How Eric Berry Made Believers of us All

Chiefs Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry on Saturday is slated to return to NFL action for the first time since November — and just slightly more than eight months after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

It stole a season from Carolina Panthers linebacker Mark Fields. It ripped more than a year off the career of men’s tennis star Ross Hutchins, and almost two years from the peak of women’s tennis standout Alisa Kleybanova.

Eric Berry?

If the stars are aligned, Eric Berry will return from a no-holds-barred cage match with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in eight months and one week.

If that sounds quick, kids — well, that’s because it is.

“We’re thinking he's going to play,” Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters when asked about Berry, the Pro Bowl safety slated to return to the fold Saturday in the club’s preseason opener at Arizona. “We’ll just see how things go from here. But he’s been going here, so I think he’s ready to get out here and do his thing.”

Eric Berry returns to game action Saturday night against the Arizona Cardinals.
Photo John Reiger USA Today Sports

The last time we saw 29 knocking heads between the hashmarks was November 20, during a surreal Thursday night loss at Oakland. During and after the game, Berry — tougher than an old leather bootstrap — complained of chest discomfort. A mass was discovered shortly thereafter, with the official diagnosis affirmed on December 8th.

And yet here we are, and what a long, strange trip it’s been. No, no, no. Wait. That’s not right.

What a strange trip — strange and awesome — in that it hasn’t really been that long at all.

“His story is an unbelievable story,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton told reporters earlier this month. “He’s done a tremendous job with what he has been through. You know with the disease and chemo and to come back this soon on the field is an incredible story.

“We just have to be smart with him. He has to be smart and realize, ‘Hey, this is going to take a little time here,’ no matter who you are, you know? When he came back originally, he was excited. He was on adrenaline. It’s going to take some time and we’ve kind of made a conscious effort of, ‘Hey, we’re going to manage as well as we can and let him be the lead dog in it and give him what he needs.’ We’ve got a lot of time. He’s played a lot of football so we’re not too concerned about that. He’s just got to get back to where he feels comfortable, and reacts and that type of thing.”

Barely two weeks into camp, dude’s more than halfway there. Video of Berry’s diving interception on August 5 off a tipped pass from backup quarterback Aaron Murray went viral; A week later, the Georgia native was getting all handsy again — in a good way.

“I told him I saw too much of him (Wednesday) because he had a couple interceptions out here, from an offensive standpoint,” Reid told reporters, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “Listen, I’m as happy as I can be for him. He’s like a little kid out here playing. He’s having fun. He’s appreciative of everything and everybody that has been with him through this whole ordeal. He’s loving life right now, and that's important. It shows on the field here, too.”

There’s 29, all over the place, same as it ever was, making up for lost time. And no time like the present.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com


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