The Kansas City Chiefs wore red and triumphed. The
Carolina Panthers wore white and were defeated. But the scoreboard and
the statistics and the typical ups and downs of an NFL game were all
shrouded in gray areas and shades of sorrow - and anger, too - at
Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
In the end, despite the certainty of a
final score - Chiefs 27, Panthers 21 - it was the confusion, the
unanswered questions and the numbing sadness that defined an NFL Sunday
like no other in Kansas City, the day after a murder-suicide involving
one of the Chiefs' players had made a sporting contest seem trivial.
Chiefs tackle Eric Winston, like a lot of the big men on the field Sunday, wasn't sure what to think or feel.
just don't know what's going on in some people's lives," Winston said.
"They can have a lot of demons, and you'll never know. I guess the
biggest thing we can do as men and as brothers is just be there for each
other and try to have that shoulder for someone to talk to before
something like this happens."
The game provided one image perhaps
Chiefs fans needed to see: Kansas City running back Peyton Hillis
scoring an early touchdown and then jogging to the sideline, handing the
ball to head coach Romeo Crennel and wrapping him up in an emotional
But Hillis' gesture could provide little solace after what
took place a little more than 24 hours earlier in the parking lot of the
stadium. There, in the presence of Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli
and Crennel, 25-year-old linebacker Jovan Belcher shot himself to death,
just minutes after Belcher had killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins,
at their home, according to police. Perkins was the mother of their
Police said Belcher shot Perkins on Saturday
morning at the house they shared in a newly built subdivision here.
Their daughter, Zoey, and Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd, were
The baby remains in Shepherd's custody. The Chiefs said
Sunday that they planned to start a fund to financially support the
infant, who was born Sept. 11.
The team did not publicly
memorialize Belcher. Instead, it held a moment of silence in honor of
victims of domestic violence before the nearly 63,000 fans.
privately remembered Belcher, who had started 10 games this season, and
the team arranged his locker as normal, with his red No.59 jersey
When the game was over, Crennel praised his players,
remembered Belcher as a good teammate and respectfully declined to
discuss what he had witnessed.
"I'm choosing not to answer
any questions about what I saw yesterday," he said. "I think that you
will understand that, and hopefully you will respect my wishes on that,
because it wasn't a pretty sight."
Longtime Chiefs fan Josephine Carullo called Sunday one of the most bizarre days she had ever experienced at Arrowhead.
think there should be a moment of silence. But there's really nothing
to say," Carullo said, her eyes watering behind dark sunglasses. "He
killed that poor woman, and then he killed himself. It's kind of hard to
honor something like that."
An orphaned child
they did inside Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon was going to heal
the wounds inflicted and the families shattered by what took place in
the parking lot the day before.
But the Chiefs and Panthers played
the game, as players, coaches and the thousands of spectators wondered
why a young, successful pro football player would commit murder and then
end his own life before the very people who were trying to help him
"There wasn't one player on our team who thought they
could see that coming," Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn said. "Trying to
understand the situation was tough. ... It's going to affect the Perkins
family, the Belcher family, his daughter for many, many years to come."
did what many did after learning that a father had killed the mother
and then himself: turned his thoughts to the surviving child.
having either parent in her life now, I think it's important that she
understands the type of love that she should get from a family," Quinn
said. "And Jovan was part of our family, and we try to take care of our
Chiefs fans showed up for the game amid somber strides and a
clear measure of sorrow - after all, a suicide took place just a few
hundred yards away from where a game would be played. Some of them made
it clear, though, that they wouldn't have minded if the game had been
Brian Stewart and his family were already heading north
from their home in Springfield, Mo., on Saturday morning when they heard
the news about the murder-suicide. When they learned the game hadn't
been canceled - which Stewart said would have been understandable -
their concern turned to Crennel.
"How could he coach today?" Stewart wondered. "How can he focus on the game? Is he in the mental state to lead this team today?"
Steelers guard Willie Colon, interviewed after playing the Baltimore
Ravens on Sunday, said the Chiefs game should have been canceled.
hard for me to imagine playing the day after one of my teammates died,"
Colon said. "It would have been real tough. We spend more time with
each other than our own families."
But the game was an afterthought.
it has been a difficult year to be a Chiefs fan this season. Before
Sunday, the team had won one game and had yet to win a game in Kansas
City. But Saturday's tragedy did what other senseless killings tend to
do: make people stop to take stock of the world around them.
In this case, those who knew the couple seemed to have had little inkling that anything was wrong.
Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd, declined to be interviewed when reached by USA TODAY Sports.
me, right now is not the time," she said. "I wish not to talk to
anybody. I apologize. I'm not being rude. But I cannot talk right now."
Charles didn't want to talk, either. He is the Chiefs' top running back
and characteristically led the Kansas City running game Sunday with 127
yards on 27 carries. He is also married to Perkins' cousin. Charles was
not at his locker during postgame interviews.
"It might not be over for some time for a lot of the guys," Crennel said.
'He did commit a murder'
A mixture of mourning and anger toward Belcher filled the air at Arrowhead.
Chiefs fans Taylor Grant and his father, Kurt Grant, displayed an "RIP #59" sign.
wanted to show our respect for a player who's played for us well over
the years," Kurt Grant said. "Not to excuse what he did but to pay
respects and thank him for the four years he did give us."
Some of the most loyal Chiefs fans decided to cancel their normally festive pregame activities.
felt it was disrespectful to the organization and to the victim's
family," said Chiefs fan Brent Cable, a veteran tailgater. "I feel bad
for Mr. Pioli and Crennel and the baby. It was just selfish. We feel
remorseful that this happened, but we don't feel it's appropriate for
them to memorialize them in the stadium or anything. After all, he did
commit a murder."
Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, stopping to speak to
reporters before the game, said, "There's really nothing you can do to
prepare for this. It's tough, and, again, I come back to the fact that
the guys rally around each other to make it through the day."
joined his team on the field for warm-ups about 45 minutes before
kickoff. As players stretched, Crennel zigzagged his way through his
team, patting players on the back and slapping fives. Safety Eric Berry
stood and gave his coach a hug.
The Chiefs openly wondered about Crennel's emotional state.
was hard on him," defensive tackle Shaun Smith said. "I love him,
because he's like my father. So I can feel the pain and emotion he's
going through to deal with it. He loves each one of us like sons. We
need to be there for each other. That's all we can do right now. It's
tough, trust me, it's tough. ... It's going to be all right, though."
tragedy made national headlines throughout the weekend and was
resonating in stadiums across the NFL on Sunday. At M&T Bank Stadium
in Baltimore, fans waiting for the Ravens-Steelers game found
themselves talking about the cultural plague that is domestic abuse.
do you have to kill your partner?" asked Cindy Burnett, 50, from
Davidsonville, Md. "I'm sure no one knew the troubles he was having."
those who knew Belcher from his high school days in Long Island, N.Y.,
to his college days at the University of Maine to his surprising success
as an undrafted free agent in the NFL were stunned to hear of such a
tragic and violent ending to his life.
"Those who didn't know him
can never fathom what kind of person he really was," Belcher's high
school coach, Al Ritacco, told USA TODAY Sports. "How this all came
about we'll never know, I guess.
"But this is not the Jovan I know. I would tell you that on a stack of Bibles."
Jones reported from Kansas City.
Contributing: Jim Corbett, Jon Saraceno and Mike Vorel in Kansas City