When Eric Berry put on a Kansas City Chiefs uniform for his first preseason game in August, everything that came after it would be sprinkles on the sundae. The Associated Press put the cherry on top by naming the 27-year-old the NFL's 2015 Comeback Player of the Year on Saturday.
Forget playing football—Berry's life was in limbo when his doctor revealed in December 2014 the All-Pro defensive back had Hodgkin lymphoma after he complained of chest pains during a game against the Oakland Raiders.
“I knew I would be here,’’ Berry said after winning, per Adam Teicher of ESPN.com. "But, I feel like I’m dreaming."
Following months of treatment, Berry was declared cancer-free in July and allowed to return to practice. His first game back was August 15, a preseason matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. The former first-round pick talked about that night's swell of emotions after the game, per Teicher:
I don't think anyone can really understand the road I took, the sacrifices I had to make, the feelings I had going through those times, just to be able to experience the things I mentioned to you at the beginning. You take the little things, and you appreciate everything about the game and everything that surrounds the game. It's a blessing to be out here, and I'm going to take full advantage of the opportunity I have.
It's safe to say Berry capitalized on the opportunity he had in the only way he knew how. He appeared in all 16 games for the Chiefs this season—the first time he accomplished that since 2012—and had two interceptions.
After the Chiefs finished their regular season, Berry was named to the All-Pro team for the second time in his career. He was the anchor of a Kansas City secondary that Brent Rollins of Pro Football Focus rated as the NFL's fourth-best unit, with Berry grading out as the third-ranked safety.
Returning to the football field after what he endured was a huge accomplishment in and of itself. The fact that he played as well as ever is a testament to his work ethic and dedication.
The Chiefs had a fantastic season, making the postseason after winning 10 straight games to close out the year, and Berry had a prominent role in their success. There's no hurdle he can't clear, so the rest of the NFL should be on alert because he's still young enough to get better in 2016.