Much of the last week's news has been dominated by Hurricane Sandy, a rare northern Atlantic hurricane that devastated the coastline of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut and impacted much of the Eastern seaboard. It was an eye-opening dose of reality about the fury of nature. But for those who had family there and could do little to nothing to help them, it was a different kind of tension.
NFL players are nomadic in their existence. They come to the league from the four corners of the country and go where the work is. While many players eventually take root in the community in which they play football, many more live in Minnesota (or other NFL cities) on a part-time basis and, in the offseason, return to their native roots.
As the east coast braced for the impact of Sandy, several Vikings players had families in harm's way and worried about their safety and well-being. Perhaps nobody was closer to the epicenter of the superstorm than Vikings center John Sullivan. His family is from Old Greenwich, Conn., which, on a clear day on the water, is within eyesight of the New York City skyline in Manhattan.
The damage in the area was extensive, but, fortunately for Sullivan, his family was spared.
"There was a lot of damage in my hometown," Sullivan said. "My childhood home, my mom's house, my brothers' homes, they were all fine. My mom received the mandatory evacuation notice, but her house wasn't flooded. They were lucky, but a lot of people weren't."
As happens with many stubborn homeowners in the path of a potentially deadly storm, Sullivan had mixed feelings about his family's decision to ride the storm out rather than evacuate inland to let the storm pass. He wasn't in favor of the move, but knew his family was equipped to make the call themselves and considered himself fortunate that they made it through relatively unscathed.
"It was pretty tense for them, but at the same time it's hard when you're removed from it like I am out here," Sullivan said. "Obviously, I was thinking about them a lot, but they came through it fine."
The extent of the damage, as with happens with hurricanes, varied greatly from one area to another. Brandon Fusco's family lives in Cranberry Township, Pa., outside of Pittsburgh, and was able to weather the storm, which brought unprecedented sustained winds despite weakening below hurricane strength once it made landfall. Higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains experienced unprecedented snow and his hometown was battered with rain and wind, but he actually felt fortunate that it wasn't any worse than it was, especially considering that in the days leading up to landfall, Pennsylvania was predicted to be in the worst of the impact zones.
"They had pretty high winds, but they were able to avoid the worst of it," Fusco said. "Nothing really got damaged. There were some houses in the area that did, but my family didn't get anything more than some really strong winds that just kept going and some heavy rain. They came out alright. I hadn't even heard of a hurricane hitting that far north. You would never think that close to Pittsburgh you could get that kind of damage. It was a pretty wild storm."
Linebacker Erin Henderson got hit on two fronts. Some of his family lives in Aberdeen, Md., while others live in New York City, and he was awestruck by the damage received to the north of his family home.
"They had high winds (in Maryland) and quite a bit of rain," Henderson said. "I have some family in New York. They kind of got affected a little bit more. It was devastating some of the pictures they sent us, but everybody made it out OK. It's not easy, because we're here and they're there. You want to be there to be with them and support them as best as possible. But you have a job to do and responsibilities you have to tend to here. It's kind of hard to take care of what's going on back there, it's just a matter of trying to communicate as much as you can on the phone, make sure everyone is good and make sure everybody is OK."
Lifelong residents of the northeast coast of the United States had never experienced a storm of such ferocity, so as the storm has transformed into a cleanup effort, many of the residents are starting the long and arduous process of rebuilding. But for those like Sullivan a half a continent away, after seeing the fury of the storm at its worst, the sensation is more of being lucky than being pounded by a northeast Storm of the Century candidate.
"They made it through," Sullivan said of his family's ordeal. "That was the big thing. They were lucky. When you saw the devastation you realize how lucky they got. It was scary for them, but it could have been much worse."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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