A Year Later, Stringer Still On Vikings' Minds

By DAVE CAMPBELL, AP Sports Writer

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) - The Minnesota Vikings went through practice Wednesday in sweltering heat and humidity -- conditions eerily similar to those in which Korey Stringer collapsed exactly a year ago.

He died the next day.

It's impossible for the Vikings to forget what happened and how much they miss the man from Warren, Ohio, whom everyone called "Big K."

"We've got a couple weeks here," wide receiver Randy Moss said, "so it is going to be very hard to say we're going to move on. We still have flashes and still reminisce on the good times and also the bad times.

"But of course we're going to move on and try to win."

Back at Winter Park, the team's practice facility in the Twin Cities, a black-and-purple banner bearing Stringer's No. 77 is draped across the facade in front of the building.

"It's going to take awhile to get over it," Moss said.

And there are reminders all over the campus where the team holds training camp:

  • a Stringer jersey worn by a fan watching practice.
  • outside Gage Hall, where the players stay, there's a tree planted last summer in Stringer's honor.
  • yellow practice jerseys instead of the hotter purple ones worn in the past, canopies providing shade on the sidelines, the overabundance of water.

"We'll be sitting in meetings and someone will remember something that Korey said," said center Matt Birk, who wears No. 78. "It's unavoidable. Here, the lockers are numerical, so 77 and 78 were right next to each other. This year, (No. 76) Chris Liwienski is next to me."

Stringer's widow, Kelci, has filed a $100 million wrongful death suit against the team, alleging negligence. It is scheduled to go to trial in June 2003.

Because of that, many in the Vikings organization, including head coach Mike Tice, won't talk about the subject. A year ago, Tice was offensive line coach and was as close to Stringer as anyone.

And with a mostly new coaching staff and an overhauled roster, it's probably healthy for the Vikings to forget the painful 5-11 season that began with Stringer's death.

There isn't a player on the team who will talk about Stringer's death without saying that he thinks about Stringer every day.

"I think by that happening," Moss said, "some of the guys who've been through that tragedy are closer as a family, and now we feel we can help one another."

Lineman Everett Lindsay, like the rest of his teammates, always enjoyed Stringer's imitations. There was one in particular Lindsay recalled, where Stringer mimicked a commercial Tice once did for a campus restaurant-and-bar called Boomtown.

"He did that to a T," Lindsay said.

Dwelling on the pain doesn't help, so the team would rather think about the good memories.

"You're just thankful that your paths were able to cross," Birk said. "I remember him for what he was -- a good guy with a great sense of humor and a big heart."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)