Tennessee football: Comparing Eric Berry, John Henderson, Steve DeLong

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 12: Eric Berry #14 of the Tennessee Volunteers pursues a play against the UCLA Bruins at Neyland Stadium on September 12, 2009 in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Bruins won 19-15. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 12: Eric Berry #14 of the Tennessee Volunteers pursues a play against the UCLA Bruins at Neyland Stadium on September 12, 2009 in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Bruins won 19-15. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Who is the greatest Tennessee football Volunteers legend among Eric Berry, John Henderson and Steve DeLong?

Only three players in Tennessee football history have the distinction of being two-time All-Americans and winning a national award: Steve DeLong, John Henderson and Eric Berry. All three of them played for the Vols for three years, but all for different reasons.

DeLong, who passed away in 2010, was a middle guard. He played for the Vols from 1962 to 1964 because freshmen couldn’t play back then, earned All-American honors in 1963 and 1964 and won the Outland Trophy in 1964. In those three years, he played for three different head coaches: Bowden Wyatt, Jim McDonald and Doug Dickey.

Fast-forward to the turn of the century. Henderson was a defensive tackle who played for the Vols from 1999 to 2001. He didn’t play in 1998 because he was an academic partial qualifier. However, he was an All-American in 2000 and 2001 and won the Outland Trophy as well in 2000.

Berry came along a few years later and, similar to DeLong, played for different head coaches. As a safety, he spent his first two years playing for Fulmer in 2007 and 2008, earning All-American honors in 2008. He then played for Lane Kiffin in 2009 and earned All-American honors again while winning the Jim Thorpe Award before forgoing his senior season for the NFL Draft.

So of these three players, who was the greatest in Tennessee football history? Berry had the greatest pro career, becoming a five-time Pro Bowler and earning three All-Pro honors. Henderson was part of the greatest amount of team success, enjoying three top 25 finishes, two top 10 finishes and one top five finish. He also was a two-time Pro Bowler.

DeLong was the worst of the three when bringing up both of those categories. He never played on a winning team with Tennessee football, and although he played in the pros for eight years, he never earned a Pro Bowl.

However, DeLong is the only person not at fault for only playing three years. Henderson and Berry only played three years because of things they could control. If DeLong could have played four years, he likely would have. He also had a son, Keith DeLong, who became an All-American, so he left behind the greatest legacy for Tennessee football.

While we’re on that topic, though, Henderson did willingly choose to return for his senior season in 2001 when he would have been a first-round draft pick. He deserves credit for that, even if he did miss the 1998 season.

We would compare stats, but that’s unfair to DeLong, as defensive stats like sacks and tackles for a loss weren’t recorded at the college level when he played. What we can do, though, is bring in value, and that makes one player stand out above the others.

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In addition to his pro career, Berry was a three-year starter for the Vols and led them to an SEC East title in 2007. He earned All-SEC honors and Freshman All-American honors that year. Henderson and DeLong both failed to earn national or regional recognition of any kind their first year starting.

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On top of that, Berry got robbed of the Thorpe Award in 2008 as well. Malcolm Jenkins of the Ohio State Buckeyes won it, but everybody saw that Berry was the better player. Henderson didn’t have another year in which he deserved the Outland Trophy, and nobody thought DeLong would have deserved it over Texas Longhorns defensive tackle Scott Appleton in 1963.

Taking all that into account, Berry stood out more all three years than Henderson or DeLong, and he also should have won his award twice. As a result, when it comes to individual players who were greater for Tennessee football, Berry clearly wins this list.

DeLong can get credit for having a legacy player, but we can’t hold that against Berry and Henderson. Both are too young to have done that yet, and Berry himself was a legacy player as well. He was the son of James Berry, and his younger brothers, Evan Berry and Elliott Berry, also played for the Vols with Evan Berry becoming an All-American in his own right as a kick returner.

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Simply put, it’s pretty clear-cut that Berry is the most accomplished of the three. All of them are Tennessee football legends and should stand out above almost every other Vol with their accomplishments, but Eric Berry is in another separate class. As a result, he wins this question.