The Kansas City Chiefs returned to work Monday at their practice facility near Arrowhead Stadium, trying to find a sense of normalcy after two days of unimaginable heartache.
It proved nearly impossible to do.
The locker that once belong to Jovan Belcher, the linebacker who killed his girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself Saturday, still had all his belongings in it. His shoes were piled up on the floor and freshly laundered clothes hung from a hook.
To enter the building, Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli had to walk past the place in the parking lot where Belcher put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger, and Crennel admitted that an unsettling feeling came over him.
Teammates gathered in meetings and to watch film from Sunday's 27-21 win against the Carolina Panthers, one that ended an eight-game losing streak. They couldn't help but notice the empty seat that once belonged to their close friend.
"We have to deal with the events of the last few days, and it's not over, and it may not be over for some of us for most of our lives, but time heals all wounds, and so we're going to start working on the time thing," said Crennel, who's been a rock for everyone in the organization.
"It was like coming to work like you normally do," he said. "Now you think about the events as you walk through the door and walk through the parking lot, but you know the events are over, and you can't undo them. All you can do is work for the future and toward the future."
Following the emotional victory over Carolina, Crennel declined to discuss many of the details surrounding Belcher's suicide. He shared a bit more on Monday while attempting to prepare his team for the next game, including his exchange with the linebacker moments before his death.
"I was trying to get him to understand that life is not over, he still has a chance and let's get this worked out," said Crennel, who didn't know about Perkins' murder while he talked to Belcher.
Crennel, who has coached at the college or pro level for more than 40 years, said he had never seen Belcher with a gun before, and expressed his concerns over players owning firearms without knowing the laws.
"Generally what we've attempted to do was tell them to know the law, turn your gun in to our security people, let us hold onto it and then after that, if you need it, you can take it home," he said. "You can go put it in your safe or whatever you need to do with it, but the law allows for them to have guns."
Much of Monday seemed quite normal for the Chiefs.
They gathered for their normal team meetings in the morning, and watched video of their win over Carolina. They broke mid-afternoon to begin planning for next Sunday's visit to Cleveland.
Still, there were signs at every turn that nothing was quite as usual.
Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt routinely sticks around the day after a game, but this time he was there to lend support to an organization in mourning. Chaplains were also at the facility, as were outside counselors brought in to help players and staff come to grips with tragedy.
"It's new territory for everyone," tight end Tony Moeaki said. "We're all trying to figure out how to handle the situation. We're just trying to take it one day at a time, come into meetings — it's nice to be in meetings, watching film. Your mind's not on it as much."
Linebacker Brandon Siler said he spent Thanksgiving with Belcher, and "it was Thanksgiving as you know it, all laughs and praying and loving."
"It was hard to walk back in the parking lot, but it was harder to sit in the meetings," Siler said. "He sits right beside me. That was hard. You keep looking at that seat, thinking he was going to show up at some time, you know? That's hard."
Players were also struggling to reconcile the man they knew with the man who murdered 22-year-old Kasandra M. Perkins, and who left a 3-year-old girl, Zoey, an orphan.
"I try not to do it, really," right tackle Eric Winston said. "I just try to accept the fact who he was pre, and who he was after, and I'm not sure those thoughts can live together, but until the end of the season, that's just going to have to do."
Yes, there is still a season to be played.
The Chiefs visit the Browns on Sunday and visit Oakland the following week, before returning home to play Indianapolis. Their season finale is Dec. 30 at Denver.
"It's something that there is no textbook on how to handle, and how to feel, and there's a lot of emotions, confusing emotions," center Ryan Lilja said. "But we're going to try to get back to football as best we can, and let guys grieve whatever way they need to, and be respectful of that, but we need to try to be back on football, and it's going to be tough."
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