The Andy Gang ran away the game.
Eric Berry ran away with the night.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ safety, diagnosed last December with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, played in an NFL game for the first time in roughly eight months, pitching in during a 34-19 rout of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2015 preseason opener for both squads.
Berry, 26, hadn’t appeared in an NFL uniform since last November 20 at Oakland, after which he complained of chest pains, a mass that doctors eventually found to be cancerous.
Last month, the Georgia native told the world he’d licked cancer. Late Saturday night, he was back delivering licks on opposing receivers. Berry made his first appearance on the Chiefs’ fourth defensive snap of the contest, as a nickel back. He later played a series with the second-team defense.
While Berry wasn’t credited in the unofficial boxscore, his presence was powerful on both sidelines at Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals even made a point to honor the Pro Bowl defensive back before the game with a tribute message on the video board at University of Phoenix Stadium. Arizona coach Bruce Arians had worn a t-shirt supporting Berry during pregame warm-ups prior to the teams’ regular-season meeting in the desert last December, and Cardinals president Michael Bidwill reportedly pledged a $10,000 donation to the Eric Berry Foundation.
Berry’s early appearance set the tone for the visiting Chiefs, who grabbed the feel-good vibe after a shaky first quarter and never really let go, outscoring the hosts 31-0 in the second and third quarter behind backup quarterback Chase Daniel (17-for-21 passing, 189 yards, three touchdowns), backup tailback Charcandrick West (nine touches, 92 total yards) and backup wideout Fred Williams (six catches, 82 yards, one touchdown).
Even the rare clouds for coach Andy Reid came with silver linings attached. Despite an 0-for-3 ledger on third-down conversions, starting signal-caller Alex Smith was seemingly afforded a much-improved pocket to navigate from than last fall, looking deep for new toy Jeremy Maclin up the left boundary on the club’s first offensive call of the evening.
In fact, of the Chiefs’ 25 first-half targets, 19 were geared toward a wideout, a position group that failed to snag a regular-season touchdown pass in 2014, the first oh-fer of its kind since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970.
But, oh, how the calendar has turned: The Chiefs’ first two scores of August came from their wide receiver — a 13-yard laser from Daniel to Williams and a nifty 14-yard corner rainbow from Daniel to Frankie Hammond to cap the second-quarter scoring.
For all its pomp, the preseason is largely about bottom-of-the-roster pruning and (hopefully) limiting injuries, so early word that first-half dings to tackle Jeff Allen (MCL sprain), running back Knile Davis (knee sprain) and receiver/slotback De’Anthony Thomas (calf strain) were more precautionary than severe quelled the social-media panic. A bit.
And the depth of contributions — linebacker Ramik Wilson’s near pick-6; linebacker Justin March’s motor; rookie cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson; the aforementioned West, a fire hydrant with quick feet and soft hands; David Irving’s field-goal block — outweighed the more (ahem) mixed nights from, say, Dee Ford or Sanders Commings. Whatever. For better or worse, it’s early.
History is written by the victors, but even history won’t point to Saturday’s scoreboard, once it’s all said and done. It’ll point to that epic photo of Berry, holding his mother, Carol, in a tender embrace, twin pillars fighting back tears. And losing.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at email@example.com
Photo: Eric and Carol Berry Courtesy of Mark J Reballas USA Today Sports