Star photographer Dave Eulitt and I spent three hours at the home of James and Carol Berry last Monday for a story-video-photo package about their all-consuming approach to son Eric’s battle with Hodgkin lymphoma.
But there were a few things that couldn’t get in the story, so here are some outtakes.
▪ Berry is quite close to both his parents, but there is a particularly sweet connection with his mother — on display for all to see when he handed her the football after his interception return for a touchdown at Atlanta.
When Carol Berry was pregnant with twins in 1995, for instance, then-first grader Eric heard a boy call her fat.
“So he started a fight,” James Berry, Carol’s husband, recalled.
When it was time for Eric to leave for the University of Tennessee, Carol suffered so much she couldn’t bear to make the trip.
For that matter, she playfully chastised James for actually leaving him in Knoxville, where he would wear No. 14 for the number of hours Carol was in labor with him.
He wears No. 29 with the Chiefs for several different reasons, including to honor the Vols’ Inky Johnson, the fact that Highway 29 is the road into Fairburn … and that he was born on Dec. 29.
▪ But maybe nothing testifies to the relationship between Berry and his mother like his willingness to appear with her on the TLC show “Say Yes To The Dress” in 2012 as Carol and James prepared to renew wedding vows.
We watched the episode with Carol, and it’s hilarious at times:
Carol speaks of wanting to wear something sexy, leaving Eric glaring and suggesting “we don’t agree on certain criteria” before she finds a dress he finally endorses and it gets sentimental.
“I just love seeing my mom happy …,” Berry says, looking toward her and adding, “You always made the sacrifices for me and my brothers and my friends.”
That’s what I do, she says, becoming a fountain of tears.
“Yeah,” Eric says, “that’s what you do.”
▪ It’s fairly well known that Eric Berry is scared of horses, including “Warpaint,” who takes a lap around the field after every Chiefs touchdown at Arrowhead Stadium.
Berry makes sure he keeps his distance, and this is why:
One day at a petting zoo, as James remembers it, a Shetland pony nipped Eric on the shoulder as he was walking away from it.
“So Eric started walking away faster, and the horse was following him,” James said. “He started running and screaming, and the horse was still following him: ‘It’s going to get me, it’s going to get me.’
“And ever since then he’s had that fear.”
▪ The memorabilia in their basement has a heavy Vols theme since James played at Tennessee, too, as do Eric’s twin brothers, Elliott and Evan.
You can find everything from Eric’s Thorpe Award, which survived a fire in the house with just some soot to be cleaned off, to playing cards of James and Vols action figures of both.
As he stood among it all, James recalled how he felt when Eric decided to go to Tennessee instead of Auburn.
“ ‘I think I made my decision,’ ” he remembered Eric saying.
James’ heart rate accelerated as he wondered, “Do I really want to hear this?”
When Eric said Tennessee, James exulted and told him, “You need to call them now!”
But then he gave Eric some telling advice about how the boy was raised: First “man up” and call the other schools that were among his personal finalists to thank them and allow them to hear it from him before the news got out.
▪ For years, James Berry wanted a Bluetick Coonhound, the mascot of the University of Tennessee. In 2012, Eric got his father one (”Rocky”) as captured on video.
His father appears to be in tears as he gets the dog, though as he watched the video last week he laughed and dismissed that appearance as just “a moment.”
▪ When Berry was chosen by the Chiefs fifth overall in the 2010 NFL draft, he had wanted to hold up a “Fairburn Flames” (the local recreation program) T-shirt to honor his hometown … only to have it snatched away by an NFL representative as he went out to the stage.
▪ Berry’s favorite cartoon growing up was “Captain Planet,” and the memory of the show is so seared into their minds that the very mention of it compels Carol to start singing the theme song.
“Captain Planet, he’s a hero, going to take pollution down to zero.”
“If you missed Captain Planet,” James said, “it was all sorts of trouble.”
Eric had a Captain Planet drinking cup, some action figures and a ring that even last week he lamented he no longer has.
*The parents routinely bump into or hear from people who take inspiration from their son’s journey back to health and, in fact, to thriving with the Chiefs.
Just as they believe their son’s personality meshes with all sorts of people and walks of life, they also have seen his recovery stand for something to many besides cancer patients and their loved ones.
“I think he’s not only resonating with cancer patients but people who are struggling with depression and having a hard time (in general),” Carol said, noting people have told her of little big things such as that they “can get out of bed now, or … get up and go sit and watch television.”