Panthers empathize with Chiefs after tragedy
DEC 02, 2012 7:39p ET
"They didn't look like a 1-10 team to me," Panthers tackle Jordan Gross offered after Carolina fell to the Kansas City Chiefs, 27-21.
"You have to play sometime. You're building up to Sunday. Maybe the best thing would be, like they decided, to keep things normal. It doesn't change what happened. I thought they did a nice job, too, with just doing the moment of silence (before the game), not dedicated to anybody in particular — just recognizing it and moving on."
Moving on? That was the hard part, a franchise's burden, a community's heartbreak.
They played, just as they said they would. Sunday proved businesslike but awkward for both locker rooms, an afternoon when football seemed almost trivial. A day earlier, Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher had driven to the team practice facility, less than 1,000 yards away from Arrowhead Stadium, and shot himself in the head. This after reportedly firing nine shots into girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and leaving their daughter, 3-month-old Zoey as an orphan, the saddest victim of all.
"I think the biggest thing, you know, is that little girl, their daughter, and that family," noted Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who has three young children of his own, including twins born just this past Oct. 9. "Now she'll never have a Mom or Dad. I think that's the part that really deserves the most attention, you know, the pieces that get left behind."
A reporter asked Olsen if he could've suited up, with a clear head, some 24 hours after a teammate had committed suicide, what he would do if slapped with the worst kind of hypothetical imaginable.
"I hope I never have to worry about that," he replied. "You're right. I hope it never has to come up to worry about."
At the same time, Olsen saluted the Chiefs for moving on. For playing. And not just for playing — for coming out, eyes on the road, and stringing together their cleanest (zero turnovers, just one penalty), if not their best, performance of a 2-10 campaign.
"You definitely feel for them — what they're going through is tragic, there's no question about it," said Olsen, who caught a 47-yard touchdown in the first quarter. "But like you said, we have a job to do. Our job is to come here and prepare to win. And you know, there's no sympathy when the game starts."
"Guys do try to look out for each other, when you're playing and when you're not playing," Carolina wideout Steve Smith said. "At the same time, it's an unforeseen tragedy. It's hard in these circumstances to know what the other people are going through. I'm not going to speculate and say, ‘If was this, then I would've done this as a player rep.' At the end of the day, there are victims of this, and there are people who made choices. And, unfortunately, those choices cost people their lives."
News of the Belcher case had reached the Panthers complex early Saturday afternoon, as they were preparing to board a chartered flight to Kansas City. Team officials were told to continue as per normal, even as the situation out on Arrowhead Drive — police tape, television trucks — was anything but.
"I mean, you've got to be an idiot not to (realize that)," Smith continued. "We had New Orleans, several years ago, when (Hurricane) Katrina (hit), and we saw that. But at the same time, this is an emotional game, and guys draw from tragedy, or whatever the case may be. So, of course, guys spoke about it. The head coach spoke about it. So we're not unprepared from the emotional aspect.
"And we underperformed and allowed a team that was with a heavy burden and with a heavy heart . . . we allowed them to hang around. They made some key plays and they finished us off. And we were not able to answer."
In Chiefs circles, this was a weekend in which answers were few and far between. Moving on? That was the hard part. It still is.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org