KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel stood before his team Saturday afternoon, offering a simple message to his players dealing with an unspeakable tragedy that had happened just yards away from where he was speaking.
"You have to rely on each other, rely on your family and friends, and rely on your faith," Crennel said.
A few minutes later, Crennel sent his players home, telling them to "be with their families and loved ones."
Only hours earlier, linebacker Jovan Belcher, the former high school star at West Babylon, had killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, at their Kansas City home, then killed himself in front of the Chiefs' training facility near Arrowhead Stadium. Crennel, along with general manager Scott Pioli and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs, witnessed Belcher's suicide.
After the Chiefs beat the Panthers, 27-21, Crennel said in a news conference yesterday that he did not want to discuss any details of seeing Belcher kill himself. Pioli and Gibbs did not speak to reporters.
"I'm choosing not to answer any questions about what I saw, and hopefully you'll respect my wishes on that because it wasn't a pretty sight," Crennel said. "So I'm choosing not to talk about it."
Crennel knew he had to remain strong for his players, especially after it was decided in a meeting with the team's six captains that the game would be played. "I'm even-keeled, and I felt that I would be able to handle it," Crennel said. "I knew that I needed to be strong for the players in that locker room. They needed a strong individual leader."
He was just that, helping the team cope with the tragedy by offering a steadying influence.
"You can call him 'Rock'," center Ryan Lilja said, playing off Crennel's nickname of "RAC." "He was our rock. There was nobody hurting more than him. What he went through, what he's going through, nobody was hurting more than he was. He was a steady, consistent leader for us."
Chiefs owner Clark Hunt is concerned about Crennel's emotional well-being, however. Hunt said the team will make sure Crennel, Pioli and Gibbs receive proper emotional support in the days and weeks ahead.
"As an organization, we really want to make sure we stay focused on them," Hunt said. "They were in the mode of 'Hey, we have to play a game and we have a job to do.' But I also know that they have a lot of pain on the inside, and we need to be attentive to that and make sure it's being addressed."
Crennel expressed sympathy to the families affected.
"Our prayers go out to the family of Kasandra Perkins," he said. "They are grieving and we send our condolences to their family. Our prayers and condolences go out to the family of Jovan Belcher. They're also grieving. Our prayers and hopes go out to a 3-month-old girl who will never get to know her mother and father."
Crennel said he had no inkling Belcher had had any emotional problems. Hunt said the team's medical staff said there were no unusual physical issues affecting Belcher, including concussions. "Jovan was a good teammate, a hard worker, sitting in front of the [meeting] room all the time, and you don't expect anything like what happened," Crennel said. "I think the thing that we have to understand is that when any person has an issue or has a problem, if they're not totally honest with you about their issues or their problems, then you cannot give them the correct help."
He knows the grieving will continue, but Crennel said playing Sunday offered a chance to escape the pain, if only for a few hours. "That's what we do," he said. "We are football players, football coaches and we play and coach on Sunday. That's why I wanted to play the game after talking with the captains. They also felt like it was best that we play, if for no other reason that it takes our minds off our misery for a few hours. It helped us do that."