Jovan Belcher was the type of guy who would sit in the front of the room all the time. I found that interesting when Romeo Crennel was speaking to reporters after Sunday's 27-21 victory over the Panthers. The Chiefs head coach was praised by his players for the way he's handled the last day and a half and listening to him after the game I can see why.
More: The postgame locker room | We needed that | 'A perfect teammate'
"Our prayers go out to the family of Kasandra Perkins," Crennel led with in his postgame press conference, standing at the same postgame podium as any other Chiefs game. "They are grieving and we send our condolences to that family. Our prayers and condolences go out to the family of Jovan Belcher; they are also grieving. Our prayers and hopes go out to three-month old, Zoey, a little girl who will never get to know her mother and father. So, we're grieving for all involved."
Ryan Succop told me after the game that Romeo has been a strong figure in the locker room. Shaun Smith said he was like a father figure to several guys. (Related: Romeo's postgame speech)
I don't know if the Chiefs should've played this game or not but I can respect Romeo and the players' reasoning for wanting to play: "They also felt like it was best that we played, if for no other reason, it takes our mind off our misery for a few hours," Romeo said.
Romeo said he was an even-keeled person so he was confident he could come in today to coach the team.
He also recognized the gravity of the situation, that a lot of eyes are on him. The Chiefs needed a leader and I think Romeo stepped up. "I knew I had to be strong for the players in that locker room," he said, "and they needed to see a strong individual to lead them."
He said he is not talking about what he saw on Saturday morning.
It's fitting though that the Chiefs had to dig deep into their defense to beat the Panthers. Several Chiefs players went down at various points including Javier Arenas, Brandon Flowers and Derrick Johnson. At one point, the Chiefs were playing Andy Studebaker, Cory Greenwood Tysyn Hartman, Travis Daniels and others who hardly played. That includes Brandon Siler, who rarely sees playing time outside of special teams yet started in Belcher's spot.
Instead of plucking out piece-by-piece from Romeo's press conference, here's the full Q&A, quotes courtesy of the Chiefs. Video is here.
Did you see signs last night or even this morning that your guys were going to put forth this kind of effort today? "I tell you guys all the time that I have a good group of guys. They have good attitudes during the week, good energy during the week. We don't always play as good as we need to play, but they've always gone out and tried hard. I think that the fact that they had to lean on each other a little bit more today was helpful for them. Football can go any way at any time, and the game wasn't an easy game by any stretch. It was a close game all the way through, so I think that showed some fortitude on their part. I expect those guys to try hard."
Specifically in regard to the extraordinary circumstances? "The thing that I worried about was that they would not be mentally prepared. I knew that they were prepared from a football standpoint because we put in the game plan all during the week, we practiced, so I knew they were ready there. I didn't know what our mental state would be. That's one thing you can't predict, so you just have to go out and play. Those guys pulled together and were able to pull it off."
On the crowd involvement, especially on influencing him to go for it on fourth down: "It didn't influence me to go for it. I appreciated the involvement of the crowd, and I think our players knew that the crowd was supporting them and was behind them and wanted them to do well."
Were you concerned about your own focus today? "No, I really wasn't. I'm not trying to blow my own horn or anything, but I am pretty even keeled. So, I felt that I would be able to handle it. I knew I had to be strong for the players in that locker room, and they needed to see a strong individual lead them."
Was there anything, looking back on Jovan Belcher's time here that gave you a hint that something might be going on? "No. Jovan was a good teammate, a hard worker, sat in the front of the room all the time, so you don't expect anything like what happened."
Was this the best game the Chiefs have played this year? "I think when you look in total, all the things that we were able to accomplish, offensively, defensively, and special teams-wise, you might say that this was maybe the best result."
Were there players that didn't favor playing the game today? "No, everybody was on board."
How will this change you, taking into account what happened and knowing these guys like you do? Will you look at them any differently? "The experience will probably change me, but I'm not changing. I'm the same guy every day; that's been one of my qualities, being the same guy every day. The thing that we have to understand, when any person has an issue or has problems, if they're not totally honest with you about their issues or their problems, you cannot give them the correct help. I think people have to be honest about what problems they have and how they perceive them and know people perceive things differently."
When did you sense the guys were mentally prepared for today's game? "I don't think that you ever know that they can block it all out, but in the locker room, there was some energy before the game."
What did you have to do to prepare yourself to talk to the team before the game? "I did the same thing that I always do. I'm thoughtful about what is important, what I think they need to hear, what they need to know, and then I tell them that. The thing that helped me the most was talking to them yesterday morning and telling them about the circumstance. We were all able to lean on each other a little bit and let a little bit out. By letting a little bit out, that helped us all get through what we had to get through."
Did other people speak in that meeting as well? "We had our team chaplain, he was there, and he said some words. I spoke to them and told them what the circumstances were and told them to go home and try to be with their families and their loved ones and use their faith."
What was it like in the locker room after the game today? "There was elation. I think that they were appreciative of the fact that they were able to get through the game and deal with the circumstance and that they could focus on football and take their minds off the tragedy itself. I think that's what I sensed in the locker room."
Did you hear from any of your peers? "I will not say who contacted me, but there were many of my peers and friends in the coaching profession and friends in general who texted or called and sent their condolences, prayers and encouragement to hang in there and try to do the best we can."
How comforting was it to hear from others? "It's always comforting when people care about you and you know they care about you. Some people you haven't spoken to in a while, they call you, they text you and say, 'Hang in there, our prayers are with you,' so that's always comforting."
On getting a sense of the range of emotions among his players: "Highs and lows. That's part of life. Life is not even-keeled. You have potholes and you have curves and you have to deal with them, you have to work your way through them. Whether it's on a weekly basis or a monthly basis, you have to deal with it."
What message are you sending home and what are the plans for helping the players heal? "I think what I've said is the basic plan for us - to rely on each other, to rely on our family and friends, and to rely on our faith because that's what will get us through. We know there are going to be funerals we're going to have to deal with and those kinds of things, so it's not over yet. It might not be over for a long time for some of the guys."
On the defense holding it together today, especially the non-starters: "They are there every day at practice. They're not getting the reps, but they're in meeting rooms and they're being taught the techniques and they're being told the game plan. When they get into the game, they have to step up and they were able to step up. We feel very good about them being able to do that because we did lose some good guys. To their credit, they stepped in and represented us well."