Two months after the storm drowned New Orleans and leveled the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the flooded coastal Alabama fishing village Bayou La Batre still bore deep scars.
People stand in lines that snake out of local churches for food and water. For every house sits a FEMA trailer, an RV, a tent or a car that serves as temporary shelter.
"There are a lot of great causes," said Alabama Basketball Coach Mark Gottfried, who took a lead in organizing the Tide's exhibition game to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims along the Alabama Gulf Coast, "but unless you get out there to touch and feel it, I don't think you understand. I wanted my players to understand."
The unorthodox pep talk included a tour of Peter F. Alba Middle School, which received up to 64 inches of water in its football field house, and Jubilee Foods, a family-owned seafood plant that was out of commission for six weeks after the storm.
"When you see the stuff that happened down here, I think you're going to be shocked," Alba assistant principal Wade Whitney told the Alabama team before the tour began.
Freshman guard Brandon Hollinger from Prichard in Mobile County agreed.
"It's worse than what I thought it was," he said between signing autographs for members of the Alba boys and girls basketball teams at a reception honoring the team in the school's library.
His family suffered some damage from Hurricane Katrina, but nothing like what he witnessed on the tour with his teammates.
Seeing the empty hulls of homes, bare foundations and possessions strewn across a field and caught in trees was shocking and humbling.
Senior forward Chuck Davis of Selma watched the horror of Katrina's aftermath play out on television, but the coverage focused heavily on New Orleans and Mississippi. Because of that, he thought only one or two houses may have been damaged in Alabama. He never expected to see what he did.
"It kind of humbles you and makes you thank the Lord for what you have," he said. "This is probably the most important game Ill play all year. It's for a good cause, and I wouldn't have it any other way."
Despite the tragic scenes the players toured, there were moments of joy. As the Crimson Tide walked through Alba Middle, they were inundated with cheers, applause and questions. "How tall are you?" most of the children asked.
"It feels good to come back and see the kids," said Hollinger. "They love to see us. It's good to see people happy."
The scene was as jubilant at Jubilee Foods.
Though many of the plant's workers lost everything, visiting with Crimson Tide players and coaches and getting their autographs was a bright spot. Many of the employees wore Alabama caps and T-shirts to show support for their team.
"We have a huge fan base down here," said Lillie Kraver, whose family owns Jubilee Foods. "It's a big boost for the team to come down here."
Besides boosting spirits, the Crimson Tide helped raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief to the tune of almost $80,000 from ticket sales, matching funds and collections in the stands during the doubleheader at the University of South Alabama Mitchell Center Wednesday night.
That money will go a long way to helping families who lost everything and some who still do not have power.
Stephen Carr, with First United Methodist Church Disaster Relief Ministry, said many in this fishing village of 11,000 were faced with rebuilding their lives with barely $7,000, an average of what families are receiving from FEMA and their insurance companies.
"Things like what you're doing goes to help with that," he told Gottfried on the tour.
Just as the coach had hoped, the meaning of the game was not lost on anyone.
"Having seen this, it makes the trip more meaningful," Gottfried said after the tour. "It's not just another game, it's not just another cause. They understand why we're here a little bit more.