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Eric Berry, star of preseason’s first weekend

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The NFL preseason can tell coaches and fans a great deal about teams and individuals. The scores of games do not matter. Statistics are only slightly more important.

Coaches and executives are looking for hustle, desire, running the right route, reading a defense, or effective blocking and tackling. In other words, they look for players showing the heart and skills necessary to be a good player and a contributor to the team.

On Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs went into Phoenix and rolled over the Cardinals, 34-19. Again, the team score matters little.

Arizona’s Carson Palmer and Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu had good nights. Palmer completed all four passes he tried, while Mathieu intercepted a Chiefs’ pass.

Kansas City backup quarterback Chase Daniel had a good night as well. He completed 17 of 21 for 189 yards and three touchdowns.

But the player having the best night of all played safety for the Chiefs. He finished the game with no interceptions, no tackles, no passes broken up and no fumbles caused or recovered.

Eric Berry was the most celebrated player on the field merely because he was on the field. That seemed unlikely eight months ago. Last December, Berry’s Christmas present came on December 8 when doctors informed him he had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

The three-time Pro Bowler would not be in Phoenix in January with fellow NFL All-Stars. Instead, he would be at the hospital receiving chemotherapy treatments.

Instead of trying to help his team make the playoffs, Berry would be focusing on his own survival. He finally got to Phoenix on Saturday.

Over the course of the winter and spring, Berry endured his treatments and did his best to return to the Chiefs. Neither a sentence, nor even a paragraph can succinctly describe what chemotherapy is like, but Berry tackled it just as hard as he would a receiver in the open field.

“I don’t think anybody can understand the road I took, the sacrifices I had to make, the feelings I had going through those times,” Berry told the media. Only those who endured it, or watched friends and loved ones endure it, can comprehend.

Shortly before training camp opened, he was cleared to join his teammates in camp. Saturday night, he came full circle.

“It’s a blessing to be out here and I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity I have,” he said.

While Kansas City fans are cheering his return and remembering what Berry has already contributed, he once expressed an interest in becoming a Buccaneer.

After his junior season in 2009 at the University of Tennessee, Berry announced he would turn pro. His defensive coordinator for that season was Monte Kiffin, who Buc fans remember well from his time in Tampa Bay.

If he could choose his pro team, Berry was asked, what would it be? Tampa Bay was his quick response.

“I already know their playbook,” he said. “I know what they’re supposed to do and where they’re supposed to be at.”

The 2013 First Team All-Pro also understood the Bucs had the third overall draft choice in 2010. He also had some Buc roots. Berry’s father is a cousin of Tampa Bay legend Hugh Green.

No one can fault the Bucs for instead drafting Gerald McCoy, who, like Berry, is a three-time Pro Bowler and a First Team All-Pro in 2013. Berry fell to Kansas City in the No. 5 slot.

There is no doubt Buc fans would have showered Berry with the adoration and well wishes he is now receiving in Kansas City. But we can help spread the inspirational story of a quality young man. Here is why.

Eric Berry is now cancer-free. His life was saved. The best news of all is that spreading his story will save the lives of others.

He would tell you to see a doctor, like he did, if something feels amiss. He would tell you to advise friends and loved ones to do the same.

Berry is part of a batch of statistics that really matter: the growing number of cancer survivors. That number, with his help and that of other survivors, will continue to grow.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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