KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One day after the shocking murder-suicide involving linebacker Jovan Belcher, the Kansas Chiefs played their finest game of the season and beat Carolina 27-21.
No turnovers. Just one penalty. And almost to a man Sunday, they praised the leadership of their embattled coach, Romeo Crennel.
The previous day, Crennel had stood alongside general manager Scott Pioli in the Chiefs parking lot and saw Belcher put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.
It was tough, hard on him, said defensive lineman Shaun Smith. I told him after the game I love him, because hes like my father. I could feel the pain and emotion that he was dealing with.
Linebacker Andy Studebaker, his voice choking, said a team couldnt ask for a better way to lead.
He provided us with a ton of perspective about leaning on each other, bracing each other, Studebaker said. He provided great leadership, great perspective in the circumstances we dealt with yesterday. I dont think you could have asked him to handle it better.
Throughout the season, as losses and misplays mounted and the Chiefs dropped 10 of their first 11 games, fan and media criticism of Crennel became relentless, even personal, and sometimes cruel.
Never once has he let on that it bothered him. But this was different.
Crennel admitted the pain and shock of what he had witnessed would stay with him a long time.
Respectfully you guys and ladies, Im choosing not to answer any questions about what I saw yesterday, Crennel told reporters. And I think you will understand that and youll respect my wishes on that, because it wasnt a pretty sight.
He said he knew the players would be looking to him for strength.
I felt like I would be able to handle it, and I knew I needed to be strong for the players in that locker room and they needed to see a strong, individual leader, he said.
While many around the town and around the league were wondering if Sundays game would be postponed, Crennel was making the decision to carry forth.
After talking with the captains, they also felt like it was best that we play, he said. If for no other reason it takes our mind off our misery for a few hours. Thats what it did. It helped us do that.
Before the Chiefs kicked off their game Sunday, fans at Arrowhead Stadium observed a moment of silence for the victims of domestic violence and their families.
Not mentioned was Belcher.
Fans grilled, played catch and enjoyed beverages on an unseasonably warm and sunny day in the parking lot across from where Belcher killed himself.
The festive atmosphere masked some of the pain Chiefs fans felt after hearing that Belcher had killed Perkins, then drove to the team practice facility and turned the gun on himself.
The couple had an infant daughter who is 3 months old.
To have to witness that, I dont think you would wish that on your worst enemy, Chiefs fan Ty Rowton said of Crennel and Pioli. That memory will never, ever leave them.
Chiefs fan Ben Cunningham, a 32-year-old who has missed only one home game in 23 years, said he feels sorry for the families and friends who now must endure the aftermath of Saturdays shootings, but not for Belcher.
I dont have much sympathy for him, Cunningham said.
He caused a lot of heartbreak for a lot of people.