Chiefs, Rams players lend hand to tornado recovery effort in Joplin
Chiefs' Matt Cassel: 'It was the most shocking thing I've seen in my life'
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Before we get to this week's column -- very heavy on the Joplin tornado, and NFL-related relief, and the quarterback who had a flashback to the scariest day of his life because of it -- a few items of business.
Three MMQBs left until I take my annual four weeks of vacation. I'm open for nominations for guest columnists. E-mail them in, or Tweet them to me, and we'll try to line up four columnists you'd like to read beginning with the June 27 column. Football or no football, obviously.
Next week is my annual Fathers Day book review column. There will be other stuff in there, like some fodder from the oral arguments in front of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (what, when I mention labor, all you do is glaze over and hear "Blah blah blah blah blah De Smith?''), but I'll tell you what to buy for that special someone who does not need another tie or an ill-fitting polo shirt or 12 more Titleists -- and who already has the entire DVD collection of "The Wire.'' I'm cramming to read all or most of 10 books that an MMQB audience might find useful. We'll see about that.
Happy Memorial Day to all. Particularly for the majority of us who have not served our country, let's remember how fortunate we are to have so many brave people who have. Thank one today -- or every day. Enjoy the day, and remember what it's for.
Now to those who've lent a hand to Joplin.
The Missouri Mobilization.
In 1994, when Matt Cassel was 11, his home was at the epicenter of the Northridge earthquake in California. Water from the inground swimming pool came crashing into the Cassel home, and a huge marble pillar pinned his father, Greg, beneath it. The family home was condemned. That's a heck of a thing for an 11-year-old to cope with.
That was big. But last Thursday was bigger. Much bigger. Matt Cassel and his new teammate, wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, drove two hours from Kansas City to Joplin, where a tornado the previous Sunday had torn a ruinous two-mile-by-six-mile path through what once was Americana.
"It was the most shocking thing I've seen in my life, and I lived through being in the epicenter of a major earthquake,'' Cassel said over the weekend from his Kansas City home. "The devastation is like a nuclear bomb went off. Huge trees, 100 years old, ripped out by the roots. A car thrown up into the middle of a tree. It's one of those things you can't imagine unless you're there.''
Both NFL teams in Missouri pitched in last week. NFLPA czar De Smith swooped into Joplin with four Rams, including Sam Bradford and James Laurinaitis, on Thursday, and the club donated $25,000 to relief efforts. The Chiefs mobilized greater Kansas City, loading up six semis of water (187,490 bottles, by their count) and relief supplies, $35,000 from the club and $21,000 of private donations. Cassel, Baldwin and several other players went on the same day as the Rams, lifting spirits and clearing clogged yards and roads.
"We may be in a work stoppage, but we're not in a life stoppage,'' Chiefs GM Scott Pioli said Friday. "This has given me a prime example of everything I was told this community was all about when I came here a couple of years ago.''
The Chiefs invited fans to bring supplies and water and cash (which Joplin leaders wanted more than help on the spot right now) last week, and the club was stunned at the outpouring it saw from the community. "This girl graduated from high school last, and she brings us all of her graduation money,'' Pioli said. "She says, 'They need it a lot more than I do.' People of modest means pulling up and pulling a case of water out of their trunk. This guy who'd just lost his job that day comes and brings us water, and the next day he comes back in the morning and says, 'Can I volunteer? I don't have a job now.' Three kids sold lemonade in their neighborhood and brought all the money. It's making me cry again, just thinking about it all.''
The three kids -- Jacob, Alaina and Rachel Straub, along with neighbor Ella Phillips -- "got very upset'' watching news of the tornado and wanted to do something, mom Regina Straub said Sunday night. "They get $3 for allowance every week -- $1 they can spend, $1 they have to save, and $1 that goes to charity. They thought they could raise some money for Joplin by having a lemonade stand after school, 25 cents a cup, and our neighborhood really responded. Parents, kids, came from everywhere. All they wanted to do was help.''
It's a Midwestern thing. It's an American thing.
Jonathan Baldwin, Kansas City's first-round draft choice, is a wide receiver from the hard streets of Aliquippa, near Pittsburgh. He was in town to work out with Cassel. When they finished a double-session of throwing Wednesday, Baldwin texted Cassel and said: "I think we should go to Joplin and help out.'' They were off to Joplin the next morning.
"They had places for us to go help, to help people dig out,'' Baldwin said. "Like, 'There's an elderly family that needs help. Can we get a couple guys over here?'''
One older woman sat forlornly on her porch -- it was the only part of her home not destroyed. And all she cared about was finding a picture of Jesus her daughter had painted years earlier. So they dug.
"Humbling,'' said Baldwin. "It touched my heart to be able to do something, anything. We felt we touched a few people's lives, and after something like that, you need to know people care about you.''
Cassel called me Saturday afternoon to tell a few stories about the impact of the day on him. And he said he was thinking of not calling, because he didn't want to draw attention to himself; there were loads of volunteers there, all doing the same thing. He didn't want his name splashed out there. I understood, but in a case like this, with at least 126 dead and people's lives destroyed, a forlorn city needs all the help it can get. It's good that the two quarterbacks of the Missouri teams -- and eight or 10 more players from the two teams -- are helping people when they do it most.
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