Three Boston Marathon bombing survivors were touched when an NFL superstar reached out in the aftermath of the tragedy.
In an in-depth report by NFL.com's Aditi Kinkhabwala, Rice was immediately affected when he saw the bombings near the end of the marathon course.
The Ravens' 26-year-old starting running back sat, riveted and disgusted all at once, desperately watching his television until he just couldn't anymore.
"I had to turn it off," Rice says. "What goes through your head to even think of doing that to somebody?" He pauses, talks some more and then sighs. "It was innocent people who just went out there to enjoy their day."
This country has suffered tragedy before. Rice was in high school outside New York when the planes of Sept. 11 crashed into the World Trade Center. For most of Rice's adult life, American soldiers have been deployed overseas.
But something about this one pierced. It was a sporting event. It was three hours north, up I-95. It was in the state where his two younger brothers go to college. And really, he says, "it didn't matter where I was at. I felt so attached to it."
He also felt a connection with one of the victims, Paul Norden, who became a fan of the Ravens running back when Rice was drafted by Baltimore out of Rutgers -- despite the fact that Norden lived in a Boston suburb.
Norden, his girlfriend and his brother decided to meet friends at the marathon that day. However, they were near the second explosions when they went off, leaving all of them injured. Jacqui's leg was filled with shrapnel and her back with burns, but Paul and JP lost a leg.
The events touched Rice deeply, especially when he found out Paul was a devoted Ravens fan.
The first thing Rice could think to do was record a video message on his phone. In the message, he'd invite Paul, JP and Jacqui to a Ravens game and wish them well. But as he started talking off the cuff, he felt a weight in his chest. This wasn't just about sending prayers and thoughts. This wasn't just about asking the Nordens to be strong.
"Just remember -- you guys are an inspiration to everyone out there watching, especially myself," he said on that message. "Please be able to push through during this tough time, because as you continue to grind, I will as well."
Months later, thinking back on his own emotion as he talked into the phone's camera, Rice quietly says, "Recording that message was tough."
"It just struck me in a way," he says. "You don't realize until somebody says they're a big fan of yours and then you see them going through a real-life situation, how you affect them and how it affects you."
The bond between Rice and the three went deeper with Rice inviting them to Ravens camp. Rice's kindness has helped them return to as normal a life as they can lead.
"You can't sit around and feel sorry for yourself -- that isn't going to help you," he says. He swears the changes aren't all bad. "It made me look at life a little different and think of how to maybe live a little better. You think of more things to do now in life because this could happen anytime."
More things to do and more people to meet -- like football players. Paul has unabashedly told every Patriot he's met that he's a Ravens fan. So of course he would tell Robert Kraft the same when the Patriots owner came to visit him at Spaulding.
"He was great about it," Paul says. "He said, âThat's fine. Just as long as you're not a Jets fan.' "
-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor