[size=18px]The heat a constant reminder of "Big K"[/size]
By Eric Krupka


The sun was beating down, the sweat was pouring off saturated players, and it was another blistering hot day with the temperature in the low 90s. Minnesota Vikings training camp had begun in the searing heat, like so many others. Sadly, this wasn't just another day. Five years ago, Monday, would be the final practice, final day, final hours and final seconds of the life of the man and football player known as "Big K." And he wasn't just any man or any football player, "Big K" was different, he always had a smile on his face to go along with a big heart, a beautiful wife, a three-year-old son, and tremendous talent.

Pro Bowl offensive lineman Korey Stringer, known by many as "Big K," arrived at training camp primed for another great season. In 2000, he churned out a terrific year, earning Pro Bowl honors during the team's remarkable run to the NFC Championship Game. Stringer came out of the gates in Day One, pushing himself and giving the proverbial 110 percent.

The scorching heat began getting to him. After vomiting three times during morning practices, he sought refuge in an air-conditioned trailer used as the training room. While resting, he lost consciousness and was rushed to Immanuel St. Joseph's-Mayo Health Center, where his body temperature was recorded at 108 degrees. Tragically, Stringer never regained consciousness and died in the early morning hours of the next day.

The NFL, teammates, coaches and other players around the league were stunned by Stringer's untimely death.

Surprisingly, it was the first heat-related death in NFL history. Since then, league commissioner Paul Tagliabue and all 32 teams have taken numerous precautions in order to prevent other such occurrences.

Fast forward to Monday, July 31, 2006, another unbearably hot day pretty much all across America, eerily similar to the one a half-decade ago.

Fortunately, head coach Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings is already taking precautions with his team. With the temperature in the upper 90s and heat index well above 100, he's making decisions that go above and beyond football. Rather than push his 10-year veteran, the 317-pound Pat Williams, a defensive tackle, Childress chose to place the behemoth on the physically unable to perform list.

Childress made it clear that he was doing so in regards to William's safety. "I want to make sure he's not harming himself. He did a great job conditioning in springtime, and that weight was headed down. I just want to make sure he takes care of his business from a cardio standpoint with this heat," said Childress.

It is a move that is certainly in the best interests of both the team and Williams, and thankfully the standout defender knows it. He should be practicing with the team soon, and the time off the field shouldn't hinder him at all.

By watching the weight and conditioning of Williams more closely than they might have in the past, the Vikings are proving they learned from the unfortunate death of Stringer.

Only five players from the 2001 squad remain. Yesterday, on the five-year anniversary of Stringer's tragic death, offensive lineman Chris Liwienski, one of the aforementioned five, still thinks about "Big K" from time to time.

"He [Stringer] definitely enters in my thoughts from time to time. There's no doubt about it," Liwienski said. "I played a number of good years with him, and he's still dearly missed."

With the soaring temperatures across America, I hope people across the world can take a minute after reading this to say a prayer for Stringer and his family. I know for me and many players, the heat is a constant reminder of the offensive lineman that touched so many of us, "Big K," Korey Stringer. We miss you, No. 77.

-Eric Krupka can be reached at [email protected]

The heat a constant reminder of Big K