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
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