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The Remarkable Story of Eric Berry

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Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry

Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry

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Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry

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The Kansas City Chiefs currently sit atop their conference as one of the best teams the National Football League has to offer. Led by an aggressive, swarming defense, the Chiefs have grinded their way to a pristine 10-3 overall record.

The Chiefs’ defense is stacked with talent at every level. From their disruptive linemen, to their rangy linebackers, and to their ball-hawking secondary, there is arguably no defense in football more complete than theirs. But at the core of every great defense, there is also an emotional leader, the guy everyone else looks to for inspiration, courage, and passion.

For the Kansas City Chiefs, that player is Eric Berry, their starting strong safety, four-time Pro Bowler, and two-time First Team All-Pro Selection. But among all the awards he is received in his career, there is one accolade Berry has received – the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2015 – that he and his teammates will always regard more solemnly. It serves as a reminder to him of how fortunate he is not only to be playing football, but also to be alive.

In December of 2014 in a game against the rival Oakland Raiders, Berry absorbed a big hit to his chest as he made an open-field tackle. He immediately felt a searing pain, but locked into the game, he played through it. The pain continued to bother him after the game, but the odd thing was that he was unable to pinpoint where the pain was coming from. His chest plate, his collarbone, his shoulder? As with the case with most injuries, he consulted with the team’s medical staff.

A number of things didn’t add up for the medical staff. Berry felt a sharp pain in his chest with certain movements, but he was unaffected by touch and his strength seemed intact. They suggested he get an MRI done.

The results of the MRI could not have come out worse. The staff discovered a mass in Berry’s chest that they suspected indicated lymphoma. Later that week, Berry flew to Atlanta to visit Emory’s own Winship Cancer Institute to receive confirmation. Dr. Christopher Flowers, director of Emory’s lymphoma program, confirmed Berry had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but that the cancer appeared “very treatable and potentially curable.”

Eric Berry’s diagnosis resonated throughout the sports community. The phrase “Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Berry” was emblazoned across T-shirt and drew dozens of athletes to reach out to him to offer their support. But Eric Berry did not want to be thought of as a martyr. He had no intention of seeing his story end. Most of all, he had no intention of seeing his football career end.

In January of 2015, Berry posted a quote from iconic ESPN sports anchor Stuart Scott who had, at that time, recently lost his battle with cancer: “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” Eric Berry continued to receive standard chemotherapy treatment in the ensuing months. His hair fell out. He lost weight. But in the summer of 2015, he received the news he had no doubts would one day come – Eric Berry was cancer-free and was cleared to return to football activities.

Always the heart and soul of the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense, the entire team rallied around Berry upon his return. He rewarded their faith by once again being selected as a Pro Bowler and by spearheading one of the league’s fiercest defensive units. At the end of the season, he was awarded the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award for his inspiring journey back to the gridiron. The award serves as a constant reminder to Berry that he fulfilled Scott’s words. Football brought meaning to his recovery. It’s why he lived before the cancer, and he knew it’s why he would live after.

On December 4, 2016, Eric Berry returned to Atlanta for the first time since his recovery when the Chiefs came to take on the hometown Atlanta Falcons. Berry delivered the play of the game, intercepting an attempt at a two-point conversion and returning it all the way to the other end zone to give his team two points in the waning minutes of the game. The Chiefs would go on to win 29-28. Berry’s story had finally come full-circle. With his team winning and his play on the field better and more inspired than ever, Berry found the formula to beating cancer.

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The Remarkable Story of Eric Berry