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Monday, August 1, 2011

Not Forgotten - Korey Stringer

Korey Stringer 1974-2001
When it comes to weather, those of us who live in Minnesota are extremely familiar with a couple of "extended stats" numbers other than temperature and wind speed to determine how it feels outside. In the winter it's wind chill which measures the effect of wind on air temperature. Simply put, the windier it is, the colder it feels. In the summer heat index combines heat and humidity. The more the humidity we have, the warmer it feels.

The weather in Mankato today is what you would expect for this time of year.  It's the morning of August 1st and the temperature is heading toward 90 degrees and while the humidity stands at 87%, it's continuing to rise.  The air feels heavy and if you're outside for an extended period of time, without any exertion, you will sweat through your shirt.

It was like this ten years ago and the Vikings were in camp on campus.  Hot and humid with the heat index well into triple digits.

That night, my wife Lori was watching the six o'clock news and said "Hey, Perry (Dyke) just said that they took Korey Stringer to the hospital today."

Stringer was a 27-year old offensive tackle coming off of an All-Pro season. Checking in at 6-4 and 335 pounds, the former Ohio State Buckeye had suffered heat stroke after a full-pads, full-contact practice on a day when the heat index in Mankato was nearly 110 degrees.

I responded to Lori with a casual "No need to worry. Those big guys always struggle with the heat this time of year and one or two of them always end up in the hospital during camp.  They'll pump him full of fluids, cool him down and he'll be back on the field in a day or so." 

It seems so flippant now.

At about 4:00 a.m. the phone rang in our house.  I used to occasionally get calls at that time in the morning from my college buddies.  No so much anymore and in the rare times those calls come now, it's usually not good.  This was one of those times. It was Tom West from the Vikings media relations department. I can't remember his exact words, but he was calling to say that Korey Stringer had passed away and that the Vikings would need some assistance with the media attention the organization was expecting with the developing story.

And, obviously, it was a big story.  Stringer was one of the top young offensive linemen in the National Football League on a team that included high-profile players such as Duante Culpepper, Randy Moss and Cris Carter.  Later that day, the national media descended on Mankato and MSU and at a press conference held in the Centennial Ballroom (the largest room we had available to accommodate the large contingent of journalists), Denny Green, Carter and Moss all gave testimonials to Stringer. It was sad and gut-wrenching and I'll never forget Moss struggling through a tear-filled ten minutes at the podium in trying to convey his sentiments for his fallen teammate.

Things have changed since that day. 

Green and Culpepper are both out of the NFL, reunited with the United Football League's Sacramento Mountain Lions last fall.  Carter is an analyst for ESPN and Moss is a free agent, looking for a team to play for after spending the 2010 season with three different teams, including a short-lived four-game stint with Minnesota. 

Stringer's death brought about major changes to how NFL teams run training camp and, in particular, heat stroke prevention.

"The awareness has became greater, certainly (relative to heat stroke prevention and recognition)." said Jeff Chambers, MSU's director of sports medicine. "It changed our approach. We've became more acutely aware of signs of heat stroke. We were doing a lot before, but now there's much more stress on rehydration, monitoring weight loss, practice duration and timing, etc."
It's ten years today and, hopefully Korey Stringer's passing wasn't in vain with lessons learned and no Viking falling on the Blakeslee Stadium practice fields. 

Post post Note:  About an hour after I posted this, Randy Moss announced that he was retiring.  I also thought I might add these links -  Vikings honor 10th anniversary of Stringer's death & Vikings Remember Stringer.

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