FOXBOROUGH -- A teardrop rolled gently down his cheek and disappeared at his chin. His eyes turned red. Sniffles punctuated his remarks.
Hurricane Katrina had struck again.
Yesterday was as bittersweet as it gets for Jarvis Green. The defensive lineman was saluted for his volunteerism when he received the Ron Burton Service Award -- a memorial to the Patriots' first draft choice ever and his humanitarian work -- during the team's Kickoff Gala at Gillette Stadium. He received it on the first anniversary of the disaster that made Green's efforts vital.
The honor overwhelmed him: ``It's something special. I was very surprised."
So did the ordeal, even in retrospect: ``I still get emotional about it."
When Katrina destroyed swaths of his native New Orleans area, Green did not jump into action. He couldn't. After witnessing the horror on TV while watching with his wife, he tried in vain for seven days to phone his relatives within the storm's tumultuous reach. Nothing.
``Three aunties and four uncles," he said. ``I had no idea whether they were all right."
They were, Green discovered when he finally could make contact. Their homes were not; nothing was left of them, and in despair, his family decided to resettle from Donaldson, 24 miles west of New Orleans, to Baton Rouge. ``They'd had enough," said Green.
His Katrina experience was only beginning. Advised of the carnage, he threw himself into the relief rubble with a vengeance. He and four fellow Louisianan teammates -- Bethel Johnson, Eric Alexander, Kevin Faulk, and Daniel Graham -- joined assistant strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash at Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod to deliver T-shirts and toys and individual attention to 700 victims who had been evacuated to the installation. He launched a foundation to recognize the efforts of natives who assisted in Louisiana, and to raise funds for those still struggling. Run by family members still in the area, Green's foundation also held free breakfasts at local churches.
His personal exposure to the tumult was delayed by his football commitments, and even then -- as much as he'd heard from relatives and seen on the news -- he wasn't ready for it. During the Patriots' bye week, he gained access to New Orleans through the efforts of his father-in-law, an ex-Marine. He did not recognize the scene of his youth.
Traffic was crammed everywhere, putting even Boston's to shame. Once clear of the ganglia, Green and his father approached downtown. They were overcome by the stench.
``I've never experienced anything like it," Green said. ``It wasn't like bad food. It was like bodies."
Because it was bodies.
Property, what was left of it, was a shambles. Green visited the home of an aunt in which he'd grown up, just across from a levee that Katrina had mashed out of existence, and wondered where his childhood had gone.
``I couldn't believe it," he said. ``It was just destroyed. I started crying when I left."
But he was heartened, too, because he uncovered the heights of determination beneath the ruins.
``Everybody is still fighting down there, trying to improve things," he said. ``It was touching to see their spirit, their strong will."
Which can't be rested, because complete recovery isn't even on the horizon. ``In five years' time, it's not going to be back to normal," said Green. ``You just keep whacking away at it, one day at a time."
Green will keep trying to contribute by collecting contributions. He's planning wine tastings for Baton Rouge and Providence, his foundation is a going concern, and he supplements that agenda by working incessantly with Boston-area schoolchildren and hospital patients.
``I told [the Patriots' public relations staff], `Any time you need someone to help out, I'm there,' " said Green.
His zeal wasn't triggered by Katrina; Green remembers doing ``a lot of stuff" for charity at LSU, and during his college days, he had an epiphany when he saw a distressed motorist in Mississippi, a woman whose car was disabled with two flat tires, and he stopped to assist. Since then, ``doing the right thing" has been a priority.
His zeal was reinforced by Katrina.
``Football is a great job," said Green. ``We have been given so much. We complain about little things. We have no right to ever complain about anything again."