Five Years Later

The Vikings opened training camp this week in blistering conditions with temperatures forecast to be at or near 100 degrees this weekend and early into next week. Those conditions are remembered by many fans as being similar to the heat on July 31, 2001, when offensive tackle Korey Stringer died of heat exhaustion.

As Minnesota remains in the grip of a heat wave that has seen the thermometer shoot over 90 degrees for 20 days, it harkens the memories of some fans back five years on a similarly brutal day at Mankato.

It was July 31, 2001 and the Vikings were in the first days of training camp practices. A Viking Update photographer snapped some photos of Korey Stringer laid out on the grass in exhaustion. This wasn't unusual. Stringer would annually lose weight during training camp and those first few days were always bad ones for him.

So it didn't come as any surprise as Stringer lay on the side of the field, except for one fact that became sadly apparent later. He wasn't sweating. On a day when farmers in the Mankato area were warned to bring livestock inside because of the brutal heat index, the Vikings were practicing and Stringer's condition was becoming more and more of an issue.

At first, the Vikings medical staff tried to alleviate Stringer's pain by taking him into an air-conditioned trailer. That didn't work and soon it was apparent that he was going to have to be taken to an area hospital because his body temperature was perilously high.

Soon reports starting coming from the hospital and rumors started circulating about the severity of Stringer's condition. His organs began shutting down and, despite having medical facilities and professionals available to assist him, the doctors were powerless to stop the chain reaction that had started.

Shortly after midnight that evening, the worst-case scenario came true. Korey Stringer was dead. The following day, Dennis Green and some selected players addressed the media. Green, a typically stoic public speaker, fought back tears. Cris Carter wept openly. Randy Moss, who had recently signed a megabuck contract and was viewed as a team leader, collapsed in grief at the podium over his best friend on the team.

The 2001 season would be one of the worst in team history. Training camp was brought to a halt as many players and coaches traveled to Ohio for Stringer's funeral and something seemed wrong all season long.

As a result of the Stringer incident, the NFL banned weight loss supplements for players and cited Stringer as the reason – even though no traces of the substance ephedra was detected in his system at the time of his death.

Another change that came about was that when the heat index gets near triple digits, players are taken off the field and special attention is given to making sure players get plenty of water to replenish their systems. But, in Stringer's case, it was simply too late.

A tree stands on the Minnesota State-Mankato campus where some of Stringer's former teammates still pause for a moment of reflection and remembrance. It has been five years since those tragic events unfolded. Green is gone. Tice is gone. Carter is gone. Moss is gone. But that tragic day remains with all of them, as it does with all of Stringer's former teammates and the fans who idolized No. 77.

Stringer will never be forgotten by the Vikings family and his tragic passing will remain a part of team history. He left behind a widow and a child and their lives were irreversibly changed that day.

R.I.P. Big K. You're still missed by those whose life you impacted.

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