Ever since Chiefs safety Eric Berry recovered from Hodgkin lymphoma to return with a profound flair for the big moment, and more robust than his considerable presence before, he is perceived to have an almost mystical aura among many fans and teammates.
“Y’all know who Eric is …,” said linebacker Justin Houston, a close friend, after Berry returned interceptions for a touchdown and the game-winning two-point conversion in December at Atlanta. “God’s working through him in a mighty way: He’s beaten cancer and came back playing like a maniac.”
That certain something is what makes Berry “the heart and soul of this team, the embodiment of what we’re about,” quarterback Alex Smith said that same day, noting Berry’s selflessness and sincerity and heart.
That doesn’t make Berry immune to teasing for having opted out of voluntary organized team activities the last few weeks, as Smith playfully said Tuesday upon Berry’s return for the Chiefs’ mandatory minicamp this week.
But that was in fun and doesn’t diminish the fact that how they view him speaks to traits more substantial than who he is on the field.
And any silly insinuations among fans or media that Berry somehow was being selfish in taking time to recharge and be with family melted with the snapshot of his time away offered in a Facebook post last week from Knoxville, where Berry went to college at the University of Tennessee and was attending an event.
“Todd and I had a rare evening out in downtown Knoxville tonight and saw Eric Berry at the restaurant we were at,” Rebecca Scott Mills wrote. “He ordered food to go. Todd who is a huge football nut recognized him but did not say anything to him. As we were leaving Eric was in front of us carrying his to-go food.
“What happened next brought tears to my eyes. He delivered the food to 3 homeless people on the streets and then kneeled down and prayed with them. To see a professional athlete have such a respect for humanity is impressive! May he be blessed beyond measure for kindness and generosity! #newericberryfan.”
This might seem like a small gesture for a player who in the offseason signed a six-year, $78 million contract, the most lavish ever given to an NFL defensive back.
The flip side, though, is that it’s a fine demonstration of the fact that Berry obviously has remained grounded and does not let that insulate him from his humanity.
Moreover, for those of us perpetually gridlocked about what to do in such situations, there’s a thought-provoking guiding light in how Berry approached the moment — perhaps less in the specific act than in the generosity of spirit it entailed.
Just as he has done plenty of times, whether through his foundation, other charitable acts, taking time to speak with those dealing with cancer or feeding the homeless … as he was before he had such means.
“I’ve been doing that since I was in college. That ain’t nothing new,” he said Tuesday. “But that’s just something I just learned from my parents. They always talk about how blessed you are and always taking other people into consideration.
“That’s just it, not always thinking about yourself. Trying to do something for somebody else, put somebody else before you: Put somebody else before you. That’s just something I’ve always done.”
On this particular occasion, Berry happened upon the three homeless people after he left the event.
He asked them if they were hungry, and then what they wanted to eat.
He brought the food back.
Then one of the men asked Berry to pray for them.
So he did.
Berry doesn’t know how many times he’s done this before. But as he tried to think it through, he recalled the words of teammate Daniel Sorensen during a meeting.
“Don’t hesitate to do a good deed; if you feel like doing a good deed, don’t second-guess it, just do it,” he said. “So sometimes I just feel like doing a good deed, and I just do it. I don’t think about it twice.”
If it were up to Berry, he likely wouldn’t be thinking about it twice now, either.
“I don’t do it for the attention. … I do it to better myself and just give back, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “That’s what you should do it for.”
Then again …
“If somebody looks at it and is like, ‘hey, maybe I should help feed a homeless person today,’ or something like that, that’s cool,” he said.
Before every Chiefs game, you’ll see the heart and soul of the team in the middle of a team huddle, challenging them to be their best that day.
With such gestures as this, he challenges all of us to do the same with our own hearts and souls.