Berry's back

One of Tennessee's greatest players ever visited Knoxville recently. Sign in or subscribe now to read his comments on "bounty football" and other topics.

Eric Berry played roughly 15 years of youth football, high school football, college football and pro football without missing a game due to injury. So, he was understandably upset when a cheap shot caused him to miss the Kansas City Chiefs' final 15 games last season.

Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson came from outside Berry's field of vision and blocked him at the knees in the 2011-12 opener, causing a tear of the left ACL. Whether the block was legal or illegal can be debated. Whether it was unnecessary and catastrophic cannot.

"My opinion really don't matter, but if I was in that situation I wouldn't have done it," Berry said during a break in the recent A3 celebrity charity golf tournament at Knoxville's Three Ridges Golf Course. "I'll just leave it at that.

"Being that far from the play and the play being over, I don't think that was a necessary hit. Plus, I couldn't see him. I could see if somebody was trying to chop me and I could see what was going on. That would've been my fault if I tore my ACL when I could see him. But I couldn't see him. I got cut from behind."

Berry returns one of his interceptions during his rookie season in Kansas City.
(Getty Images)
Johnson has denied trying to intentionally hurt Berry on the play but, given recent revelations about the widespread use of "bounty" football — paying players cash bonuses for putting a key opponent out of action — you have to wonder if Berry was targeted for take-out.

When asked about the bounty system, the former Tennessee All-America safety couldn't mask his disdain.

"It is what it is. I don't really get into all of that stuff," Berry said. "I don't pay attention to it. My thing is: I want to go out and play hard. I'm not trying to hurt anybody. Yeah, I'm trying to send a message that I'm here to play and play hard but nobody — just speaking for myself and my team — wants to hurt anybody.

"It's a violent game, so people get hurt in the process. That's the bad thing about it. But to blatantly go out there and hurt somebody, to me, says a lot about your character."

After making the Pro Bowl as a Chiefs rookie in 2010-11, Berry was truly miserable watching from the sidelines in 2011-12. He can hardly wait for the 2012-13 season to arrive, so he can test the surgically repaired knee.

"It's great," he said. "I got cleared back in January to do everything. Right now I'm just adding more (activities) and getting back to where I was. It's not like my right knee but it's still ready to go 100 percent, cutting and everything."

Berry's fondness for football is obvious. When asked about his goal for the season ahead, he gave a response that was perfectly in character.

"Just having fun. That's the biggest thing I want to do," he said. "The stats and things will come. If I just go out there and have fun, cherish every moment out there, nothing but good things can happen."

Berry admits that sitting out 15 games last season was gut-wrenching for a guy accustomed to playing every defensive snap.

"I had never missed a game because of an injury," he said. "It was tough but my teammates did a good job. A lot of guys picked me up. Those guys really represented, and that's all I wanted."

Being a class act, Berry holds no grudges. In fact, he now views the ACL tear as a learning experience.

"Everything happens for a reason, and all of us are blessed," he said. "I learned a lot from my injury and everything that happened."

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