K.C. Chiefs moved on from tragedy

Kansas City Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- They will play football Sunday on the anniversary of the darkest day in Kansas City Chiefs history. It's the biggest game of the year, against the Denver Broncos. Cars will crawl through the Arrowhead Stadium parking lots, near the spot where Jovan Belcher took his own life, and clouds of barbecue smoke will hang in the morning air as if nothing ever happened. Fans will wear tattered No. 58 Derrick Thomas jerseys, a reminder of another tragic loss many years ago. It will be hard to find any No. 59s.

When a story is so horrible that it's almost unspeakable, the best thing to do is hide the script, change the characters and move on. But forgetting is impossible; in late autumn, the skies turn slate gray in Middle America, the air turns bitter cold, and the landscape inevitably becomes barren. There will always be reminders.

Thanksgiving is one. A year ago, three linebackers for the Chiefs gathered with their significant others to eat turkey together, a sign of friendship and solidarity in the middle of a woeful season. A few days later, one of those linebackers shot and killed his girlfriend, the mother of his baby, then killed himself just before a team meeting.

"Let them rest in peace," Chiefs players and representatives say when asked about Belcher.

One year later, it's too soon -- but also distant. Their world is completely different now, with a new coach (Andy Reid), general manager (John Dorsey) and quarterback ( Alex Smith) and a 9-2 record. The change in atmosphere has been likened to the movie "Pleasantville," with bright colors replacing the black and white.

The team has moved on; Kansas City has moved on. There are no flowers or memorials marking the spots where Belcher and Kasandra Perkins died. The house they lived in on Crysler Avenue, the house where Perkins was shot nine times, is occupied again, with a grill on the deck and a dog yapping at the door. A person who lives there doesn't want to comment, in part out of fear that the cars and gawkers might return to their quiet suburban street. The occupant, who requests that his or her gender not even be used, doesn't think about what happened there. "Her spirit isn't here," the person said.

At Arrowhead Stadium, there is no locker-room shrine for Belcher, no mention of the man who spent four seasons in a Chiefs uniform. His No. 59 was not issued to an active player this season. So no, there will not be much reflection on Sunday, a day meant to be forgotten.

"You say the word 'anniversary' like all of us know the day and we've got it down on our calendar," said former Chiefs linebacker Brandon Siler. "It wasn't a day to mark on your calendar. I have no clue when that happened, and I'm really not interested in knowing when the anniversary of it was. I don't think of it like that.

"Every now and then I think about it and I pray about it. And then I leave it alone."

But in addition to devastating two families and leaving a 3-month-old baby girl orphaned, the events of that day, Dec. 1, 2012, deeply affected a team, a franchise and numerous people around them. It made an already-close locker room even closer, altered a few career paths and made successful people re-evaluate their lives.

Here are some of their stories.

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