Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt found himself in the role of grief counselor in one of the most tragic weekends in franchise history.
From the moment he got the word on Saturday that linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and then shot himself at the club’s practice facility, Hunt lent all the support he could muster to his shattered team.
Hunt consoled head coach Romeo Crennel, general manager Scott Pioli and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, who witnessed Belcher’s suicide. Hunt also visited with the grief-stricken players less than 24 hours before they would play the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
And after the Chiefs’ remarkable 27-21 victory, Hunt told the team everyone in the room — players and coaches — all deserved one game ball, and Crennel is going to put it in a prominent place “where everybody can see it.”
“I told them in the locker room after the game how so proud I was of everybody. The coaching staff and players pulled together under the most trying of circumstances and really put their best effort out there on the field and probably played the best game they’ve played all year,” Hunt said of a game in which the Chiefs had no turnovers and one five-yard penalty. “I can’t imagine how difficult it was.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what we would see today. I was concerned the distraction might be an issue for them, but I also sensed (Saturday) night that they were really pulling together as a family.”
Hunt was still at his Dallas home on Saturday when he learned of the murder-suicide. After arriving in Kansas City, he went to the downtown hotel where the Chiefs stay on the night before home games.
“I wanted to be there with the team, with the coaches to let them know that I love them and support them, and I know what they’re going through,” Hunt said, “and particularly for the guys who were present in the parking lot when Jovan took his life. I know this has to be incredibly difficult.
“We have so many guys on the team and on the coaching staff who are really hurting. People who had spent countless hours with Jovan over the last several years, the linebacker group in particular, and I (knew) it was going to be very difficult for them. I told them all we could do in a situation like this is pull together as a family and support each other.”
The Chiefs introduced counselors to the team, and they will be available to not only the players, but to Pioli, Crennel and Gibbs, who witnessed a horror few people experience.
“As an organization we want to make sure we stay focused on them,” Hunt said of Pioli, Crennel and Gibbs. “They went in the mode of ‘Hey, we have to play a game tomorrow’ but I also know they have a lot of pain on the inside, and we need to be attentive of them and make sure it’s being addressed.”
Hunt has been through the deaths of former Chiefs stars Joe Delaney, who drowned in 1983 and Derrick Thomas, who died in 2000 as a result of complications from an automobile accident. But nothing prepared him for this.
“I spent a fair amount of time reflecting on the other losses the organization has suffered,” Hunt said, “and no two of them are the same. Saturday, there were two victims. We lost two members of the Chiefs family.
“Kasandra was part of our Chiefs’ women’s organization, had done things in the community. My family knew her. They have a daughter now, Zoey, who’s an orphan, and I can’t imagine how difficult that is going to be.”
Hunt said he had several discussions with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell regarding postponing the game, “but at the end of the day, I decided to leave it up to Coach Crennel and the team. Romeo had been through a very traumatic event in the morning, and I felt it was up to the players. I asked Romeo to call the captains and ask the captains whether they thought we should go forward with the game.
“He did that, and, of course, the captains had been in conversation with their teammates. They unanimously believed the right thing to do was to play the game, and that’s how the decision was made.”
Still, Hunt had no idea how the Chiefs would respond on the field. They scored on four of their first five possessions and kept Carolina’s dangerous quarterback Cam Newton in check.
“They really played well, and I’m proud of them,” Hunt said, “and it doesn’t mean they won’t be thinking about the tragedy (Sunday night) because they will, and this week is going to be very difficult for them. They’ll have funerals to attend, and this is not something you get over quickly.”