just thinking about it, man, it just brought all those emotions out.:
Berry — who received 38 of 50 possible votes — is the third Chief to win the award, joining running back Barry Word in 1990 and running back Marcus Allen in 1993.
The award is voted on by a nationwide panel of writers and broadcasters.