The fog that enveloped much of the Kansas City area on Sunday morning dissipated a few hours before the Chiefs and the Carolina Panthers took the field at Arrowhead Stadium.
The sun broke through and temperatures surpassed 16 degrees on the second day of December as children tossed footballs in the parking lots while tailgaters grilled burgers and music blared. Other than a brief moment of silence dedicated to all the victims of domestic violence and their families, the game had the look and feel of a typical NFL Sunday.
But for those affected by the events of the previous morning, when police say Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher died by suicide after shooting himself in the head outside the team’s practice facility just minutes after he shot and killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins (the mother of the couple’s three-month old daughter) — it was anything but a typical football game.
“It was tough,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said following the Chiefs’ 27-21 victory. “It really hit me this morning, waking up and not being able to talk to Jovan. I was reallyemotional going to the stadium.
“It’s one of those deals where you think it’s a bad dream, but the next day you wake up and it’s still there and a reality.”
At Belcher’s stall in the locker room, his equipment sat at the ready — his helmet gleaming, his number 59 jersey hanging and his cleats untied and ready to be stepped into.
“When I walked in the locker room I didn’t look toward his locker,”starting quarterback Brady Quinn said. “Then I sat down ... [and] looked across and I saw his jersey hanging up, his locker stall filled with everything, and that’s when it kind of hit me. It was kind of tough to step back and gain focus [on] what the task was in front of us.
“More than anything, as players, we just wanted to try to come together as a team and bring some good to this situation.”
Two stalls down from Belcher’s, Dexter McCluster wore a T-shirt memorialising him as he explained how the Chiefs focused on football.
“We just had to pull together and use the brotherhood we have,” McCluster said.
“We see each other every day, and we had to lean on each other and hold each other up. Our main goal was to go out there to win for the organisation, for the players and the coaches and for my main man. We love him,” he added.
Coach Romeo Crennel and the team’s captains decided to play the game a little more than 24 hours after the apparent murder-suicide took place. Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli were present when the 25-year-old Belcher took his life. Crennel called the team’s leaders Saturday night to get their input on whether to postpone the game.
“I told him it was a healthy distraction for me to be able to get back with my team-mates and family and get away from the chaos,” said quarterback Matt Cassel, one of the Chiefs captains.
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