KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Eric Berry absorbed the pregame sights and sounds of Arrowhead Stadium as he arrived Friday evening for the Chiefs’ preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks.
The occasion marked Berry’s first home game since Week 11 of the 2014 season, also against the Seahawks, before being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma after Week 12’s contest.
So it is easy to see why Berry, who is now cancer-free, treasured the emotional moment a week after playing on the road in the preseason opener.
“Yeah, it was definitely just because just the ride through the stadium – up to the stadium – smelling the barbecue, seeing the fans out there waving,” Berry said during his postgame media session. “I made sure my windows were rolled down so I could just take it all in and I drove extra slow this time. So it was definitely a wonderful feeling.”
Fans were still filing into the stadium when Berry was shown on the Jumbotron to join teammates Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles, Justin Houston and Dustin Colquitt as team captains at midfield for the pregame coin toss.
But the rousing applause and thunderous cheers felt in the press box gave the impression of a capacity-filled arena as the audience welcomed home a conquering hero.
“I’m happy for the kid,” coach Andy Reid said of the moment during a Saturday afternoon media conference call. “I mean, that’s where I’m at with him. I’m ecstatic that he can just be out there and play. I’m ecstatic that he’s got life, and there’s a point there you weren’t sure when you initially hear about it. You’re not sure is he going to live or die, that’s kind of what it is. Now he’s back playing, he’s beat this thing and that’s a beautiful thing anyway you look at it.”
While he didn’t record a tackle, Berry totaled 21 snaps Friday night, an increase of the eight snaps he played in the preseason opener, and he saw a lot of action in the nickel package with the second-team defense.
The Chiefs have eased in Berry’s workload throughout training camp. And Friday night’s snap count reflects the focus to closely oversee the former first-team All-Pro as he returns to top conditioning.
“I thought that was good,” Reid said of Berry’s playing time. “We actually kept him in an extra series just to get his numbers up there. I thought that was a good amount – not that he can’t play more – but I thought it was a good amount for last night.”
Berry said he will continue working on angles and reaction to the football, and staying alert on the field.
But given his progress, the sixth-year pro believes he is ready to assume a larger role on defense.
“Definitely ready,” Berry said, “but it’s good to see what I need to work on. It’s different from being in practice and being in individual drills where everything is kind of broken up and you work on it. But having those live bullets and being out there in the fire, I think definitely helps you out more and gets you ready for the season. I’m excited. Whatever they want to do though, I’m ready for it. I’m just going to adjust and roll with it.”
The Chiefs will continue evaluating Berry’s progress, but Friday night was a good sign of potentially more work when the Chiefs host the Tennessee Titans in the third preseason game.
“We go into this next game,” Reid said, “normally we go at least a half, and then maybe the starters, three quarters – we normally take them into that third quarter somewhere – so we’ll just see how things go for him here as we roll forward.”
And another home game – even if it’s preseason – provides an opportunity for Berry to enjoy the moment on his return to football in front of adoring supporters.
“You have to be a Kansas City Chief to understand how that feels,” Berry said. “Like I said, everyone is grilling out, having a good time. The kids are out there with jerseys on throwing the football.
“But every time you come through it’s like they know when the players come and they stop and they wave and they just give so many words of encouragement on the way to the stadium, it’s almost like a pre-game pep talk. So just seeing those guys out there does a lot for me emotionally.”