JOPLIN, Mo. —They came, 136 people strong, mindful that one day of work would make only the smallest of dents in this town's still considerable pile of tornado-produced rubble.
But those 136 members of the Chiefs' organization collected debris Thursday morning and signed autographs for area Chiefs fans in the afternoon in the hope that for one day they brightened a desperate landscape.
"We're just a drop in the bucket, but we're getting a little bit done," said linebacker Andy Studebaker, among a group of players that included quarterback Matt Cassel, draft picks Jonathan Baldwin, Rodney Hudson and Shane Bannon and three others.
"One day isn't going to fix it. One group isn't going to fix it. Collectively, we need a lot of people locking arms and saying we're going to own this community.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"It's going to take a lot of time and a lot of people, but we can make this place better again."
Despite the ongoing NFL lockout, which reached day 103 on Thursday, the members of the Chiefs personnel who are not players were able to put aside their differences with the eight players on the trip for a moment. Under terms of the lockout, contact between players and other team personnel is banned. But the NFL has given approval to other teams to stage similar community events and likewise did so for the Chiefs.
Chairman Clark Hunt had planned to attend but was instead in Boston, where other NFL owners continued negotiations with the players for a new collective-bargaining agreement. Other Chiefs personnel who appeared in Joplin were president Mark Donovan, general manager Scott Pioli and eight coaches, including offensive coordinator Bill Muir and running backs coach Maurice Carthon. Coach Todd Haley was vacationing with his family.
Pioli and Cassel emerged from buses in the parking lot of tornado-torn Joplin High in the morning and greeted each other with a hearty hug, as if they hadn't seen each other for months. They hadn't, of course.
"It's been difficult on everybody but this is all family," Cassel said. "We have a family here that we're very proud of. Eventually, this thing is all going to get settled, and we're going to go back to work and it won't change the relationships we've built over the years. It's great to see all these faces, and hopefully I'll get to see more of them sooner rather than later."
Pioli said: "It's great for us all to be together. Just because this is a work stoppage doesn't mean it's a life stoppage. The bottom line is we're all a part of this community. It's great to see everybody and for the right reasons, too."
Cassel and Baldwin worked relief efforts for a day shortly after the tornado struck Joplin last month.
"It's amazing how much progress they've made down here since the last time I was here, but at the same time there's a lot of work to be done," Cassel said. "You can't prepare somebody for this. You can tell them whatever you want to tell them, but the reality really sets in when you come over that hill and you look down and you see a 2-by-6-mile (area) of just pure destruction. It looks like a nuclear bomb went off.
"Anytime you can bring a smile or uplift a spirit to these type of times that I'm sure are difficult I'm sure for a lot of these families, it's exciting for us to be able to do that. Hopefully we can bring a lot more joy than sadness today."
Initially, the Chiefs planned their relief mission to Joplin for a day shortly after the storm. Local officials asked the Chiefs to stay home until there was more need for relief workers.
Cleanup work continues today without the Chiefs. But Pioli indicated the Chiefs would return again until Joplin is once again whole.
"We're not even close to being done," he said. "When there's a disaster like this, it's not just about now. We're a month later, and it's not even close to being fixed. They're still clearing the rubble. It's just important that we can't forget Joplin.
"This is going to be an ongoing effort. The Hunt family has made that statement not only publicly, but they've made it internally. This is something this organization is committed to for months to come and probably for years to come.
"We have to stay committed to this city and this town and the surrounding area."