Last Sunday, Eric Berry was the toast of the NFL.
Perhaps to someone who doesn’t know Berry’s story, his big defensive day was just another in a long line of many throughout the NFL’s history, but considering he is less than two years removed from cancer treatments, it soars towards the top of my list of football moments.
Playing in his hometown of Atlanta, Berry had a game for the ages, picking off one Matt Ryan pass for a pick-six in the first half and adding a pick-two on a Falcons two-point conversion try in the fourth quarter to put Kansas City ahead 29-28 in Sunday’s game. The Chiefs would go on to win by that score, with Berry’s stellar play proving decisive in a pivotal December matchup with major playoff implications. On both of his game-changing plays, Berry made sure to find his mother in the stands to deliver her the ball.
What’s amazing to Berry, and many others, isn’t that he is playing at an All-Pro level, (he’s been doing that since he entered the league seven years ago) but rather that he’s still able to take the field at all.
Cancer has affected us all in some form or fashion. According to data compiled by the National Cancer Institute between 2010-2012, 39.6 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime. Additionally, 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2016, according to the NCI.
No one is immune to the disease’s reach, not even a pro-bowl safety who starred at the University of Tennessee in the heyday of the Southeastern Conference.
During the 2014 season, Berry began complaining of chest pains in late November following a loss to the Oakland Raiders. He was diagnosed on Dec. 8, 2014 with Hodgkins Lymphoma.
With his career, and life, in jeopardy, Berry took solace in his family and loved ones back home. He began undergoing treatments
immediately at Atlanta’s highly-regarded Emory University Hospital.
After nine months of grueling chemotherapy and limited activity, Berry was cancer free and cleared for the 2015 season. He would go on to lead the Chiefs to an 11-5 record as the centerpiece of one of the league’s best defenses and make yet another Pro Bowl, less than one year removed from Hodkin’s Lymphona.
His improbable journey came full circle last week with his remarkable homecoming.
Berry’s story always goes down smooth.
It’s one of perseverance and strength; courage and humility. The best part of Sunday’s game might have been what Berry had to say about it afterwards with ESPN’s Britt McHenry.
“Last time I came here mid-season, it was to get cancer treatments,” Berry said. “Just being here and being able to do something I love to do, and having my family and friends present; it means the world, so I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
It is yet another reminder, from an NFL player, no less, that there are more important things than sports. At the same time, there is no denying that Barry is back where he should be: on the field.
Blake Branch is the Sports Editor for the Minden Press-Herald