(USAToday.com) - The Kansas City Chiefs wore red and triumphed. The Carolina Panthers wore white and were defeated. But the scoreboard and the statistics and the typical ups and downs of an NFL game were all shrouded in gray areas and shades of sorrow - and anger, too - at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
In the end, despite the certainty of a final score - Chiefs 27, Panthers 21 - it was the confusion, the unanswered questions and the numbing sadness that defined an NFL Sunday like no other in Kansas City, the day after a murder-suicide involving one of the Chiefs' players had made a sporting contest seem trivial.
Chiefs tackle Eric Winston, like a lot of the big men on the field Sunday, wasn't sure what to think or feel.
"You just don't know what's going on in some people's lives," Winston said. "They can have a lot of demons, and you'll never know. I guess the biggest thing we can do as men and as brothers is just be there for each other and try to have that shoulder for someone to talk to before something like this happens."
The game provided one image perhaps Chiefs fans needed to see: Kansas City running back Peyton Hillis scoring an early touchdown and then jogging to the sideline, handing the ball to head coach Romeo Crennel and wrapping him up in an emotional hug.
But Hillis' gesture could provide little solace after what took place a little more than 24 hours earlier in the parking lot of the stadium. There, in the presence of Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and Crennel, 25-year-old linebacker Jovan Belcher shot himself to death, just minutes after Belcher had killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, at their home, according to police. Perkins was the mother of their infant daughter.
Police said Belcher shot Perkins on Saturday morning at the house they shared in a newly built subdivision here. Their daughter, Zoey, and Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd, were present.
The baby remains in Shepherd's custody. The Chiefs said Sunday that they planned to start a fund to financially support the infant, who was born Sept. 11.
The team did not publicly memorialize Belcher. Instead, it held a moment of silence in honor of victims of domestic violence before the nearly 63,000 fans.
Teammates privately remembered Belcher, who had started 10 games this season, and the team arranged his locker as normal, with his red No.59 jersey inside.
When the game was over, Crennel praised his players, remembered Belcher as a good teammate and respectfully declined to discuss what he had witnessed.
"I'm choosing not to answer any questions about what I saw yesterday," he said. "I think that you will understand that, and hopefully you will respect my wishes on that, because it wasn't a pretty sight."
Longtime Chiefs fan Josephine Carullo called Sunday one of the most bizarre days she had ever experienced at Arrowhead.
"I think there should be a moment of silence. But there's really nothing to say," Carullo said, her eyes watering behind dark sunglasses. "He killed that poor woman, and then he killed himself. It's kind of hard to honor something like that."
An orphaned child
Nothing they did inside Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon was going to heal the wounds inflicted and the families shattered by what took place in the parking lot the day before.
But the Chiefs and Panthers played the game, as players, coaches and the thousands of spectators wondered why a young, successful pro football player would commit murder and then end his own life before the very people who were trying to help him shape it.
"There wasn't one player on our team who thought they could see that coming," Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn said. "Trying to understand the situation was tough. ... It's going to affect the Perkins family, the Belcher family, his daughter for many, many years to come."
FUND: Chiefs plan to financially support Belcher's baby
Quinn did what many did after learning that a father had killed the mother and then himself: turned his thoughts to the surviving child.
"Without having either parent in her life now, I think it's important that she understands the type of love that she should get from a family," Quinn said. "And Jovan was part of our family, and we try to take care of our own."
Chiefs fans showed up for the game amid somber strides and a clear measure of sorrow - after all, a suicide took place just a few hundred yards away from where a game would be played. Some of them made it clear, though, that they wouldn't have minded if the game had been canceled.
Brian Stewart and his family were already heading north from their home in Springfield, Mo., on Saturday morning when they heard the news about the murder-suicide. When they learned the game hadn't been canceled - which Stewart said would have been understandable - their concern turned to Crennel.
"How could he coach today?" Stewart wondered. "How can he focus on the game? Is he in the mental state to lead this team today?"
Pittsburgh Steelers guard Willie Colon, interviewed after playing the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, said the Chiefs game should have been canceled.
"It's hard for me to imagine playing the day after one of my teammates died," Colon said. "It would have been real tough. We spend more time with each other than our own families."
But the game was an afterthought.
Sure, it has been a difficult year to be a Chiefs fan this season. Before Sunday, the team had won one game and had yet to win a game in Kansas City. But Saturday's tragedy did what other senseless killings tend to do: make people stop to take stock of the world around them.
In this case, those who knew the couple seemed to have had little inkling that anything was wrong.
Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd, declined to be interviewed when reached by USA TODAY Sports.
"Excuse me, right now is not the time," she said. "I wish not to talk to anybody. I apologize. I'm not being rude. But I cannot talk right now."
Jamaal Charles didn't want to talk, either. He is the Chiefs' top running back and characteristically led the Kansas City running game Sunday with 127 yards on 27 carries. He is also married to Perkins' cousin. Charles was not at his locker during postgame interviews.
"It might not be over for some time for a lot of the guys," Crennel said.
'He did commit a murder'
A mixture of mourning and anger toward Belcher filled the air at Arrowhead.
Chiefs fans Taylor Grant and his father, Kurt Grant, displayed an "RIP #59" sign.
"We wanted to show our respect for a player who's played for us well over the years," Kurt Grant said. "Not to excuse what he did but to pay respects and thank him for the four years he did give us."
Some of the most loyal Chiefs fans decided to cancel their normally festive pregame activities.
"We felt it was disrespectful to the organization and to the victim's family," said Chiefs fan Brent Cable, a veteran tailgater. "I feel bad for Mr. Pioli and Crennel and the baby. It was just selfish. We feel remorseful that this happened, but we don't feel it's appropriate for them to memorialize them in the stadium or anything. After all, he did commit a murder."
Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, stopping to speak to reporters before the game, said, "There's really nothing you can do to prepare for this. It's tough, and, again, I come back to the fact that the guys rally around each other to make it through the day."
Crennel joined his team on the field for warm-ups about 45 minutes before kickoff. As players stretched, Crennel zigzagged his way through his team, patting players on the back and slapping fives. Safety Eric Berry stood and gave his coach a hug.
The Chiefs openly wondered about Crennel's emotional state.
"It was hard on him," defensive tackle Shaun Smith said. "I love him, because he's like my father. So I can feel the pain and emotion he's going through to deal with it. He loves each one of us like sons. We need to be there for each other. That's all we can do right now. It's tough, trust me, it's tough. ... It's going to be all right, though."
The tragedy made national headlines throughout the weekend and was resonating in stadiums across the NFL on Sunday. At M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, fans waiting for the Ravens-Steelers game found themselves talking about the cultural plague that is domestic abuse.
"Why do you have to kill your partner?" asked Cindy Burnett, 50, from Davidsonville, Md. "I'm sure no one knew the troubles he was having."
But those who knew Belcher from his high school days in Long Island, N.Y., to his college days at the University of Maine to his surprising success as an undrafted free agent in the NFL were stunned to hear of such a tragic and violent ending to his life.
"Those who didn't know him can never fathom what kind of person he really was," Belcher's high school coach, Al Ritacco, told USA TODAY Sports. "How this all came about we'll never know, I guess.
"But this is not the Jovan I know. I would tell you that on a stack of Bibles."
Jones reported from Kansas City.
Contributing: Jim Corbett, Jon Saraceno and Mike Vorel in Kansas City