To play or not to play? With regard to the Chiefs’ home game Sunday against Carolina, which took place roughly 28 hours after linebacker Jovan Belcher shot himself outside the Arrowhead Stadium practice facility, that was the question.
While the court of public opinion was split down the middle, the Chiefs — galvanized by the tragedy — were united in the desire to play as scheduled.
Ultimately, that’s the opinion that mattered most to the NFL after consulting Chiefs owner Clark Hunt.
“I thought the right thing do was for us to play if the players and the coaching staff wanted to play,” Hunt said. “Obviously, (coach) Romeo (Crennel) had been through a very traumatic event in the morning. I really felt it was up to the players to make the decision. He called the captains at my urging and they were all in favor of going through with it.”
For some, the decision seemed obvious.
“I definitely agree with the decision to play today,” wide receiver Dexter McCluster said. “This is the game we love. This is the game Jovan loved. This is the game fans love, so why not go out here and do something that we love to do?”
For others, the alternative was worse.
“The least-worst option was to play the game,” center Ryan Lilja said. “Suffering a tragedy like that, maybe the best thing was to be together and do what we do — and that’s what we do, we play football.”
In light of a 27-21 win and perhaps the Chiefs’ finest performance of the season, it’s hard to argue against going ahead with the game, which several players hoped might speed up the healing process.
“I definitely didn’t want it postponed,” tackle Eric Winston said. “What are you going to do, move it to Monday and kind of keep the agony going? Every week, at the end of the game, I always feel like you turn to a new chapter. Hopefully, playing the game and getting it behind us will help us, but I’ve got a feeling there will be a cloud over us the rest of the season moving forward.”
It’s that cloud that kept the Chiefs, 2-10, who snapped an eight-game skid, from savoring a rare victory.
“It was a little therapeutic being out there and being able to let your emotions go, but now we’ve got to go back to picking up the pieces,” Winston said.
By and large, though, the Chiefs were grateful for a three-hour escape from grief.
“We leaned on each other today and gained strength from each other,” linebacker Andy Studebaker said. “That’s what you have to do in a situation that’s unexplainable. Instead of looking for an explanation, you lean on each other when it’s hard and you slowly move.”