Nurses cooed. Patients smiled. And four Tennessee football players signed autographs and visited for more than an hour Wednesday afternoon inside the UT Cancer Institute.
Safety Eric Berry, who visited along with receiver Denarius Moore, defensive end Chris Walker and walk-on defensive lineman/tight end Chuck Karlosky, had barely stepped off the elevator before requests came for pictures and autographs. After a few media interviews, the players continued into a room where some patients were receiving treatment before more autographs, pictures and hugs in the waiting room.
Some of the patients weren't even scheduled for treatment, making a special trip to meet Berry and his teammates. Berry, who has two aunts who survived breast cancer, posed for photos with staff and patients alike. He even slipped behind a desk at a nurse's station to sign more items, prompting this exchange:
Berry: "Am I allowed back here?"
Nurse (excitedly): "He's using my desk!"
These days, that's the kind of stir that accompanies UT's star safety, whose image adorns billboards not only in Knoxville promoting the upcoming football season, but also ones in South Florida and Atlanta that tout him as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
"I'm just like, 'What in the world? That's really me?' " Berry said chuckling when asked about the billboards. "Then you've got to get back focused and keep driving. It's a good feeling to see yourself up there, to be honest."
While many of those in the Cancer Institute were happy to see Berry, the junior got a surprise himself over the weekend.
While at a party in Washington, D.C., a friend of Berry's called and claimed to have Baltimore Ravens All-Pro safety Ed Reed on the line.
"I thought someone was playing on my phone at first, man," Berry said. "I'm like, shut up, this is not Ed Reed. Get out of here. Stop playing. He was like, 'No, for real, this is E Reed from the Ravens.' "
Berry, who has been compared to Reed by some because of his versatility, said he spoke with Reed for more than 30 minutes. Reed shared some wisdom picked up in his eight-year career, which includes five Pro Bowl trips and five All-Pro selections. He also shared his phone number and told Berry to feel free to call during the season.
But the biggest moment for Berry came when Reed told him he was a fan.
"I told him it was an honor to talk to him, and he said, 'Likewise, it's an honor to talk with you,' " Berry said. "I'm sitting here like, I'm playing college ball, you're Ed Reed. You have records in the NFL, Pro Bowls, and it's an honor to talk to me? He was saying he'd been following me and likes the way I play. He said I play like him and (Reed's former Miami teammate) Sean Taylor. That made me smile ear to ear."
And even though Berry and his teammates were the ones responsible for all of the smiles on Wednesday, they still took something away from their visit.
"We go on the field week in and week out, but we know we're going to walk off the field," Berry said. "These guys and women, they're going through a lot of things, and I really take my hat off to them and salute them because they truly are strong people."
Moore Ahead of Schedule? Moore, who was competing for a starting spot opposite Gerald Jones at receiver, said he hopes to return early from surgery on his left foot.
Moore was projected to be out eight to 10 weeks after having surgery last week to repair a broken bone suffered during offseason workouts.
"They said it's coming along pretty well, and hopefully I can come back sooner than expected," Moore said.
An eight-week recovery time would put Moore back on the practice field the week of UT's season-opener against Western Kentucky on Sept. 5.