Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.

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Twelve years later, Korey and Kirby remain united

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: August 4, 2013 - 6:08 AM

There were mentions this week of Korey Stringer's death early on the morning of Aug. 1, 2001. The Vikings' offensive tackle had suffered heat stroke after the morning practice one day earlier in Mankato.

I was driving into Mankato from the south on July 31 and heard on a radio broadcast that an ambulance had been brought to the field and left with Stringer. He had walked to a trailer near the field after practice. Reporters had conducted interviews in routine fashion and then headed for the media work area at Gage Hall. The ambulance showed up later.

I drove directly into the media lot and went to the work area. I brought up the radio mention of the Stringer stiuation. The Vikings' beat writers went into a scramble for information.

Weird questions you have 12 years later. One was: Why did I come into Mankato from the south that day, rather than from the Twin Cities?

Oh, wait ... 2001. That's the year Kirby Puckett was going into the Hall of Fame. It was also the year that the late Hilton Smith was being honored for his accomplishments in the Negro Leagues.

And that was it: I had been in my hometown of Fulda, Minn. I had talked to a couple of oldtimers and looked through the Fulda Free Press archives for information on Hilton Smith's summer with the Fulda Giants in 1949.

My father Richard was the manager of that team and a major promoter of Fulda's attempt to compete in "fast'' town-team baseball, along with his pal George Rauenhorst.

I was thinking about Stringer this week, not only because we had another anniversary of his death on Thursday, but also because Cris Carter is being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night.

And I was thinking of the grief of Denny Green, Randy Moss and Cris Carter as they tried to talk to the media about Stringer a few hours after his death.

"Big K just wanted everyone to be successful,'' Moss said that morning, which was one of the best things that could be said about a teammate.

Carter's big night was in Canton, Ohio, only 60 miles from Warren, the struggling Rust Belt city where Stringer was buried on the Monday after his death, on Aug. 6, 2001.

On Sunday, Aug. 5, Puckett was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the idyllic surroundings of Cooperstown, N.Y.  And on Monday, on a steamy day in wornout Warren, a long, tear-filled funeral service was held for Stringer at the First Assembly of God Church, and then the procession took Big K to Pineview Memorial Park.

I drove to Syracuse from Cooperstown before dawn that morning, flew to Cleveland, and headed for Warren. I saw the media horde waiting across a roadway from the church. It was an hour before the service would start. I decided to drive to Pineview and take in the quiet of the cemetery a few hours before the hearse would make its way there.

Stringer's maternal grandmother, Vera Barnes, recently had died. You could still see the fresh grave, not far from where the vault waited for Stringer's casket.

A woman in the Pineview office said proudly: "We found a place for Korey near his grandma.''

Twelve years later, you look back and what can be said is that Kirby and Korey are united as our most-tragic athletes ... Kirby's career ended prematurely by blindness in his right eye and his life ended by a stroke at 46, and Korey struck down by heat stroke at 27.

It was an amazing two days in the middle of that summer -- the most-popular baseball player in Minnesota's major league history going into the Hall of Fame (only 40 when voted in) on Sunday, and perhaps the most-popular football teammate in Minnesota's NFL history (only 27 when he died) being buried on Monday.




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