Chiefs linebacker Cory Greenwood described Sunday as one of the hardest days of his life.
Saturday, he said, was even worse.
That’s when Greenwood’s teammate, Jovan Belcher, killed 22-year old Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and the mother of their three-month old daughter, and then shot himself. One day later, the Chiefs returned to Arrowhead Stadium to play the Carolina Panthers.
In the 28 hours leading up to kickoff, players were sent through a whirlwind of unexpected chain reactions to a sudden tragedy.
Wide receiver Jon Baldwin’s weekend began much like that of many of his teammates. He approached the Chiefs practice facility Saturday morning for a team meeting, but he was greeted by police who redirected him to Arrowhead Stadium.
He didn’t understand why.
The meeting was anything but routine. There, coach Romeo Crennel haltingly informed the team of the murder-suicide earlier in the morning.
“I was on my way when I got a call,” cornerback Tysyn Hartman said. “Guys were calling each other, warning us, because they kind of locked the whole situation down.
Often pausing to gather his emotions, players later said, Crennel also told the team he witnessed Belcher taking his own life in the parking lot of the facility.
“It was pretty rough,” defensive end Shaun Smith said of the meeting. “…Guys were taking it really hard.”
Players and coaches consoled one another over the ensuring minutes.
“We were all able to lean on each other a little bit and let a little bit out,” Crennel said. “By letting a little bit out, that helped us all get through what we had to get through.”
After receiving news Sunday’s game against Carolina would be played as scheduled, Chiefs players began to trickle into the team hotel downtown. With the next day’s game plan already set from early-week meetings and practices, the team turned its focus to appropriately handling a teammate’s death.
Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt flew in from his Dallas home and spoke to Crennel and Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli — who also witnessed Belcher’s suicide — before addressing the team.
Following Hunt’s speech, players met with grief counselors and former Chiefs player Brian Waters, whom the players association sent to the team hotel to provide guidance.
“Everybody dealt with it in their own way,” Greenwood said. “The hardest part was getting ready for this game mentally.”
Said linebacker Edgar Jones: “Of course we talked about the Jovan situation, but we knew, as players … that we had to focus on the game. That, for the next 24 hours, we had to get our mind right before the game.”
As they typically do prior to home games, players headed to bed early.
Sleeping, however, wasn’t easy.
“It was very tough — I tossed and turned all night,” linebacker Justin Houston said. “I had some guys I talked to, and they told me to put this behind me and just focus on the game.”
Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson says Belcher was one of the first guys he spoke to on game days. As inside linebackers, the two would usually have plenty to discuss.
The absence of that conversation Sunday morning, Johnson said, was when the events from the day before began to sink in.
For quarterback Brady Quinn, it was a quick glance at Belcher’s locker — still containing his jersey, pads and cleats — that brought the news home.
“It was kind of tough to step back and gain focus,” Quinn said.
A pregame speech from Crennel turned players’ attention back to the game.
“I think (Crennel) kind of said it best before the game (when he) talked to us about how Jovan played the game and how he wanted us to go play that game with the type of dedication and passion he had,” Quinn said.