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A Year After Jovan Belcher's Final Act, Friends Offer Clues to Tragic Downfall

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A Year After Jovan Belcher's Final Act, Friends Offer Clues to Tragic Downfall
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The overtaking of Jovan Belcher began not on the morning he died.

See, that’s the misconception of violent acts committed by violent people—that a singular moment tells us most of what we need to know.

Well, it’s not the moment. It’s the buildup to the moment. It’s the millions of little things that take you from there to here. From boy to man. From special-teamer to starter. From kind and warm and generous and giving to, well, dead. Murder. Suicide. Heartbreak. Nightmare.

It’s an awkward concept to grasp, and an even more awkward one to explain. Because it means our biggest monsters traveled a meandering path toward what they would become. It means that, once upon a time, monsters were blank slates. People of innocence and hopes and dreams. It means opening oneself up to the suggestion that Belcher was not—as has been suggested some 654,321 times—bred a monster.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
The hearse carrying Jovan Belcher is driven from his memorial service on Dec. 5, 2012.

Wait. A clarification. On the day he died, Belcher was a monster. This, there is no denying—and even his closest friends will concede the point. When, on the morning of Dec. 1, 2012, the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker shot and killed Kasandra Perkins—his live-in girlfriend and the mother of their three-month-old daughter, Zoey—Belcher was a monster.

When he drove his black Bentley to Arrowhead Stadium, requested an audience with Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel, the team’s general manager and coach, respectively, he was a monster. When he placed the .40-caliber handgun to his skull and pulled the trigger—leaving Zoey without a father, leaving Cheryl Shepherd without a son—he was a monster.

“Jovan was my friend,” says Thomas Jones, the former Chiefs running back. “I loved him, and I wish I could have helped him work through the demons. But what he did was a horrible, horrible act. There’s no getting around that.”

There is, however, getting into that. Or, to be more precise, trying to understand it. The same Belcher who owned eight guns as a Kansas City Chief was, while a student at the University of Maine, an active member of Male Athletes Against Violence, an organization that urged jocks to speak out against abusive acts. He possessed zero firearms then.

“When I heard what Jovan did, I thought, ‘That can’t be right,’” says Sandy Caron, a professor of family relations and human sexuality at Maine, and the anti-violence group’s founder. “They said ‘Jovan Belcher’ on the news and my response was, ‘They said ‘Jermaine, right? Please tell me they said ‘Jermaine.’”

The same Jovan Belcher who used a .40-caliber handgun to shoot Perkins nine times eagerly volunteered to partake in the Chiefs’ myriad charitable endeavors.

“We used to do these school visits, and Jovan would just light up around kids,” says Josh Looney, who spent seven years in the team’s media marketing department. “Some guys have no interest in that stuff. Not Jovan. If we needed players to hand out turkeys or talk to students, he was there.”

Courtesy of Kash Kiefer.
Jovan Belcher, right, with Chiefs teammate Jamaal Charles (holding Belcher's newborn, Zoey) and Belcher's friend, Kash Kiefer.

The same Jovan Belcher who left his infant daughter without parents was—just three months earlier—ecstatic about her arrival into the world.

“I saw Jovan mature that day,” says Kash Kiefer, a close friend who was at the hospital with Belcher. “All he wanted to do was be a great dad and give Zoey a wonderful life. It was as if his dream had come true.”

This is the complexity that makes tragedies so difficult to dissect and understand. We have a need for white hats and black hats—to be able to classify somebody as, simply, “a good guy” or “a bad guy.” Really, though, perhaps what we should be seeking out are not labels, but etchings along life’s path.

How does someone morph from Everybody’s All-American to Natural-Born Killers? How does someone go from an athlete against violence to a man singularly responsible for the most violent act in NFL history?

How did the Jovan Belcher of Dec. 1, 2012, come to be?

***

They first met in February 2009, two small-college nobodies itching to make it in a league dominated by players from Alabama and Southern Cal and Oregon and Louisiana and Georgia and Texas and Auburn.

Pierre Walters was a 6'5'', 269-pound defensive end out of Eastern Illinois. He had a chip on his shoulder. Jovan Belcher was a 6'2'', 228-pound defensive end out of the University of Maine. He had a chip on his shoulder, too.

“We were driven to prove ourselves as worthy,” says Walters. “We had to show the NFL that we weren’t just two nobodies from obscure schools. We knew how people probably thought of us.”

Courtesy of the University of Maine.
Belcher, left, was not drafted out of Maine, joining the Chiefs as a free agent.

The men were brought to Somerset, N.J., by their agent, Joe Linta, to train at the nearby Test Sports Club. They were assigned to share an apartment inside a facility called Korman Communities.

“I flew all the way from Chicago, and my suitcase was jam-packed because we were going to be there for two months,” says Walters. “Well, the handle on it broke, and Jovan immediately offered to carry it for me. We were total strangers at that point, but that first impression was a powerful one. Here was a real genuine guy.”

Over the ensuing eight weeks, an acquaintance morphed into a friendship, and a friendship morphed into a brotherhood.

Though physically imposing, with a Popeye chest and arms made of granite, Belcher carried himself softly.

Having been raised by a single mother (his father, John Belcher, was not involved in much of his upbringing), Jovan struck Walters as uniquely sensitive to the needs of others. He loved the affection Belcher had for his mom and three older sisters, and how—without fail—he called home every day.

Equally noteworthy was his generosity—when Belcher passed Girl Scouts selling cookies, for example, he’d always drop $20 and leave the box behind. “Uncommon goodness,” Walters recalls. “Just uncommon.”

The two came up with a catchphrase—“From the bottom to the top”—meant to signify their joint journey from I-AA (the Football Championship Subdivision) to the big time, and spent hours upon hours devising ideas, strategies and tactics to help accomplish the dream.

“That whole time we were able to confide in one another, to push one another, to help the other guy stay strong and stay motivated,” says Walters. “Most young players have to fend for themselves. In Jovan, I had a brother.”

When their period together ended, Belcher returned to his childhood home in West Babylon, N.Y., and Walters went back to Chicago. They traded numbers, hoped for the best, then suffered through the agonizing seven rounds of that April’s NFL draft, when neither was selected.

So frustrated was Belcher that, during the last few rounds, he pulled out a shovel and dug a hole for a pond in his mother’s backyard.

Harry How/Getty Images
Pierre Walters trained with Belcher after college and then ended up as his Chiefs teammate.

“Kansas City offers a free-agent contract, so I sign with the Chiefs,” says Walters. “Lo and behold, what happens next? Jovan calls and says he’s a Chief, too. We couldn’t believe it. We were going to be playing on the same team. It was awesome.”

Neither Walters nor Belcher was given much of a chance to stick. Though the 2008 Chiefs had finished 2-14, with a defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in most categories, both men were switching from down linemen to linebacker. Making matters worse, the Chiefs recently signed Zach Thomas, the veteran Pro Bowler, to play middle linebacker.

“You know what happened?” says Walters. “We picked one another up. It was nothing short of a blessing that I met him, because he was such a mentally strong guy. Jovan was not going to be denied from making the team. I felt that, and used it.”

On the day Kansas City announced its final 53-man roster, Belcher and Walters were sitting inside the room they shared at the Holiday Inn. The phone rang. It was Linta, their agent. Thomas had been cut. “You both made the team,” Linta said. “Congratulations.”

What ensued, says Walters, was magical. Tears. Hugs. More tears. More hugs. Calls to relatives and loved ones. “Words can’t describe it,” he says. “We were ecstatic, we were emotional. We’d already formed this bond, so to do this with your guy…with your homie. That was the greatest day. Just the absolute greatest. It doesn’t get any better.”

***

Pierre Walters was right. It didn’t get any better.

Oh, playing in the NFL was a dream. Fancy hotels. Chartered flights. Packed stadiums. A contract that paid Belcher nearly $300,000—more money than his mother had seen in her lifetime.

But for all the highs, Jovan Belcher was hit by his first harsh dose of reality.

“The thing about the NFL is that, from the outside, all people see is the glory and the fame,” says Reshard Langford, a rookie defensive back with the Chiefs that season. “But it’s not what they think. You used to play for love, now you’re playing for money. When I met Jovan, he was always hurt—his ankles and wrists were real problem areas. I don’t think he was ever 100 percent. But he would never say anything.”

Todd Haley, the Chiefs’ first-year head coach, came to love Belcher, because the rookie was a fearless wrecking ball. On special teams, he darted down the field with reckless abandon, smashing anyone in his way.

On defense, as a middle linebacker who started three games, he went after running backs as if they were slabs of dangling meat. There was only one way to play football for Belcher—hard, straight, fierce, shoulders squared, helmet down.

His first documented head injury came his rookie year from a collision during the Nov. 8 loss at Jacksonville, and while the Chiefs listed him as questionable, he played the following Sunday against the Raiders.

“We all know the saying, ‘You can’t make the club if you’re in the tub,’” says Walters. “You can’t ball out if you’re not in there playing. So tape it up and go out there and play. That’s not my philosophy—that’s the NFL’s philosophy. You buy into it, because you’re in the heat of the moment and everyone else buys into it, too. But it takes a toll on you. There are consequences.”

Over the course of his first two seasons in the league, there's no record of Belcher ever suggesting to the Chiefs that he suffered from concussions. His friends say he also rarely complained about his wrists or ankles or knees.

However, that doesn’t mean the problems weren’t real. All one had to do was look at his red helmet—scuffed in dozens of places, each white scratch an ode to an unforgiving game.

“Jovan suffered multiple concussions,” says Kiefer, a former punter at Maine and one of Belcher’s closest friends. “But in football, you don’t complain. You play. That was Jovan. He played.”

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Belcher collides with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in a playoff game during the 2010 season.

In 2010, the nobody defensive lineman from Maine earned a spot as Kansas City’s starting middle linebacker. He registered 53 tackles and helped a team that had gone three years without a playoff berth capture the AFC West with a 10-6 record.

Though he lacked the stature of players like quarterback Matt Cassel, and Jones and Jamaal Charles, the two featured running backs, Belcher was emerging as a favorite in one of the nation’s most passionate football cities. He was engaging and jovial and charming—never one to refuse an autograph request or blow off a fan.

“He was levelheaded,” says Jones. “He loved 'Reckless' T-shirts, so when I’d get them for free, I’d give them to him. He was real appreciative. He also was always asking me questions about lasting in the league, about how to survive. This was a bright man.”

Yet even bright men face struggles.

When Belcher had arrived at the University of Maine as a freshman in 2005, he and Andrew Downey, a Black Bears linebacker, were placed in Room 315 in Androscoggin Hall. It was a wild year, filled with parties and trips to Ushuaia, the hot local nightclub. “We took over our hall,” says Downey, laughing. “It was fantastic.”

Courtesy of the University of Maine.
When Belcher, as a student at Maine, dialed down his partying, a friend saw it as an indicator of his commitment to making a career in football.

Over the ensuing three years, however, Belcher had dialed it back. Never known as a big drinker, he had seemed to make the decision to devote himself less to hijinks, more to football. “He shied away from the social aspect,” says Downey. “I think he felt the pressure of making it, and wanted to do everything possible to get to the NFL.”

Now that he was in the NFL, however, Belcher’s outlook changed. He started hitting bars and nightclubs, drinking—according to multiple sources—with increased regularity. This didn’t raise eyebrows—and, perhaps, shouldn’t have. He was a single man in his early 20s, well paid and embracing the perks of fame.

What often goes unspoken among athletes, however, is the role alcohol plays in numbing physical pain. Week to week, Belcher was a walking bruise. His ankles and wrists throbbed; his head often hurt. His neck was sore. Drinking, players know, helps. And hurts.

“When you’re a young NFL player, the team is your family, and you’re going out with guys who are older, who make $5 million a year, who put unspoken peer pressure on you to live a certain way, act a certain way,’’ Langford said. “It’s all about image, and being who people expect you to be. It’s a trap, but at the time you have no idea. You’re lost.”  

***

Was Belcher lost? Hard to say. The Chiefs’ inspired 2010 season proved to be an illusion, and the following year brought forth a miserable 7-9 run that featured a coaching change (from Haley to Crennel), lots of Arrowhead booing and the crushing departure of Walters, who was released at the end of training camp.

“Man,” Belcher moaned to Walters upon learning the news. “All my boys are gone…”

When he was thought of solely as a small-school surprise, Belcher’s stock in Kansas City was sky-high. The kid from Maine could play, that much was obvious. Yet as Rocky Balboa-like as his saga might have been, it was becoming increasingly clear around the NFL that, as a starting middle linebacker, Belcher wasn’t particularly noteworthy.

On the bright side, he was an adept tackler and quick learner. On the down side, he could be maddeningly inconsistent—the one thing defensive coordinators do not tolerate from the position. There were blown coverages and poor reads and mental mistakes that elite players don’t make.

Belcher was a starter on a bad team, but—at best—a mere contributor were he a Raven or Giant or Steeler. “He was an average player,” says a former teammate, requesting anonymity. "Too many errors to be great, and not quite athletic enough.”

Although the media routinely asks professional athletes about pressure, they seldom ask the right question about pressure. In the NFL, pressure has little to do with rushing Peyton Manning late in the game, or traveling to Seattle to play the Seahawks in a key divisional matchup, or even appearing in the Super Bowl.

“Pressure,” says Jones, “is all about surviving.”

Belcher, according to multiple teammates, felt the pressure as much as anyone. With each subpar game and every loss, he wondered how much longer his starting job would hold. On the outside, he appeared calm and relatively carefree. On the inside, however, Belcher was increasingly fitful.

It hardly helped that, according to a former member of the Chiefs, Belcher was the regular target of derision from a high-ranking member of the coaching staff, who pelted the linebacker with one insult after another after another. There were repeated threats from the Chiefs to find a new starter and send Belcher on his way.

“He called me in tears one day, they were riding him so hard,” says the former teammate. “Jovan was a hard worker and a leader. But the NFL can be really stupid. Once you’re a guy from Maine, you’re always a guy from Maine. You never fully prove yourself. That ate him up like nobody’s business."

Says Jones: “Imagine if you add the pressure of playing in the NFL with the physical issues that come with it, the emotional issues that come with it. You’re losing. Every day you have to come to work, you’re under the microscope constantly being criticized and ridiculed by the fans, by coaches, by other teammates. Not knowing if someone is going to take your job or not. Every day you’re on pins and needles. People think, ‘Oh, the NFL is living the dream.’ They have no idea what comes with that …”

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Belcher's onetime teammate Thomas Jones says it's hard for outsiders to understand the relentless pressure felt by NFL players.

Says Walters: “You don’t think Jovan was under pressure? I remember growing up, I was a huge Bears fan. I was thinking like an average fan—glorifying the big hits. Oh my god! The humanity is out of it. You don’t think about them as humans. They’re these gods out there, balling.

“Then you become what you idolize. You become that, and now you’re in it, so you really get to be a part of what goes into it. And your job is always on the line. Especially as a free agent from somewhere like Maine. 

“We’re talking about your livelihood. Everything is on the line. Your life is on the line, your job is on the line. You think about how exclusive the NFL is, and how much money is on the line—hell, yeah. That’s stress.

“And you hear it every single day. You get threatened every single day. You see guys in the field house that the team is working out while you’re getting ready for practice. 'They brought in two more linebackers. They brought in this guy, that guy.' So it’s always on your mind. And it weighs on you.”

According to Jones, that weight—always present, always pressing—is bad enough in and of itself. Football players, however, do not reside in a bubble, where singular issues arrive, then leave. No, problems mount. And percolate. At the same time Belcher was trying to maintain an NFL career, he was also involved in an increasingly volatile relationship.

The woman’s name was Kasandra Perkins. She was just 20 when, in 2010, she was introduced to Belcher by Charles, the star halfback, whose wife, Whitney, was her first cousin. A native of Austin, Texas, Perkins graduated from Anderson High School in that city one year earlier, then took a job at the nearby Turner-Roberts Recreation Center.

Screenshot
This is one of the Facebook pages made in memory of Kasandra Perkins.

Perky and optimistic, she was well-liked and highly regarded. “When she worked here, she was always playing board games with little kids,” Jason Garcia, a co-worker, told Rick Cantu of the Austin American-Statesman. “I think she had hoped to be a teacher someday.”  

Perkins followed Belcher to Kansas City for the start of the 2010 season and moved with him into a rented two-bedroom suite in the Cornerstone Apartments complex in Independence, Mo. The relationship, multiple friends recalled at the time of the tragedy, ran hot and cold.

At one point in 2011, Perkins left. Then, shortly thereafter, she returned. There were warm embraces and affectionate moments alternating with loud arguments and sessions with a marital counselor. The two hosted myriad parties, enjoyed restaurants and movies and—most of the time—seemed happy. “He was going to marry her,” says Kiefer. “There was real love there. It was obvious.”

Belcher, however, would often return from practices and games with a dark cloud hovering above his head. The perpetual losing gnawed at him. The threat of being benched consumed him. He would internalize problems, not expecting a woman shortly removed from high school to understand.

“She was innocent and nice and very young,” says Walters. “Moving to Missouri, well, it had to be eye-opening.”

One bond Belcher and Perkins came to share was, unpredictably, guns. Inside the Chiefs’ locker room, self-defense was a hot topic of conversation—and had been since a Washington Redskins safety named Sean Taylor was shot to death by a home intruder in 2007. While no poll was ever commenced, a large number of Kansas City players owned multiple guns. The phenomenon was hardly reserved for one team.

“The gun culture of the NFL has been a problem for years,” says Don McPherson, a former Eagles quarterback who now conducts violence prevention workshops. “If the guy next to you has a gun, you feel like you need to have one, too. And if you’re a guy who needs to have a gun, you’re probably a guy who needs to shoot a gun.”

On more than one occasion, Jovan and Perkins retreated to a nearby shooting range to take target practice with one of their eight firearms (ranging in scale from pistols to assault rifles). Two of Perkins’ friends told Sports Illustrated that they recalled seeing guns left out in the open, neither locked nor emptied of ammunition.

“After the tragedy, people made a big deal of the guns, and maybe they should have,” says Langford, the former Chiefs defensive back. “In pro football, it’s a mix of protection and status, which is crazy to say. I had one teammate who had somewhere between 150 and 200 guns. He was a collector, but how many guns does a person need to have?”

*** 

On March 22, 2012, Jovan Belcher signed his restricted free-agent tender, paying him $1,972,000 to play for the Kansas City Chiefs.

In other words, the kid from West Babylon was a millionaire.

To hell with all the naysayers. To hell with all the losing (the 2011 Chiefs finished 7-9, good for fourth in the AFC West). The hell with the booing fans and the hostile coaches and the doubts that rarely left his brain. Belcher, at long last, felt somewhat secure.

To celebrate, he bought the Bentley.

List price: $122,000.

Actual price: Much, much less.

Handout/Getty Images
Reshard Langford connected Belcher's collection of guns, and his Bentley, with a quest for status common among NFL players.

“Me and Jovan had a mutual friend, and the Bentley—I know for a fact—he got on sale,” says Langford. “He didn’t pay hundreds of thousands for that vehicle. But here’s what’s crazy: You buy a Bentley because you want people to think you paid that much. You want people looking at your car and thinking, ‘Man, he spent a lot on that.’ It’s warped. It’s really warped. But it’s the way football players operate in the NFL bubble. It’s consuming.”

The car wasn’t the only big change. Three months earlier, Perkins learned that she was pregnant with the couple’s first child. When Belcher heard the news, he was euphoric. Having been raised by a single mother, Belcher insisted he would do things differently.

“His plan was to spoil his child and be there for his child,” says Kiefer. “He was giddy about the whole thing. He couldn’t wait.”

In anticipation of the 2012 season, Jovan and Perkins relocated from the apartment complex to a rented home in the quiet Fairway Hills neighborhood on the 5400 block of Crysler Avenue. He took special pride in transforming the basement into his own man cave—featuring an enormous flat-screen television, funky chairs and a sign listing the facility’s five rules:

  1. My cave, my rules.
  2. No sitting in my chair.
  3. Keep your hands off the remote.
  4. Women by invitation only. The best way to be invited—bring alcohol.
  5. Any rejection to the rules—please refer to rule No. 1.

With the contract and the car and the house and the man cave and the baby on the way, Belcher insisted he was as content as he’d ever been. Yet behind closed doors, his friends say he couldn’t shake a feeling familiar to many professional athletes: A lack of fulfillment.

Here he was, 25 years old and living the dream. Yet maybe, just maybe, the dream wasn’t all it had been cracked up to be. According to Lindsey H. Jones of USA Today, beginning in March 2012, Belcher had started dating Britney Glass, a 25-year-old woman who worked retail at a local Armani Exchange store.

Screenshot
Kasandra Perkins, in a Facebook photo.

When he was home, he and Perkins argued incessantly—about finances, about love, about commitment. There were threats to leave and pleading to stay. He was drinking more than ever before, staying out unusually late. According to Deadspin's Isaac Rauch, a friend said Belcher was relying on large doses of pain medication.

Healing seemed to arrive on the morning of Sept. 11, when Zoey was born via C-section. “I remember it as clear as day,” says Kiefer, who flew in from Las Vegas for the birth. “Jovan was sweating like any first-time father would be. We went out and bought Zoey presents—a big ol’ pink teddy bear, flowers, the whole nine yards. Jovan and I went out for a celebratory quick drink. He kept saying, ‘This is my baby! This is my baby girl!’ He couldn’t have been happier.”

Cheryl, Belcher’s mother, moved to Kansas City to live with the couple and help care for Zoey.

Unfortunately, Belcher’s newfound enthusiasm only carried him so far. According to Deadspin, he and Perkins continued to fight—primarily over money. Shortly after Zoey’s two-month birthday, Perkins and the baby moved out of the house to stay with a relative, only to return two weeks later.

To make matters worse, Belcher was languishing through football hell. The 2012 Chiefs weren’t merely bad—they were pitiful. Kansas City’s offense ranked 31st in the league, its defense 25th. They opened the season with two losses, shocked the Saints in New Orleans in Week 3, then proceeded to drop six in a row.

During practices and film sessions, Belcher felt as if he was being singled out as the problem—even though he remained the team’s most dogged worker. It was the lowest stretch of his four-year NFL career.

On Nov. 18, the Cincinnati Bengals traveled to Arrowhead Stadium for what, most presumed, would be a fairly simple win. Coach Marvin Lewis’ club was a team on the rise, led by the dynamic young quarterback-wide receiver tandem of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green and a relentless defense.

The game went as planned. The Chiefs, as always, were awful. With 5:57 remaining in the fourth quarter and Cincinnati leading 28-6, the Bengals lined up for a 2nd-and-2 from their own 35-yard line. Upon accepting the snap, Dalton pitched the ball to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who tiptoed toward the line of scrimmage before—WHAP!—a charging Belcher wrapped his arms around the running back and slammed him to the ground for no gain.

While certainly violent, the play—in an obvious running situation, with a lopsided score—was forgettable. Belcher took a moment to collect himself on the ground, shook his head, popped up and returned to the huddle.

It would be the last tackle of his NFL career.

***

Something wasn’t right.

Jovan Belcher knew it. In the days that followed the Cincinnati loss, he was just...well...sorta...off. According to friends and former teammates, there were headaches. There was forgetfulness. There were rushes of emotion—anger, more anger, even more anger.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Former Belcher teammate Kevin Boss says of his own concussion symptoms: "I wasn't myself. In a word, I was dark. Very, very dark."

One of Belcher's teammates was tight end Kevin Boss, formerly a key member of the New York Giants' Super Bowl XLII championship club. In the second game of the 2012 season, Boss caught a pass, fell to the ground and was promptly hammered in the head by Da'Norris Searcy, a Bills safety. "My skull bounced off the turf," says Boss. "They told me I blacked out in the locker room."

It was one of several documented concussions for Boss, and the aftereffects were brutal. “It alters something in your brain and in your head where you just feel depressed and not yourself,” he says. “I went about two months of living in the darkness, where I was grumpy, sad, frustrated. I wasn’t myself. In a word, I was dark. Very, very dark.”

Following the well-worn blueprint of Football Toughness: 101, Belcher arrived at practices over the ensuing week and, according to former teammates, uttered nary a word about the headaches and the memory loss and the bleakness.

"He was pretty convinced he'd suffered multiple concussions that last year," Kiefer says. "He was not himself. I remember a bunch of times he would lose his train of thought while talking to me. He'd be talking about something, and he would just blank. I'd say, 'Man, are you OK?' and he'd come back—'Yeah, yeah, I'm fine.' But he was skipping over thoughts, unable to gather it all together. That was new."

Shortly after the tragedy, Clark Hunt, the Chiefs chairman, told the media that Belcher was "a player who had not had a long concussion history."

When relayed those words by Hunt, Walters turns apoplectic, thinking back to that tackle by Belcher in the Cincinnati game. “How can he say that?” he says. “If you watch the play, he gets up and he’s groggy. How does the team let him go back in the game in that condition? They monitor guys like crazy. For them not to see something was wrong…awful.”

(The Chiefs did not reply to Bleacher Report’s interview requests regarding Belcher’s history with concussions, as well as whether he was ever treated for concussion-related symptoms.)

According to Dr. Robert Cantu, the co-director for the Boston University School of Medicine’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, symptoms of concussions include a loss of impulse control, irritability, depression and paranoia. Another symptom is suicidality.

“I never thought about killing myself,” says Boss. “But, having experienced the lows of concussions, I get where that comes from. It’s an awful thing to go through. You feel like nothing will ever get better. Like there’s no hope.”

One week after the Bengals game, Belcher played sparingly in a 17-9 loss to the Broncos. One of the few things he had to look forward to in an otherwise awful year was an upcoming visit from Kiefer, who booked a trip to Kansas City for the Dec. 2 clash against the Panthers.

“I was supposed to be there for the weekend, staying at his house,” says Kiefer. “At the last minute, a friend from Maine who I had not seen in quite a few years told me he was flying out to visit me. I could just go out and see Jovan any time, so I hit him up two days prior and said, ‘Hey man, I’m changing my dates.’”

“No worries,” Belcher replied. “We’ll see you down the line.”

That was Nov. 30, 2012.

***

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
The Chiefs and Panthers joined hands for a prayer after the Dec. 2, 2012, game in Kansas City.

Jovan Belcher loved bacon.

Walters can laugh about it now, removed a bit from the awfulness. “He didn’t just love it,” Walters says. “He loooooved it. All the time. With everything. Bacon, bacon, bacon.”

On the morning of Dec. 1, 2012, Walters texted Belcher about the crazy dream he had the previous night.

Walters: “Yo, man. I had a dream that you had a farm of bacon. Literally, there was bacon growing out of the ground.”

Belcher:

Walters: “You OK?”

Belcher:

“It was pretty early in the morning,” Walters says. “Jovan hadn’t responded, but it wasn’t a big deal. I’m making breakfast in Chicago, and I get a call from a friend in Kansas City. 'Hey, are you watching the news…?'”

Walters flipped on the television. There, in front of him, was a photograph of a man he loved like a brother—yet a man he could not recognize. According to police reports, Jovan Belcher—intoxicated, depressed, out with another woman the previous night—murdered his girlfriend. He shot her nine times in the neck, chest, abdomen, hip, back, leg and hand before leaning forward to kiss her head and apologize.

With his terrified mother standing nearby, Belcher left the house and drove his blood-stained Bentley to Arrowhead Stadium. There, in front of Crennel and Pioli, both of whom begged him to drop the gun, Belcher fell to his knees and made the sign of the cross across his chest. “I did it,” he said, according to police. “I killed her.”

With the sound of blaring sirens closing in, he made the final decision of his life. “I got to go,” Belcher reportedly said. “I can’t be here.”

He fired a single bullet into his head, and his body slumped to the pavement.

“Jovan Belcher was one of the best people I ever knew,” said Kiefer. “Life is complicated. But no matter how it ended, and no matter what people say, he was one of the best.”

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