K.C. Chiefs moved on from tragedy

The Chiefs like to talk about "family" a lot, and it's an overused word in sports. But losing Belcher, Stephenson said, was like losing a member of the family. And the players have a hard time saying that. If they call him a friend, it's as if they're condoning murder. If they talk about him at all and don't mention Perkins, it sounds as if all they care about is a football player. So they don't say much at all, at least to the outside world.

Belcher was popular on the team, an undrafted, undersized linebacker who beat the odds by going from the University of Maine to the NFL. Even the players who were trying to beat Belcher out for a starting job loved him. The Chiefs' punter, Dustin Colquitt, knew exactly where Belcher sat during special-teams meetings.

After the murder-suicide, the Chiefs planned more group outings together. They wanted to be on top of each other's lives.

"During the season, this is the group of people you spend more time with than you do with your family," Colquitt said. "I just think when something like that happens, you've got to go beyond the, 'Hey man, how you doing?' It's, 'Hey, how's the family? How's your wife? How's your girlfriend? How's the kids?' Give me more than just a nugget. I want to know the whole thing. I want to know how you're doing as a person.

"Unless you were here last year, obviously, you can't appreciate that. Something like that has never happened, and it may never happen again. I hope it doesn't. We got closer from it, and we learned that every aspect of a player's life is important, not just football."

One of Belcher's best friends on the 2012 team was Brandon Siler. A year earlier, Siler came to Kansas City from San Diego, hell-bent on taking Belcher's job away from him. Football was everything to Siler back then. Losing was devastating.

It's not so unusual that the two men would become so tight, Siler said. In the NFL, you're built to be confident, to know that you're better than the man you're competing against, and that roster decisions are out of your hands. Siler wound up mentoring Belcher.

They leaned on each other during an eight-game losing skid, they hung out at the house on Crysler Avenue, and they spent Thanksgiving together, laughing and eating with star linebacker Derrick Johnson.

On Dec. 1, Siler lost two friends. He saw Belcher and Perkins on the last full day of their lives, a Friday. He worked out with Belcher early in the day as they prepared to play the Carolina Panthers; he ran into Perkins that night at a Trey Songz concert. Siler hugged her, and they took a picture together.

"I go back and look at that picture all the time," Siler said. "It's surreal that they could be here, and in a bad decision in one moment, both of them could be gone."

Siler finally got his first start for the Chiefs on Dec. 2. The day after Belcher's death. The final month of the season was a blur of losses, uncertainty and second-guesses. Siler beat himself up over what he could have done differently to help his friend.

On New Year's Eve, a day after the last game -- and loss -- of the season, Siler cleaned out his locker. His contract was up, and Siler figured he probably wouldn't be back. He wasn't. He headed home to Florida, went back to school, took 16 hours in the spring semester and has nearly completed his degree. Siler plans to go to law school after that.

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