Former Notre Dame and NFL defensive end Bertrand Berry was a three-sport standout from Humble, Texas, not exactly the type of city name one would associate with most professional athletes. He was great at every sport he played in high school – a two-time all-district selection in basketball, that also set new records in track, but football was his dream. Berry was a four-year letterman in football at Notre Dame, finishing his college career with 187 tackles and 16.5 sacks. In 1997, Berry was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the third round of the NFL Draft. He was with the Colts from 1997-99, then had a short stint in the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos before returning to the NFL with the Denver Broncos and later the Arizona Cardinals. He finished his NFL career with 229 total tackles, 65 sacks, 14 fumble recoveries and 14 forced fumbles, earning a Pro Bowl spot in 2004, the same year he led the NFC in sacks. How does a three-sport standout hailing from Humble, Texas end up in frosty South Bend, Indiana? This is Bertrand Berry’s story.
When you play high school football in Texas it is pretty much assumed that you will play college football at a school in Texas, or at the very least at a school in the south. But to leave the big football atmosphere of Texas and head to some small town in Indiana; that decision came as quite a shock to those following Bertrand Berry’s young football career.
I was a momma’s boy.
My plan was to go to Texas A&M. My mother grew up 20 miles from College Station and I loved their defense, known as “The Wrecking Crew.” They were dominating their conference. Then in 1993, Texas A&M played Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. Texas A&M was undefeated that season and Notre Dame had one loss. Everyone in A&M country was very disappointed that they had to play Notre Dame. They thought they should have been playing for the national title, and then Notre Dame came in and absolutely manhandled them. It really made me stop and think. If I go to A&M, they really don’t have a chance to win a title. But, if I go to Notre Dame, my chances may get better. Plus, I really needed to get away from Texas. I was a momma’s boy and really needed to set out on my own.
The Notre Dame Years
Every Notre Dame career is filled with highs and lows. Some careers, however, are blessed to have one special high that will truly go down in college football history. Bertrand had the chance to experience a historic moment during his freshman year at Notre Dame.
When we beat Florida State my freshman year (1993), the “Game of the Century,” everything about that game was truly memorable. The energy on campus that whole week before; the media hype surrounding the game; watching the students rush the field after the game. It was simply amazing. We had a bye the week before and there were so many people on campus that week. It was tough going to class with all of the news media around. It was like nothing we had ever experienced before. That was the very first ESPN College Game Day. When I think back to that moment, all of the students on the field, watching the clock hit zero, we felt that we were so disrespected going into the game and finally we were going to get the respect we felt we deserved. Winning was great, but we should have beat them by a lot more (the Irish beat the Seminoles 31-24). The score didn’t really represent how good we really were.
As a collegiate student-athlete, your relationship with your coach is crucial. It can either make or break your athletic career. When your head coach is Lou Holtz, he’s not only concerned with your on-the-field success; he’s also concerned with preparing you for success off the field for your next forty years. Lou Holtz was the heart and soul of the Notre Dame Value Stream that carried his players through their careers at Notre Dame.
When we played Stanford my sophomore year, we put a pretty good beating on them. Bill Walsh was head coach for Stanford and Steve Stenstrom was their quarterback. I got to know Stenstrom pretty well that day, and he spent a lot of time on his back. At the end of that day a couple of the guys on Stanford’s offensive line had just about had enough of me. They were giving me the business after one of my big plays and I got frustrated and dished it back. They were shoving me back and forth like a pinball when I hit one of the guys in the face. Of course, the ref saw me and I got thrown out of the game. When I got to the sideline, Coach Holtz was waiting for me. In his signature move, he grabbed me by the facemask and shook it. (He) told me, “Don’t ever do that again,” and then patted me on the head. Had I had a bad game that day, he probably would have said more, but because I had a good game he just left it at that. I got a lot of phone calls that day because it was on national TV. Coach Holtz was definitely a disciplinarian. I appreciated that because I wanted to be great at football and I knew that I needed that type of coach. My time at Notre Dame was filled with good memories of Coach Holtz. Being from Texas, I was used to tough coaches. What I loved most were his pregame speeches. They were some of the best I’ve ever heard. I wish I had recorded the FSU pregame speech. After that one, I think we could have beaten any pro team. He masterfully played on our emotions. They never had a chance to beat us that day. I hope someone has a recording of that.
Football is life at Notre Dame, but what you might not know is that basketball - or rather Bookstore Basketball - carries a great deal of bragging rights at Notre Dame as well.
Playing football at Notre Dame was amazing, don’t get me wrong. But my Bookstore Basketball win is something truly special to me. My team got beat my sophomore year to (all-stater) Owen Smith and his team, and that burned me up all year. I think I wanted to win Bookstore more than a national championship. I got teased so much for losing my sophomore year. The next year when we (Dos Kloskas) won, it was raining cats and dogs. It was a really sloppy game, and the team we played in the finals was a team we had played many times out in the lot. They were an infamous team (Showtime) and they had been together for a couple of years like we had. Beating them was awesome. One of the things that I like most about the whole Bookstore Basketball tournament are the costumes at the beginning. The girls’ teams who came out in high heels; just awesome. My freshman year I was pretty annoyed with that, but when I saw how much fun they were having, I really grew to enjoy them.
“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” ~ Maya Angelou
Almost every journey encounters a bump in the road. How you handle it says a lot about the person you are and how your journey continues moving forward. When a student-athlete at Notre Dame happens upon this inevitable bump in the road, the Notre Dame Value Stream rises to the occasion and gracefully carries them through and shows them how to overcome the adversity staring them in the face.
I got caught cheating on a paper my freshman year and became academically ineligible to run my first season of track. It was the last paper in that particular class, in late December, and I ended up getting an “F” for the entire class (Composition & Literature). I was doing so well in that class. I had knocked all of the tests out of the park, but I just didn’t feel like writing this paper. The paper that I ended up using, I got from a guy who had taken the class three years before, and the professor recognized it right away. After not running track that first year, I just decided it was smart of me to focus on football, and doing well in my classes!
Tradition is a big part of the Notre Dame experience. Living on campus in the dorms is a big piece of that Notre Dame tradition. As a school where there are no fraternities or sororities, Notre Dame dorm life fills the void and creates camaraderie. Bertrand spent his time at Notre Dame living in Carroll Hall, which is across the lake and the furthest possible dorm from the stadium; but that ended up being a welcome oasis.
I absolutely loved it. It was the best dorm for me, for my personality. I am a low-key guy and it was perfect for me to be able to get away from my teammates after practice. I have great friends that I made during my time spent hanging out in Carroll Hall. I didn’t room with football players, which was great for me. You’re with them all day long, Carroll was my sanctuary. I just wanted to go to my room after practice and chill and relax. Not have to worry about talking football. My time at Carroll was awesome.
Today the NFL draft is a circus tent event where everyone goes to New York City to see where their future lies, but when Bertrand Berry was drafted that was not the case.
I watched the draft at my brother’s house in Texas. It was a very long day. I ended up getting drafted in the third round, a couple of picks before the end of the first day. It was a day filled with anxiety, anger, and frustration. I started the day with this plastic cup in my hand, and my brother had to eventually take the cup from me. I was taking sips from it and there was nothing in it. When my brother took the cup from me, I had this death grip on it. I guess that was a result of thinking that I was going to be selected much earlier. Kinnon Tatum was drafted the very next pick after me, and that was special for me as well. The fact that the two of us got drafted back-to-back was a special moment, and we’ll always share that. I went to the Indianapolis Colts, and he went to the Carolina Panthers.
When the direction of Berry’s new journey was revealed it wasn’t exactly the path that he was expecting, but the Notre Dame Value Stream helped him find clarity and realize that this was his true path.
I didn’t ever think I’d go back to Indiana once I left Notre Dame.
The funniest thing about being drafted by the Colts was that I didn’t ever think I’d go back to Indiana once I left Notre Dame. Sitting at my brother’s house on draft day I was thinking to myself, “It’s been really great Notre Dame, now let’s get out of the snow.” And then I get drafted by the Colts! Are you kidding me? But then I remembered that my dream of playing in the NFL had just become a reality, and the location didn’t really matter anymore.
When you finally reach a dream you’ve been chasing for much of your life the expectations are high. But in reality, even dreams are filled with highs and lows.
Playing on Sunday was a definite high. It was what got you through the week. There is nothing like running on the field and competing at the top of your profession. For 13 years, there was nothing better for me than putting on that jersey and representing my family and the NFL. I wore “Berry” across the back of an NFL uniform with great pride. It had a lot of hard work behind it and a lot of pitfalls along the way. The business aspect of the NFL was definitely a low. Everyone knows that it is a business. That’s what provides your paycheck every month, but it does take some of the fun out of the game. Sunday was an escape from that business side. Time spent with the guys in the locker room, clowning around, getting to know your teammates, was great. But you also knew that at any moment they could be traded or cut. No notice. No warning. The mental side of that is really tough. But even more challenging than that was losing guys like Junior Seau. It is just not fair to see such wonderful men being taken from us much too early.
Two NFL moments stick out in my mind. The first was being selected to the Pro Bowl in 2004. It is obviously an honor when you are voted in by your peers for being the best in your profession. Especially because of the way my career had progressed, and the bumps in the road that I had encountered prior to that year. Secondly, was playing in Super Bowl XLIII. Even though we didn’t win the game, we played our hearts out and it was an awesome experience. I would not trade it for anything. It was incredible to be a part of something as huge as the Super Bowl. We got these impressive looking NFC championship rings. I have no regrets at all. It was one incredible ride to get there, and I will never forget that time of my life.
When football has been such an integral part of your life for so many years, the transition from football life to the regular world can be challenging. And then some people like Berry are more than ready for the move and it is nearly seamless.
Get out while you have a little something in the tank.
The transition was not difficult for me. Mentally I was ready. Once playing in the NFL became work, it was time for me to go. I really was OK with leaving. Thirteen years was more than I could have asked for from an NFL career. I was healthy and all in one piece. I did everything I set out to accomplish. I got to play in a Pro Bowl and a Super Bowl. I retired on my terms and I will always be proud of that. The transition for me was seamless. I knew I would survive without the game because I had already proven to myself that I could survive without the game when I was not playing in 2000. Plus, you always want to get out while you have a little something in the tank.
From a fan’s perspective.
At first I did some work with a local TV show here in Phoenix, and that was a blast for me, but it was just a little segment here and there, a web-based show. I enjoyed it, but it really was not what I wanted to do moving forward. Following that, I got the opportunity to get my own radio show, which truly was a blessing. I get to talk sports on a daily basis without having to tear my body up. It has challenged me to get out of my comfort zone because I talk about all sports, not just football. It keeps me involved in the sporting world, but at the same time it holds my interest. I have the chance to grow in my relationships with other sports. With our hockey team’s success, I really have learned about the game of hockey. I see sports in general from a completely different point of view now, from a fan’s perspective. I have enjoyed the transformation.
Two years ago, Bertrand started a new business called Train’s Station.
I started Train’s Station two years ago to give defensive linemen and pass rushers an opportunity to get one on one coaching. As a former defensive lineman myself, I know that even though the off-season means there are no games played, you still have to work on your craft and continue to sharpen your skills. My building is in Central Phoenix not far from the airport. (The address is 2211 S. 15th St. Phoenix, AZ 85034.) I work footwork, hand to hand combat, and balance, which are all essential to be effective defensive linemen and pass rushers. If you need any assistance don’t hesitate to reach out to me. My website is www.trains-stationaz.com. I’m always looking for young Lions that have a passion to be great! Let’s get to work at getting after Quarterbacks. #HuntnSZN
Bertrand Berry Foundation
In 2005 I founded the Bertrand Berry Foundation primarily in honor of my wife, who is a survivor of childhood cancer (leukemia). We wanted to give back to something that gave her a chance at life. I have always been community oriented and have always given back when I was able. The fans are the ones who put their money up to come watch the games. Even at Notre Dame, I thought football was entertainment as much as it was a competition. You have to be able to play to the fans. But I also feel a responsibility to give back to the fans, as well as the community at large. I have always been quick to jump on opportunities to go speak to elementary school and high school kids. I wanted my foundation to not only give back to something that gave my wife a future, but also to help kids. I have a soft spot for kids. Nothing burns me up faster than someone taking advantage of a child.
Berry’s foundation supports the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Childhelp.org and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona: www.bertrandberryfoundation.org
It’s all about helping out young kids. They are a group that cannot help themselves. We have also added a scholarship in my mother’s name. She was a teacher for 30 years and when I went to Notre Dame she made me promise to get my degree. I am most proud of my Notre Dame degree. It is one of my most prized possessions.
Cheers & GO IRISH!