KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The fog that enveloped much of the Kansas City area 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 60 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 committed suicide by 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 3-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 really emotional 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
"Me and him had grown really close since he'd been on the team for four years," Johnson added. "This is devastating. For both families, Kasandra's and Jovan's, my heart goes out. You just can't imagine what they're going through right now. As a team, we lost a brother."
At Belcher's stall in the locker room, his equipment sat at the ready -- his helmet gleaming, his No. 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 memorializing Belcher as he explained how the Chiefs overcame emotions to remain focused on football and earn only their second victory.
"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 organization, for the players and the coaches and for my main man. We love him."
Coach Romeo Crennel and the team's captains decided to play the game a little more than 24 hours after the apparent murder-suicide. Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli were present when the 25-year-old Belcher took his life in a parking lot not far from the stadium.
Crennel called the team's leaders Saturday night to get their input on whether to postpone the game.
"Romeo asked me whether or not I felt like we should play," said quarterback Matt Cassel, one of the Chiefs captains. "I told him it was a healthy distraction for me to be able to get back with my teammates and family and get away from the chaos. You sit around and try to find reasons why, and there's never an easy answer.
"This is what we do for a profession, but we're also human beings and know how precious life is. ... We lost a teammate, but at the same time there's a 22-year-old woman who lost her life and there's a 3-month-old child who is going to grow up not knowing her mom and dad."
After Sunday's game, Crennel declined to discuss details of the suicide he witnessed, saying, "It wasn't a pretty sight, so I'm choosing not to talk about it. I'm proud of the guys in that locker room and proud of the coaches and organization for having to deal with what we had to deal with and to be able to pull through it and show some character."