Lenny Friddle huddled with his wife and 2-year-old daughter in the closet underneath the basement staircase of their home in Diamond, Ill., on Sunday. He pulled the door shut and hung on for dear life. He wasn't sure if the tornado would blow it open while tearing the house apart, and he wasn't about to chance it.

"The pressure was so bad," Friddle said. "Our ears popped. It sounded just like a freight train. It lasted, maybe, only 10-12 seconds, and then it was over. Then it got real quiet."

Friddle's nightmare had just begun. Only two of the four walls that comprised his garage still stood. A neighboring garage and shed blew through his back wall and into his dining room, ruining the house. Indoors had become outdoors.

On Tuesday morning, though, the Friddles' outlook brightened a bit.

Lenny's voice quivered as he described the meeting he and his wife, Mindy, had with Bears kicker Robbie Gould and former players Anthony Adams and Rashied Davis. They were among the seven active players and alumni who visited Coal City, Ill., and Diamond on Tuesday to help the Red Cross' relief efforts and raise awareness following the EF-2 tornado touchdown.

"It makes you feel good that somebody of their caliber can come down and take time out of their schedule to help us," said Lenny, 42, whose T-shirt displayed the Bears' orange "C" logo. "I mean, distributing stuff out, serving lunch, even just to come down and say, 'Hey, sorry for you guys.'"

The Friddles, who are staying at Lenny's parents' house, visited the Red Cross' shelter at the United Methodist Church on Tuesday morning. Mindy, 30, was touched by the players' outreach. Adams and Davis hugged her and chatted.

"They even prayed with us," she said. "Who does that? You can't be sad right now because of all the help. I don't watch football, but it's amazing that an athlete who makes so much money cares enough to come down."

Linebacker Blake Costanzo, cornerbacks Zack Bowman and Sherrick McManis and former safety Tom Zbikowski joined in unloading food and clean-up supplies from trucks into the shelter. Then they delivered boxed lunches, snacks and supplies to residents of the Diamond Estates subdivision, one of the hardest hit areas and where the Friddles lived until Sunday afternoon.

The players mingled with dozens of residents and workers who were outside cleaning up debris. Zbikowski carried a pile of splintered wooden boards to a dumpster.

Some of the houses around them had roofs and walls missing. Concrete slabs were all that remained of sheds. Posts broken at ground level signaled where fences once stood.

Amid the destruction, Costanzo sensed a greater force.

"It's just the power of the people, man," he said. "It's awesome that this community came together like this. It just puts faith in you that human beings are still compassionate, as well. It's the least we could do."

Ed Hajduk, a Bears' season-ticket holder since 2001, was at Sunday's game when his wife, Peggy, phoned to tell him the tornado hit their home in Diamond Estates. Hajduk and his brother, Rich, immediately left Soldier Field.

"By the time I got to the house, it was like, 'Aw, man,'" Hajduk said. "I'm just glad no one got hurt."

Hajduk, 53, cackled Tuesday as he chatted with Gould in his driveway under a blue sky. Gould served him a sandwich for lunch.

Blue tarp replaced a missing section of his house's roof, and a wood board covered the entire garage. On the board was a navy flag with a Bears logo and the team's 2013 marketing slogan: "Believe in Monsters."

"It's hard, but to have the moral support that you have from the community — and from the Bears, God love 'em — that's what it's all about," Hajduk said.

In addition to Tuesday's visit, the Bears plan to auction washed jerseys and muddy pants and shoes from Sunday's storm game and donate proceeds to relief efforts. (Visit chicagobears.com/tornadorelief for information.)

Said Gould: "It's pretty neat to see how … everyone rallies around circumstances that are unfortunate and you can't really control to help people out to maybe re-establish some old memories, to bring back some rebuilding and just try to help people get back on their feet."


Twitter @Rich_Campbell