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Chiefs players cope with tragic losses: 'A lot of hugs, a lot of tears'

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn (9) gestures

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn (9) gestures after a touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. (Dec. 2, 2012) Credit: AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Ryan Lilja's eyes welled as he recalled the emotions in the Chiefs' locker room moments after Sunday's victory.

The win came just a day after linebacker Jovan Belcher, who grew up in West Babylon, killed his girlfriend and later committed suicide in front of the team's training facility.

"It was different. There were emotions that guys aren't used to feeling after wins or losses," said Lilja, an offensive lineman and nine-year veteran. "Guys were confused. There were new feelings. A lot of hugs, a lot of tears and a lot of guys saying 'I love you' and meaning it."

The players still were coming to grips with the sequence of events, and many players' eyes were moist with tears as they explained how difficult it was to deal with the loss of a teammate and anger about Belcher killing Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his 3-month-old daughter, Zoey.

"I think we're all struggling to understand and trying to reconcile the conflicting emotions we have about a teammate, a family member, and the tragic events that happened," tackle Eric Winston said. "That's the most confusing and the hardest part to know about all this. I don't think you're ever going to be able to understand this."

He said it was a good decision to play the game. "What are our options, wait for another day and keep the agony and anguish going?" Winston said. "In a lot of ways, it was therapeutic to play and get to go out there and spend some emotion on this. It was nice to be able to go out there and sort of forget about this for three hours."

Derrick Johnson, one of Belcher's closest friends, said it hit him when he woke up Sunday morning. "It was one of those things where you think it's a bad dream, and you wake up and it's still there," said Johnson, who played inside linebacker next to Belcher. "He and I have grown really close, and this is devastating."

Johnson now hopes he and his teammates will learn from the tragedy that seeking help when problems occur is far better than suppressing emotions.

"This situation shows that we need to talk to each other more as men, not just as football players," he said. "Generally, men don't really show their feelings, we don't talk about what's going on. To have an act like this go on that could have been avoided, as a teammate, we need to make sure the teammate is OK."

Said quarterback Brady Quinn: "I know when it happened, I was thinking, 'What could I have done differently?' We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and it seems like half the time we're more preoccupied with our phone instead of actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis."

Quinn said the emotions hit him hardest when he walked into the locker room and saw Belcher's uniform hanging in his locker. Chiefs officials had decided to keep the uniform up for this game, admittedly walking a fine line considering the conflicting feelings about Belcher's actions. The team is expected to remove the uniform for future games.

"When I looked across and I saw his jersey hanging up, that's when it kind of hit me," said Quinn, who indicated the team soon will create a foundation to assist Belcher's orphaned daughter. "It was kind of tough to step back and gain focus. More than anything, we wanted to try to come together as a team and bring some good to the situation."

Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles was unavailable for comment. His wife reportedly introduced Belcher to Perkins, who was a member of the Chiefs' Women's Organization.

"I feel for Jamaal more than anybody," Winston said. "He's probably had the toughest day. [Perkins] was family to him."

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