Comeback player award symbolizes all Eric Berry worked for in return from cancer
By: Adam Teicher, ESPN
He wasn’t exactly envisioning winning the NFL’s comeback player of the year, which he did. But Berry did envision what the award symbolized, which was a return to normal after his bout with cancer. Winning the award meant Berry not only played a full season for the Chiefs, but played well enough to be recognized for it.
“I knew I would be here,” Berry said in San Francisco, where he was presented with the award on the eve of the Super Bowl, “but I feel like I’m dreaming.”
The Chiefs picked up another award Saturday night when cornerback Marcus Peters was named defensive rookie of the year. The honor was also well deserved. Peters, the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick, gave up a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns as opposing quarterbacks consistently picked on him.
But Peters made his share of plays as well. He tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with eight and returned two for touchdowns. He had another pick in the Chiefs’ playoff victory over the Houston Texans.
Peters transformed a defense that struggled to create turnovers — the Chiefs had only six interceptions in 2014 — to one that lived off them in 2015, when Kansas City was second in the league with 22 picks.
“The Chiefs stole the draft last year because I knew I was the best defensive player going into last year’s draft,” Peters said.
Peters made something of a comeback of his own this season. He was thrown off his college team at Washington in 2014 for confrontations with his coaches, which was why he was available to the Chiefs in the first round.
“All it was was just me and my family and a dark tunnel,” Peters said of being dismissed from the team at Washington.
The real comeback, though, belonged to Berry. After Berry experienced shortness of breath in a game against the Raiders in Oakland in November 2014, a mass was found in his chest and tests determined he had Hodgkin lymphoma.
His goal from that point was to be with the Chiefs when they took the field for the first time at training camp the following summer. To that end, Berry pushed himself through physical workouts even during his chemotherapy treatments.
“There were some times where I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore,” Berry said. “There were a lot of rough times, rough nights, lonely nights.”
But, remarkably, Berry was indeed back on the field with the Chiefs when they began camp, the first of many milestones or, as he referred to them, “checkpoints.” Berry was held out of contact drills at first, but quickly burst through that barrier.
The 27-year-old was initially a backup, playing mostly in passing situations early in the season. The Chiefs, who initially figured anything they would get from Berry to be a bonus, soon realized they shouldn’t deny his progress. He became a starter by the season’s second game.
From there, it didn’t take long before Berry was playing as well as he ever had. His first interception, on Oct. 25 against the Steelers, was a key play in the first victory of what would become a 10-game Chiefs’ winning streak. He had the first of four Chiefs interceptions in their playoff win over Houston. Perhaps his signature play of the season happened in November in San Diego, where he shed an offensive lineman trying to block him and made an open-field tackle against the Chargers.
Those plays, too, were what Berry envisioned when he started his comeback.