Brady Quinn tried to avoid looking at the empty locker when he arrived at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback couldn't bear the sight of Jovan Belcher's jersey hanging from a hook, just like it would have any other game day.
"That's when it kind of hit me," Quinn said. "It was kind of tough to step back and gain focus, what the task was in front of us. And more than anything, as a player, we just wanted to come together as a team and bring some good to this situation."
The Chiefs managed to do that in the wake of an unthinkable tragedy.
Quinn threw two touchdown passes and Jamaal Charles ran for 127 yards in an inspired 27-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers. It not only ended an eight-game losing streak, it also proved cathartic for a franchise still reeling from a murder-suicide involving one of its own.
"It was tough," Quinn said, his voice shaky at times. "It was an eerie feeling after a win, because you don't think you can really win in this situation."
According to authorities, Belcher shot his girlfriend multiple times early Saturday at a residence near Arrowhead Stadium, then sped to the team's practice facility and turned the gun on himself as coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli watched in the parking lot.
"It's tough when circumstances happen that you can't undo," Crennel said, tears forming at the corners of his eyes. "You have to rely on each other, rely on your family, your friends and your faith. That's what, as a team, we tried to do today."
Crennel said he consulted with the Chiefs' captains before deciding to play the game as scheduled. He was on the sideline throughout the day, resolutely holding together a team in turmoil, while Pioli walked through the press box before the kickoff and said he was "OK."
"If for no other reason, it took our minds off our misery for a few hours," Crennel said.
Kansas City police have not released a motive for the shootings, which claimed the life of Belcher and 22-year-old Kasandra M. Perkins, and left their 3-month-old daughter, Zoey, an orphan.
Those details may emerge in the coming days and weeks.
"It's been an incredibly difficult 24 hours for our family and our entire organization," Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt told The Associated Press. "We have so many guys on our team and our coaching staff who are really, really hurting."
Chiefs players gathered in the tunnel leading to the field for a brief prayer before their pregame stretching. A few fans in the half-empty stadium held up signs referencing the shootings, and there was a moment of silence to remember all victims of domestic violence.
"I was really emotional going to the stadium this morning," Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "We wanted to play the game because we're football players. We love the game."
Once it began, it proved to be an emotional release.
I'm glad they had a moment of silence for domestic violence victims rather than a moment of silence for Jovan.