With all eyes focused on the 2016 Minnesota Vikings, the best thing that can happen on Aug.1 is to let it come and go without something else to throw on the misery surrounding that date.
It’s not Sept. 11.
It’s not Dec. 7.
It’s not Nov. 22.
But, in Minnesota, Aug. 1 is a day that will live in infamy, at least among longtime fans.
On a day that, for those who experienced it, Aug. 1, 2001 is a time that will be forever etched in the memory bank. A subsequent story in Sports Illustrated would open with a chilling passage about a farmer who lived close to Mankato being immortalized over his concern for his cows being outside given the short-term forecast and heat index numbers.
A few miles away, the Vikings were conducting two-a-day practices back when two-a-days were actually two-a-days.
Korey Stringer, a vested veteran on a team that had been denied a Super Bowl two of the previous three years, wasn’t in game shape when he showed up to Mankato.
He didn’t pass the conditioning drills to open camp and was working out on the side. He was urged to set an example for the younger players and get back on the field where he belonged.
At a time when concussions didn’t yet exist, or at least weren’t readily acknowledged in the NFL, Stringer went out to the practice field in oppressive heat. That’s what tough guys did at the time – when men were men and Twin Towers still stood.
Late in the afternoon practice, Stringer tapped out and laid down on the sidelines. Something didn’t feel right.
As he lay prone on the sideline, on a day when everyone else – from players to coaches to fans – was sweating profusely, Stringer was dry.
That was the first warning sign of things to come.
Every effort was made to re-hydrate and refuel Stringer. Protocol wasn’t working this time. All attempts failed.
The night of July 31 rolling into Aug. 1 and the prognosis on Stringer bouncing back got progressively worse. What should have been situation normal was far from it.
In the early hours of Aug. 1, 2001, Stringer’s organs began shutting down and eventually he inhaled for the last time.
For many of his teammates, this was the first death they would face of one of their peers – a blindside shot akin to the worst sucker punch any of them had ever absorbed. Some had lost grandparents. Some had lost parents. Some had lost siblings. Some had lost close friends they viewed as de facto family. But, few had lost someone they were joking with 18 hours earlier.
It was randomness of Stringer’s death that made it hit so close to home.
On this day 15 years ago, football didn’t matter in Mankato. Stringer left a widow and kids that wouldn’t share precious memories with their dad. A children’s game played by full-grown men took the backseat to that.
Six years later, a mile-and-change from where Stringer plied his trade, a second lightning bolt hit Minnesota on Aug. 1 – the collapse of the I-35 bridge that brought random death to a higher body count.
Nobody saw it coming.
It came just the same.
It’s more than likely that the victims of the I-35 bridge collapse will be memorialized in some fashion today in Minnesota. For those who are in Mankato and drop to their knees and offer a silent prayer, it will likely be done with similar reverence.
You didn’t have to know them to feel their pain.
The best thing about Aug. 1 in Minnesota is letting the clock tick down until Aug. 2 shows up.