Eric Berry has had his share of special moments over the past two seasons.
Two training camps ago, he held a tearful press conference about his successful battle with cancer. Weeks later, he took the field at Arrowhead Stadium, pointing to the sky in thanks. Months after that, he stood on stage as the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year.
All moments that, for him, transcended the game of football.
Every game against the Carolina Panthers also does that for Berry, but in those games, it isn't about him, but rather his hometown of Atlanta—or more specifically, South Fulton, the hometown he shares with Cam Newton.
Call it a "small world," but in this case, even that may be considered a gross understatement.
"The first time I saw Eric was middle school," Newton told Carolina media members this week. "He went to Bear Creek and I went to Camp Creek and we would play basketball … He was just—it's kind of like when two rival gangs see each other and the head of each gang, they're fighting and you see each other and you go the other way out of respect. You know what I'm saying? He was athletic then and he got the edge out when we played him."
The two would go on to play for rival high schools—Berry with Creekside and Newton with Westlake—and both were quarterbacks.
Newton said that Berry was the best athlete in the city, but he would never concede he was better at the quarterback position.
"I don't want to say that," Newton laughed. "They ran a Wing-T, and surprisingly, in high school, he was the No. 1 cornerback, but he never played cornerback."
"I couldn't spin it like him," Berry said, "but I could get the ball there on time. You know what I'm saying? I did a bit more running."
The game between Berry and Newton's respective schools their senior year (see below) was described as being "so big it had to be moved to a Saturday."
The two would move onto college in 2007, when Berry would play defensive back for Tennessee and Newton would eventually play quarterback for Auburn (2010), both becoming rival members of the SEC conference.
Every step of the way, it just seemed Berry and Newton followed each other, forever connected by the county in Atlanta they are so proud of to this day.
"It's good," Berry said, "just because we're doing a lot for South Fulton—the area we came from or whatever. With me, it's just giving kids a visual. It is possible to reach your dreams and you just got to go out there and put in the work. That's what we did. We went out and worked every day. We just stayed out of trouble and put the time in."
On one side of South Fulton, near Westlake High School, a street sign reads, "Home of 2010 Heisman Trophy Winner, Cam Newton."
On the other side of the city, near Creekside, another street sign reads, "Home of Eric Berry, NFL Comeback Player of the Year."
The beauty in that is 10 years ago, these signs never existed. Berry and Newton were high school rivals, the two most athletic boys in town with dreams that probably seemed unattainable.
The signs mean more to this town because they serve as symbols of hope—hope that in fact, anything is attainable.
For the second time in their careers Sunday, Berry and Newton will look across at each other as professional football players.
We know them as that and only that, but to the members of the South Fulton community, it's a moment that transcends the game of football.
Photo highlights of Eric Berry