The spirits of more than 800 displaced residents of Heber, Overgaard and Forest Lakes were lifted Thursday by a visit from a pair of professional football players and the Arizona Cardinals cheerleaders.
For more than a hour, Cardinal players Andy Bowers, Mario Fatafehi, the cheerleaders and the team's Big Red mascot mingled in the Rim Country Middle School gymnasium with evacuees from the Rodeo-Chediski Fire.
The gymnasium has served as a makeshift shelter since the fire first threatened the communities more than a week ago.
While the players signed autographs, the cheerleaders and mascot gave out souvenir footballs and team pictures.
Also on hand was the Cardinals' Community Relations Director Luis Zendejas. Football fans remember Zendejas as the talented kicker who holds the Arizona State University record for most field goals in a game (5 against Stanford in 1983). After leaving ASU, Zendejas went on to a professional football career.
Following their visit to the middle school, the players, Zendejas and cheerleaders boarded a bus bound for Holbrook where another shelter for the evacuees is located.
Bowers, a 6-foot, 5-inch 283-pound defensive end, was a rookie free agent for the Cardinals last season. Collegiately, Bowers played at the University of Utah.
Fatafehi, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii, attended Kansas State University and plays defensive tackle for the Cardinals.