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Jovan Belcher

NFL's modern-day gladiators pay the price as the crowd roars

NFL's modern-day gladiators pay the price as the crowd roars

On a cloudless, gentle Sunday afternoon in America's newest football palace, fans gathered on a patio behind the San Francisco 49ers bench to compare jewelry and sip margaritas.

Ten yards away, helmets collided with a sickening thwack and a giant body groaned in agony as it was flattened into the grass.

Everyone cheered. Next play.

After a game at Levi's Stadium ended with the St. Louis Rams beating the San Francisco 49ers earlier this season, disappointed fans became window shoppers, departing wide-eyed through a maze of gleaming restaurants, museum exhibitions and stadium stores that sell souvenir 49ers jerseys.

Far below the concourse, limping players tore off...

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