BEREA: For Brandon and Melanie Weeden and Josh Cooper, football was brushed aside on Monday and terror swooped in.
For the three native Oklahomans, it came in the form of a 1.3-mile wide EF5 tornado that ravaged Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb. That’s the hometown of Melanie, wife of the Browns’ starting quarterback. Her mother and brother still live there. It’s also where Browns wide receiver Cooper’s father, Mike, works as a construction manager.
The monstrous twister tore down Fourth Street, four blocks south of Melanie’s mother’s house and two blocks north of her brother’s. In between the homes was a park.
“They said, ‘If you’re at that park, get out of the way,’ ” Brandon said Thursday. “It was destroyed. Once we heard it was destroyed … my wife’s panicked and we’re panicked. It was tough being so far away. There’s nothing we can really do about it.”
In Cleveland, the Weedens picked up snippets of information and watched the frightening pictures on television while Melanie tried to contact someone. Cellphone communication was cut off. She didn’t get through for an hour, an hour likely consumed with fear.
Melanie had been through this before. On May 3, 1999, another EF5 tornado — that one with the highest wind speed on record at 318 mph — struck Moore and four other towns, killing 46. Moore has been hit four times in the past 15 years, according to the Associated Press. It would be only natural to wonder if her family could escape disaster again.
Perhaps thinking the same thing was Cooper, Weeden’s teammate at Oklahoma State. Cooper lives 15 minutes away in Mustang, Okla., but his father, Mike, was in Moore. Cooper didn’t speak to him until that night.
“My heart was hurtin’ pretty good that day,” Cooper said.
“I was checking in with my family and friends and hoping they were safe.”
All the Browns’ family members emerged unscathed.
Melanie’s mother, who works in the administration building for Moore Public Schools, took shelter in a basement. According to Melanie’s Twitter account, @MelanieWeeden, her mother’s “office bldg was destroyed but she was able to take cover in another bldg with stronger structure.”
Brandon said Melanie’s brother got in his car and drove away from the tornado.
Mike Cooper was on the other side of Interstate 35 from the tornado, said Cooper, who didn’t press his father for many details because he was so shaken by what he’d seen.
“They got him out of work and underground,” Cooper said.
“Once they saw it coming, they were out of there. I guess they had a cellar.”
Weeden and Cooper recalled the frightening day Thursday after practice during the Browns’ organized team activities.
“It went right over top of them,” Weeden said of Melanie’s family and the tornado. “Very, very fortunate to have no injuries and everybody’s safe. … Obviously damage. Very, very blessed. We got lucky.”
But it appears Melanie’s family has rebuilding to do.
Early Wednesday morning, she drove to Moore, according to her Twitter account.
On Thursday, she posted a picture of her mother’s car and the rubble in her brother’s neighborhood.
The tornado killed 24, including 10 children, and damaged or destroyed at least 12,000 homes in the town of more than 50,000.
Brandon will follow Melanie there today and had already volunteered his help. He said he is close friends with Oklahoma lieutenant governor Todd Lamb and texted him earlier this week offering his services.
“He’s supposed to text me today and give me a few options what to do,” Brandon said. “Whatever he tells me. I’ll do anything, whether it’s getting in the rubble … it doesn’t matter, I’ll be there to help.”
Cooper has a family trip to the lake planned for Memorial Day weekend, but said he will return to the area in June.
“I plan to go and help,” Cooper said. “I’m sure stuff will still be bad when we get back.”
Deadly storms are a way of life in Tornado Alley, where Moore sits squarely. Brandon, from Edmond, Okla., said he hasn’t had any that came as close as this did to Melanie’s family.
“May 3 was when I was 14 years old. I was at the park, but I was underground in the tunnel,” Brandon said.
“When they do come, you hope they’re never as big as this one. It’s just part of living in Central Oklahoma.”
Cooper remembers 1999, too, but said tornadoes like these have never come close to his house in Mustang. Monday’s hit Newcastle, five minutes away.
An undrafted free agent who earned $390,000 last season, Cooper might wish he had the means to make a donation like Kevin Durant of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, who has pledged $1 million to the relief effort.
“What a great guy,” Cooper said. “I saw the picture with his jersey hanging from stuff out there. Props to him, that’s a great thing he’s doing.”
Trips home will be painful, both for the devastation the Weedens and Cooper will see and the people who need so much. But the conviction of their fellow Oklahomans could provide inspiration. The struggles of training camp in July and August might seem trivial when they return.
“Everybody is kind of helping everybody. We’ll be fine. We get through things like this all the time,” Cooper said.
“Oklahoma strong, you know?”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.