Eric Berry, Mitch Holthus and how the Chiefs inspired a fan toward hope
By Byron Smith
Chiefs fan and contributor Byron Smith recalls the moment when an unexpected heroic play from Eric Berry taught him to hold out hope in his own life.
For fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, it is a time of celebration.
For the first time since 1969, the Kansas City Chiefs have found their way to the Super Bowl. Despite a 6-4 start to the season, the short loss of the franchise’s face to a knee injury, playing every AFC playoff team but one, going down 24 points in the divisional round, and facing the league’s best rushing attack, the Chiefs are heading to Miami and have a chance to make history.
With that time of celebration also comes a time of reflection, giving fans a chance to look back and remember the ups and downs of Chiefs’ fandom the last 50 years. It’s a chance to remember the moments that defined both the team and the fans that follow them closely.
This is the story of one of those moments.
I grew up in a family of Chiefs fans. My dad is a Chiefs fan, as is every member of my family on my dad’s side. My mom is a Raiders fan, sure, but even she acknowledged that they were the bad guys, especially when compared to the Chiefs. My earliest Chiefs-related memory is actually watching them take on the Raiders and listening to my mom and dad talk about the rivalry and what it meant to both teams. I am sure I watched the Chiefs before then, but my memory just does not serve me any farther back.
I grew up following the Chiefs, with some of my favorite and most fun Chiefs’ memories coming from them. My mom may be a Raiders fan, but I will never forget how much she enjoyed watching Dexter Mccluster return punts. My grandma once called my dad after Tony Gonzalez took a nasty hard hit in the end zone because she was worried about him. My cousin once got in trouble at school for saying “Home of the Chiefs” during the national anthem.
My first trip to Arrowhead Stadium was for a preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. My parents kept the tickets on the fridge for a long time. My second trip to Arrowhead was to see an Oakland Raiders game, where we met up with my aunt from my mom’s side, another Raiders fan. The family pictures from that game still rotate on my mom’s desktop background. My brother is not the biggest football fan, but when we were younger and he would still play Madden with me, we would always play as the mascots, using exclusively hit stick tackles.
My favorite Chiefs memory, however, did not spawn from my family or watching the game in the living room after church. As a matter of fact, my favorite Chiefs memory came from a moment where no one else was within miles of me.
I was 18 at the time and going to college in Springfield, Missouri, a three hour drive from my parentes. This meant that any time I came to visit my family, it had to be on a weekend. In order to guarantee I was back on campus in time, I had to leave right after lunch on Sunday. This was one of those Sundays and I was somewhere between first and second hour of that drive.
Of course, my dad had taught me the brilliance of Mitch Holthus calling plays on the radio, so I had tuned in to the Chiefs matchup against the Atlanta Falcons in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The drive to Springfield is not anything special, just a ton of highway driving and some really long stretches of livestock, so Holthus had my undivided attention.
The game was coming to a close and the Falcons had just scored a touchdown to take a one point lead late in the fourth. The Falcons line up for a 2-point conversion to try to keep the Chiefs from winning on a field goal. As a Chiefs fan, I knew this feeling, It was what it felt like to lose. Sure, one loss does not define the season, but the Chiefs were so close to this one, and it felt like the Chiefs were going to fall short the same way they always did.
It felt symbolic of stuff I was dealing with.
It always sucks seeing your family for a short period of time then having to leave, especially when college and work schedules made it uncertain when I would be able to drive back and see them again. I was also struggling really bad with school. I was unhappy and rethinking a lot of my life choices that got me to where I was. I had moved away from all my friends and family, was struggling to socialize and make friends, and, despite what I told myself, I really needed some people. My grades were slipping. I was refusing to put in any real effort, and I knew I was disappointing the people around me, the people who had worked so hard to see me this far.
The odds felt stacked against me. I genuinely did not what to do and, whether by projection or divine connection, the Chiefs found themselves in a very similar situation.
Against the team that would go on to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, the Chiefs lost the lead with about four minutes left in the game. Despite still having a good amount of time left on the clock, the Falcons defense seemed to suffocate any attempts the Chiefs made to get anything going in the second half. As a Chiefs fan, I knew this one was over. But then, something different happened.
Matt Ryan took the snap on the 2-point conversion and went to rifle the ball to his number one receiver, Julio Jones. However, the ball never got there. It barely even got to the goal line before it was intercepted by Chiefs All-Pro safety Eric Berry—the very man who had fought cancer and bounced back to not only tell the tale but secure his bid as best defensive back in the league.
Berry was not satisfied with getting the pick; he had more to prove.
Berry took off down the field, leaving every other player on the field in the dust as he took the interception all the way down the field and into the end zone for the NFL’s first ever pick-2. Eric Berry took the Chiefs from trailing by one to leading by one by making one of the most spectacular plays in NFL history. A player that had not even been on the field the previous season, after needing time to face physical battles, had completely reversed the Chiefs fortunes.
I remember the moment like it was yesterday. Mitch Holthus called out the interception and then went insane as he Berry flew down the sideline. I was screaming and hollering like I had never done before, celebrating the craziest possible outcome that could have happened. The Chiefs went on to win that game 29-28, getting a few first downs on the following drive to finish up the clock, and in that moment I learned some things.
Sometimes things suck. You lose the lead late in the game. You get behind in your schooling. The opposing defense stifles any offensive momentum you had. You struggle to connect in a completely new town. But despite how things look, despite how close the end of the game is, no matter how rough life has treated you, it is never over. All it takes is one play.
Whether that is an excellent read that leads to a pick 2, or inviting one of the guys to come over and play Madden, or applying for that job that seems out of reach, or just being in the right place at the right time, all it takes is a moment to turn things around.
At the same time, people are behind you, supporting you, carrying you, praying for you, wanting the best for you. For Eric Berry, it was his mama who had supported him and taken care of him on his journey to the NFL. For me, it was my parents who had helped support me and loved me, even when I was being difficult and hard to love.
It is important that when you overcome your battles, be it a score or anxiety or school, you celebrate with them, because they are just as responsible for your success as you are. That is why Eric Berry found his mama and handed her the game ball that won the game. That is why I write and keep pushing myself, because every success I have is because of my family and I get to celebrate it with them. If my parents had just let me refuse to apply myself in high school, I would not have the ability to write properly. If my parents had just let me remain lazy and complacent after my failure, Lord knows where I would be now, but it is safe to say I would be in a much worse place.
In a season where the Chiefs had every obstacle possible try and prevent them from making it this far, the Chiefs have continued to overcome, making their way to the Super Bowl. In life, we face very obstacles at a very similar rate, but like a Mecole Hardman return, or Daniel Sorenson putting the boom on Ryan Tannehill, all it takes is one play to come out ahead.