KANSAS CITY, Mo. Players and fans lose themselves in the familiar rhythm of our countrys most popular sport. The better the Chiefs play, the more Sunday feels like football. For two hours and 56 minutes, the game offers an escape from Saturdays events.
Carolinas team buses pull into the parking lot at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday morning. Players probably dont notice the two Kansas City Chiefs flags at half staff on the red truck nearby.
Fans usually joke with and even welcome the visiting team. This is the Midwest. But the reaction Sunday is muted. The day is not about visitors. Its about the home team, the community it represents and the city in which it plays.
And maybe its about hope.
On Saturday morning Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher, 25, shot and killed Kasandra Perkins, his 22-year old girlfriend and mother of their daughter, Zoey. Zoey was born Sept. 11.
Belcher then drove to the teams practice facility and thanked general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel for everything they had done. Then he turned the gun on himself and ended his life.
We cant forget about it, says Kansas City linebacker Andy Studebaker. We dont want to forget about it. He was a brother to us. His family was our family.
Normalcy is reassuring. Routine is reassuring. So all Sunday afternoon cheerleaders cheer, fans dance for the Dance Cam and the wholesome and creative Topeka (Kansas) High band performs at halftime.
Heres whats not normal: The Chiefs, who have the worst record in the NFL when the game begins, drive 74 yards for a touchdown the first time they have the ball. They drive 46 yards for a field goal the second.
Players and fans begin to lose themselves in the 64-degree sunshine and the familiar rhythm of our countrys most popular sport. The better the Chiefs play, the more Sunday feels like football. For two hours and 56 minutes, the game offers an escape.
Despite Saturdays deaths, and despite playing across the parking lot from the practice facility in which Belcher ended his life, the Chiefs, and not the Panthers, are the team that plays with poise. They win 27-21.
In the locker room the victors are muted. They can all see Belchers locker, which is as he left it. His No. 59 jersey hangs there.
Again, Belcher isnt the victim. His girlfriend is. So, of course, is the not quite three-month-old girl who will remember her parents only through pictures and what people tell her.
We dont know what happened, says Brandon Siler, who replaced Belcher Sunday in the starting lineup. All I know is there are two families out there, theres a little baby girl out there whos going to get my prayers every day for the rest of my life, and thats whats really important to me.
The team will start a fund for her.
Crennel is stoic after the game, sweat running beneath his glasses. Yet as he talks his left hand steadily taps against, or squeezes, the wooden lectern behind which he stands.
What do you learn from this? What can you take away? What can you apply?
The thing that we have to understand is, when any person has an issue or has problems, if theyre not totally honest with you about their issues or their problems, you cannot give them the corrective help, says Crennel. I think people have to be honest about what problems they have and how they perceive them.
Says linebacker Derrick Johnson: This situation shows that we need to talk to each other more as men, not just as football players. Generally men dont really show their feelings, we dont talk about whats going on and dont show emotion. To have an act like this to go on that could have been avoided we need to do more making sure the teammate is OK.
When its the turn of quarterback Brady Quinn to speak he looks down and sucks in a large gulp of air.
He has the same thought you would if Belcher had been a friend or coworker of yours.
What could he have done to prevent this?
When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? Quinn asks. When you answer someone back how are you doing, are you really telling the truth?
We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and thats fine. But we have more contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships right in front of us.
Quinn adds: Hopefully people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.
Hopefully is a good word.
Hopefully the moment of silence before Sunday's game, a moment designed to honor victims of domestic violence, will resonate.
Hopefully a potential perpetrator will remember Kansas City, and pause and think and even walk away.