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Friday Five: Eric Berry’s silver lining, and Missouri-Arkansas’ significant history

Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry.
Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry. The Kansas City Star

Among the numerous Chiefs’ punter Dustin Colquitt is grateful for this Thanksgiving week is … a blow absorbed by teammate Eric Berry last week at Oakland.

To Colquitt’s understanding, that’s what led to Berry feeling discomfort in his chest and ultimately seeking help from head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder through assistant coach Emmitt Thomas.

“I’m looking at that hit in Oakland as a big-time blessing that revealed something that he had going on that (could) have been overlooked for quite a while,” Colquitt said.

Instead, Berry underwent a weekend of testing at The University of Kansas Hospital that revealed a mass on the right side of his chest.

“The leading consideration” of what Berry has, Burkholder said earlier this week, is lymphoma, for which Berry now is being evaluated in Atlanta.

“Heads dropped” when the news came on Monday, Colquitt said, but he’s optimistic that “whatever it is” will be eradicated because of what he considered the “miracle” discovery.

“He’s strong, he caught it early, he’s 25 years old — (those are) some good numbers right there,” he said, adding, “He’s going to beat this; that will be good.”

2. ALL IN THE (VOLS) FAMILY: No Chief has the same history with Berry as Colquitt, each of whom attended Tennessee.

Colquitt’s brother Britton was a teammate of Berry’s at Tennessee, and Colquitt considers him “a brother to us.” And their mother, Anne Colquitt, looked over Berry, too.

“She’s kind of like the team mom,” Colquitt said, adding that she’s “devastated” by the news.

Colquitt said his mom took care of Berry during college, including bringing him peanut butter and honey sandwiches before and during games.

Seems Berry had been teasing Britton Colquitt about eating those, especially since as a punter he wasn’t running around much or hitting anyone.

But Berry tried one and got hooked and decided, “I need those all the time.”

So Anne Colquitt brought the sandwiches by pre-game and, somehow, halftime.

“My mom has access down there,” Colquitt said, laughing.

3. ROOTS OF A RIVALRY? Just because today will represent their first regular-season meeting since 1963, who says Mizzou and Arkansas don’t have any football history?

It’s just that it wasn’t so much on the field as it was the fascinating turn of events in 1957, when Frank Broyles left MU after one year to go to Arkansas.

(Broyles, incidentally, had been hired over a then-Michigan State assistant coach named Bob Devaney, who wanted the job and went on to win two national titles at Nebraska.)

As reported in The Star in December 1957, Broyles got a five-year, $75,000 deal to leave Columbia for Fayetteville.

That was a raise of $1,500 a year.

“The University of Missouri, which hoped it had solved its football problems for many a day when young Frank Broyles led his first Tiger football team to a cheering 5-4-1 record, was in a state of shock tonight – Broyles has resigned to go to the University of Arkansas,” The Star wrote then.

In this case, though, it’s safe to say what Broyles then called “a definite advancement” wasn’t about the money … or at least not about his salary.

In part, it was about MU’s failure to keep up with facilities.

“The institution had delayed … in providing an adequate football plant. New fields (that) are in the building stage weren’t completed for use this fall, and Broyles had no place to take his team for closed door workouts,” The Star wrote. “Dressing room facilities have not been provided for the new fields and the team worked out on old Rollins field, where there are no fences to provide privacy.”

But the real crux of the matter apparently was that Broyles felt hindered by the so-called “Missouri plan” that limited recruiting to in-state or close proximity over the borders.

In a statement upon leaving, Broyles said, “It is just that Arkansas high schools have more interest than do those in Missouri, from which Missouri draws most of its players.”

A few days later in Arkansas, he said, “It’s a good plan if everything goes right, but it doesn’t always work out right.”

4. DEVINE INTERVENTION: You could say it all worked out right for all concerned, though.

At Arkansas, Broyles went 144-85-5 and guided his team to the 1964 national title.

Missouri, of course, hired Dan Devine, who went 93-37-7 before leaving after the 1970 season.

Over the years, Broyles, 89, has made it a point to express gratitude (though not regret) to MU.

At Don Faurot’s funeral in 1995, longtime MU coach, administrator and ambassador John Kadlec approached Broyles to thank him for coming.

Broyles told Kadlec, who died in October: “Let me tell you something: If it wasn’t for Don Faurot, I wouldn’t have had a career in coaching.”

When I spoke with Broyles in 2007 for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Broyles said he had been in Columbia the summer before for the funeral of longtime MU assistant coach Clay Cooper.

As he drove by his old house on Glenwood Avenue, he thought of how this all might have played out differently.

“If Arkansas hadn’t opened up, I might be retiring at Missouri after 50 years,” he said. “Because I was very, very happy there.”

5. LASTING IMPRESSION: Despite the brevity of his stay, Broyles has a landmark legacy at MU.

And not just because he recruited the nucleus of teams that would later go to the 1960 and 1961 Orange Bowls and be ranked No. 1 for a week in 1960.

At a time the Missouri band played “Dixie” and a fraternity waved Confederate flags after touchdowns, Broyles integrated the program by recruiting the first two African-American players, Norris Stevenson and Mel West.

It might seem like ancient history now, or a mere inevitability.

But, of course, it was a volatile matter then.

Stevenson often told of how he needed “ear muffs” and a “second skin” to get through some of that period, but he also took great pride in seeing his white teammates come to embrace him.

He’d later help Gary Pinkel try to understand why blacks in St. Louis were so suspicious of MU. A scholarship was established in his name, and he is honored in a display at the Mizzou football complex.

So Stevenson and West are rightly regarded as pioneers for the program, men who paved the way.

But Broyles also played a pivotal role in a fundamental change that MU can thank him for to this day.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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