VIKINGS' Stringer remembered as fun-loving, generous

Tuesday, August 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WARREN, Ohio (AP) _ With large pots of white calla lilies flanking his open black coffin, Korey Stringer was remembered as a fun-loving, generous man who ``never forgot anyone.''

About 1,300 people packed the First Assembly of God church Monday for the two-hour funeral of the Minnesota Vikings' lineman who died of heatstroke last week.

The crowd was so large that a spillover group of about 300 more had to watch the service on closed-circuit TV in an adjoining gym, while hundreds more gathered outside.

That's how much folks in Stringer's hometown in northeast Ohio loved him. The 6-foot-4, 335-pound offensive tackle was later buried there in his purple No. 77 Vikings jersey.

``He'd be shocked by all the people here today,'' Vikings teammate Cris Carter said after the service, which was closed to reporters. ``He thought he was just a normal person.''

Carter joined Stringer's wife, Kelci, at the funeral along with dozens of Vikings, including Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss and coach Dennis Green; plus former Ohio State teammates Eddie George of the Tennessee Titans and Orlando Pace of the St. Louis Rams.

``It was a rejoicing _ that he's moved on,'' Pace said. ``We're sad about that, but hopefully he's gone to a better place.''

Alfie Burch, a teammate of Stringer's at Warren G. Harding High School, said the 27-year-old offensive tackle considered himself an ``ordinary guy'' despite being a Pro Bowl player who made millions.

``He never forgot his hometown and he never forgot the kids,'' Burch said.

``You could see him down at the mall. He'd stop and he'd talk to everybody. He stayed in touch with all of his old coaches. He was a great person. He just never forgot anyone.''

Stringer died early Wednesday, 15 hours after a grueling workout in stifling humidity and temperatures in the 90s.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, visiting the Cleveland Browns in Berea, said he does not believe the league will change its training camp schedule to reduce the risk of heatstroke.

He said, however, that the league needs to examine potential health issues facing increasingly large players.

``You can intellectualize about the risk of the game, you can understand all the risks theoretically, but you never expect to lose a player, have a player die playing the game,'' he said.

``It's our obligation now to try to learn from that.''

In a statement, the family thanked Stringer's fans for their support, adding ``We acknowledge the most difficult hours are ahead.''

In addition to his wife, Stringer was survived by 3-year-old son, Kodie; parents, James and Cathy; brother, Kevin; and sister, Kim.

``Korey was just a ball of fire. Everybody loved him. He was a joy to be around,'' Brandon Taylor, a friend of the family, said after the service.

Stringer's third-grade teacher at Horace Mann School, Mary Sabel, read several of his report cards during the funeral.

At the beginning of the year she had written, ``I know you're capable of getting A's. I expect you to work harder.'' By the end, her message was, ``I knew you had it in you to be an A student. You've risen to the challenge.''

``If he could speak right now he'd be wondering why everybody is making all this fuss today,'' said Phil Annarella, Stringer's high school coach. ``And I'd tell him it's because you deserve it.''