MANKATO - Vikings center Matt Birk was taking a breather from the rigors of training camp Wednesday evening, driving around the country area just outside of Mankato, when he decided to phone his wife, Adrianna. She quickly informed him that the Interstate Hwy. 35W bridge that spans the Mississippi River in Minneapolis had collapsed.
"When she told me I didn't realize the magnitude of it," Birk said. "But then dinnertime most people call home, you start to talk about it and start to see the pictures. It's just like, 'Oh, my gosh.' "
Birk is a St. Paul native, attended Cretin-Derham Hall and continues to have strong ties to the community. His Matty B's restaurant in Minneapolis isn't far from where the bridge was located.
Birk said his reaction was one of "almost disbelief."It's hard to imagine it because when you're down here in training camp it's almost like you're cut off from the outside world," he said. "You just get so involved because you're just doing football all day, every day. ... When I heard about it, it was almost like I was kind of numb to it. It seems like it's a different world. But then you watch the news and see the pictures. I don't know how you describe something like that."
Coach Brad Childress was headed upstairs to his room in Gage Center shortly after 7 p.m. Wednesday to work on some notes for a morning meeting when he was told what had happened.
"Somebody mentioned to me, 'Did you hear about the bridge collapsing?' " Childress said. "I go, 'What are you talking about?' ... I went up and punched the TV on real quick and it took you about a second to go 'Holy smokes.' "
In a meeting shortly thereafter, Childress told the players what had happened -- some already were aware of it -- and told them to call home and check on their families.
It looked bad
Cornerback Ronyell Whitaker suffered a left ankle sprain during the morning practice. It looked much worse, however, when he crumpled to the ground without being hit during seven-on-seven drills. Whitaker was removed from the field on a cart.
"We looked at it. It's not a high ankle sprain," Childress said. "He just kind of rolled it outside. Tweaked it pretty good. I saw him at lunchtime and he's moving around. He's a tough kid and will try to get back out here as fast as he can."
Meanwhile, the Vikings continue to hold out receiver Aundrae Allison (hamstring) and linebacker Ben Leber (calf).
Refs in town
Referee Bill Carollo and some of his officiating crew are in Mankato this week. They will address the players today and then work the Vikings-Chiefs intersquad practices today and Saturday.
"It's just good for them to explain and teach and talk," Childress said. "There have been no rule changes really, but I just encourage our guys to interact. They are not the enemy in this particular case. They are here to teach and talk and that kind of thing. Clarify what they are looking for. I don't know there is any big, new looming points of emphasis."
Carollo said a rule change to watch for this season is a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty for players who spike or throw the ball at the end of a play while in bounds and short of the end zone. He also said officials will make taunting one of their points of emphasis this season.
It's not certain how much action Vikings starters will see in tonight's practice against Kansas City. "We've knocked some numbers around," Childress said. "It's kind of in conjunction with how they want to match us. But [Chiefs coach] Herman [Edwards] and I will talk right before."
Running back Wendell Mathis (muscle strain) returned after missing practice time.