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Vikings say goodbye to Stringer
By Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
August 3, 2001
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Minnesota Vikings fans and players gathered at a memorial service Friday to mourn the loss of offensive tackle Korey Stringer, who died early Wednesday of heat stroke. Separate ceremonies were held for the athletes, friends and family members, and for the public. Both players and fans had similar feelings of sorrow for the passing of the man known as Big K.
Hundreds of fans lined up outside an Edina funeral home, where Vikings players were paying last respects to Korey Stringer.

Listen to excerpts from the players:
Mitch Berger
David Dixon
Randy Moss
(MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)

Hundreds of fans, many of them wearing Vikings t-shirts and jerseys, lined up in front of an Edina funeral chapel for a chance to say goodbye to Stringer, who died at the age of 27.

Michael Osuala was one of about 20 fans who started lining up hours before the public service. His reason for attending the ceremony was typical of many fans there. "It's a big tragedy how this young man lost his life - while he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. My heart really goes out to his family, and that's why I'm compelled to come here to pay respect," he said.

Some of the fans who stood for hours in the hot August sun say they were compelled to come to the memorial service because they had met Stringer in person. Josh Summer says he's met Stringer at past training camps in Mankato. Summer, wearing a white-and-purple jersey with Stringer's name and number 77, says the big offensive lineman was unique because he was approachable and down to earth. "Korey just seemed to get his job done on the field and just kind of treated himself like he was one of everybody else, just walked around like a normal person. That was great and it was refreshing to see a professional athlete be different, not act like he was a professional athlete," Summer said.

Stringer was also remembered for his on-field abilities. Last season, Stringer was named to the NFL's elite Pro Bowl. Former opponents, like Kevin Greene who played defense for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers, says Stringer was a fierce competitor. "We battled hard and I respect a warrior. I respect someone who will give it all he has. That's why I'm here. I'm here to pay my respects," Greene said.

During a ceremony earlier in the afternoon reserved for the Stringer family, team members and other guests, players and coaches recalled fond memories of Stringer. Several players referred to Stringer's jovial manner.

Vikings' punter Mitch Berger says the things he will remember most are the times spent clowning around. "I was lucky; I got time to spend with just us for hours and hours and we just told jokes. And Korey put on this big country hat, and made up this big country rap," Berger recalled.

Vikings' officials said the Stringer family wanted to make sure fans got a chance to pay their final respects. The funeral home was prepared to remain open until everybody who wanted to view the open casket got a chance. Many fans left the viewing visibly shaken.

Vikings fan Dennis Gonzales says the open casket helped bring closure, and he says he appreciates the family's willingness to let the fans share in their grief. "It's a good gesture on their part. It shows that they have respect for the fans and they know the fans just as much. I consider it an extended family," Gonzales said.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NFL players union president Gene Upshaw also attended Friday's service. Tagliabue reiterated his call for NFL teams to review their hot-weather policies to make sure another tragedy doesn't occur. Stringer leaves a wife and three-year-old son.