|MANKATO, Minn. -- Korey Stringer was determined to prove
himself, especially after he needed to be carted off the field on
the first day of practice because of exhaustion in the sweltering
Instead, he collapsed of heatstroke after returning Tuesday and
died 15 hours later.
The shocking death of the likeable Pro Bowl offensive tackle --
the first of its kind in the NFL -- left the Vikings and league in
mourning and raised questions about how teams practice in the
brutal heat of July and August.
"We know we have to play football. But that's not on our mind
right now," Vikings coach Dennis Green said. "We have lost a
27-year-old man and we are going to miss him."
Stringer, who weighed 335 pounds, vomited three times during the
morning conditioning drills in stifling humidity and temperatures
in the low 90s. He didn't summon a trainer until the drills had
ended, perhaps trying to show he could make it through the day in a
league known for its machismo.
Stringer then went to an air-conditioned trailer serving as a
makeshift training room on the practice field and lost
consciousness. Trainers called paramedics, who took Stringer to
Immanuel St. Joseph's-Mayo Health Center. He had a body temperature
His organs failed and he never regained consciousness before
dying at 1:50 a.m. Central time Wednesday.
Later in the day, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ordered all 31
teams to review their rules on training. Chicago Bears coach Dick
Jauron canceled Wednesday afternoon's practice because of
oppressive heat and high humidity, though he said it was not a
direct response to Stringer's death.
"When this happens, it should cause everybody to wake up,"
Cleveland Browns president Carmen Policy said.
Many Vikings, including the entire offensive line, visited
Stringer in the hospital throughout the night. Green and teammates
Cris Carter and Randy Moss were there until the end.
"We thought everything was going to change" at the hospital,
Carter said. "There's nothing that can prepare you for something
like this. The amount of hurt we have as a team -- we are
Moss, wearing a black baseball cap low over his eyes, joined
Carter and Green at a news conference and had to be helped from the
podium as he sobbed.
"The only thing I've been thinking about for the last 24 hours
is, if he does die, what happens to his little boy?" Moss said,
referring to Stringer's 3-year-old son, Kodie.
"I don't even know how and when I'm going to get over this,
because it's hard. There's a lot of people in America that's feeling our pain, throughout the world, and we know
Korey Stringer, Number 77, is going to be missed."
As Moss put his head on the podium and cried, Carter talked of
Stringer as a "pro's pro," always determined to get better and at
his lowest weight since his college days at Ohio State.
"We really don't understand. We're just shocked," Carter said.
Around the league, teams held moments of silence Wednesday in
"We lost one of our own," said Ravens coach Brian
Billick. "And when I say one of our own, I mean one of the NFL
Green, who also had to wipe away tears, said: "Korey meant so
much to us because he always had that smile on his face."
Stringer, a first-round draft pick out of Ohio State in 1995,
had problems keeping his weight under control and often had trouble
in the first days of camp. But so do many players.
Trainer Chuck Barta said five other Vikings had heat-related
problems at practice.
"You recognize you have to force fluids down them. You also use
ice towels to keep them cool on the outside so they don't sweat as
much," said Barta, who didn't speak specifically about what was
done to aid Stringer.
Barta said he sometimes recommends toning down the intensity of
practice because of heat, but it wasn't clear if he did so Tuesday.
Green isn't known for running tough practices, and many NFL
teams hold longer training camps than the Vikings.
Tuesday's session had one-on-one drills with intense hitting,
lasting from 8:45 a.m. to 11:10 a.m., a bit longer than usual.
Players have access to fluids and iced towels, but no water-misting
devices or fans were on the field this week.
Players, coaches and team officials kept a vigil into the night
for Stringer, one of the most popular players on the team.
Barta, offensive line coach Mike Tice and medical services
coordinator Fred Zamberletti were there for much of the day and
evening. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper, receivers Moss and Carter and the entire offensive line also went to the hospital.
Stringer, picked by the Vikings in the first round of the 1995 draft, started every game at right tackle the past two seasons. He had struggled with weight problems early in his career before slimming down and having a breakout Pro Bowl season last
year. He reported to camp at 335 pounds and said he was in the best
shape of his career, but also was in difficulty on Monday, the
first day of camp, when he was taken off the practice field on a
Green declined to answer questions about how practice was
handled in the heat or how Stringer was treated during the drills.
The hospital and team officials said they couldn't release details
without permission from Stringer's family.
A brief statement from Vikings camp doctor David Knowles said
Stringer suffered damage to his vital organs, developed a bleeding
disorder, kidney failure and then heart failure.
Carter made it clear no one was pointing fingers.
"It's hot everywhere," Carter said. "That's why they call it
the dog days of summer. ... There's certain things you can't
Stringer's wife, Kelci, and Kodie were at the team's training
facility on the Minnesota State University campus Wednesday
afternoon and other relatives were still arriving.
Stringer started every game at right tackle the past two
seasons. He was one of the most popular players in the locker room,
known for doing impressions of teammates and coaches.
"He did me the best," Green said.
Stringer was popular with fans, too. He lived in the Twin Cities
year-round and had established community service programs at
schools and with the St. Paul public library.
Fans who gathered at the Vikings' camp as early as 6 a.m.
Wednesday were stunned to hear of Stringer's death.
"I bought a picture of him to get signed," said Scott
Westphal, who drove up from northwest Iowa with friends to watch
practice. "I wouldn't be able to ask for any autographs now. It's
just not right."
The death came six days after Florida freshman Eraste Autin died
after collapsing of heatstroke. Figures from the University of
North Carolina show that 18 high school or college players have
died of heat-related causes since 1995.
The only other NFL training camp fatality is believed to be J.V.
Cain, a tight end for the St. Louis Cardinals, who died of a heart
attack on July 22, 1979, his 28th birthday. Chuck Hughes, a wide
receiver for the Detroit Lions, died of a heart attack Oct. 24,
1972, during a game in Detroit against the Chicago Bears.
The Vikings tentatively scheduled a memorial service and eulogy for Friday afternoon in the
Twin Cities, with the funeral scheduled for Monday in Stringer's
hometown of Warren, Ohio.
|Korey Stringer goes through a short-stepping drill Monday in the Vikings camp, but had difficulty handling the heat and was hospitalized Tuesday night.