KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Anticipation built throughout Arrowhead Stadium during pregame introductions before the Chiefs hosted the Denver Broncos.
The Chiefs wore red-on-red uniforms, which are reserved for special occasions, and Thursday night was indeed extraordinary.
Offensive players took the field first as a group, leaving no doubt the defense would be introduced individually.
One-by-one, the starters took the field as electricity filled the air, the cheers growing louder. The fans longed for the sight of a conquering hero, who defeated Hodgkin lymphoma less than a year ago to make a return to his first regular-season game in front of a home crowd.
And then a figure finally emerged from the shadows, the last player to have his named called.
“No. 29, Eric Berry!” filled the venue and the crowd showered Berry with affection, the thunderous applause and cheers shaking the press box high above the stadium.
Berry walked out from the tunnel, pointed skyward before turning around to spread his arms wide to the crowd. The fans welcomed him home, but the gesture appeared to be his way of welcoming them back to his heart.
He slowly jogged backward, soaking in the moment, before turning to sprint to his waiting teammates, all of whom greeted him with low-fives.
The Chiefs didn’t make Berry available for comment in the locker room following the team’s 31-24 loss to the Broncos, but his teammates won’t soon forget the moment their teammate took the field.
“Amazing to see,” defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. “I’m glad he’s back. He’s still the same guy that left. He’s not deterred at all. He’s coming back strong, but that was kind of a spine-chilling moment to see him coming out of the tunnel and seeing the way the crowd reacted. That was really nice to see.”
Free safety Husain Abdullah agreed.
“That was a great feeling, a very emotional feeling,” Abdullah said. “You can see it, you can feel it. It was something that was great to share with all of Chiefs Kingdom.”
Outside linebacker Justin Houston is one of Berry’s closest friends on the team and often visited Berry during cancer treatments.
Houston said Berry’s presence is felt not just on the field, but in the locker room.
The last time the two played together in a regular-season game was in Week 12. Berry was diagnosed with cancer before the Week 13 game against the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium, a contest when the Chiefs also wore red-on-red.
Houston is elated to have a now-healthy Berry at his side.
“It’s a great feeling to have my brother back with me,” Houston said. “I told him before the game, last time I wore red was the first game he wasn’t with me. So it was a great moment to see him come through that tunnel.”
Berry went on to start Thursday night, recording four tackles while playing on 71of the 73 total defensive snaps.