It's supposed to be the best time of the year. It's supposed to represent the start of something. It's supposed to be all about football. But this year it's different.
The Vikings opened training camp at their new home in Eagan, MN today on what was expected to be a joyous occasion. Instead, camp kicked off this year with a cloud of sadness hanging over the top of everything. Tears were shed, embraces were shared and memories highlighted as the Vikings opened their annual Training Camp sessions less than a week after the tragic and unexpected passing of their offensive line coach Tony Sparano.
Sparano had only been with the team for two seasons but the impact of his presence and coaching abilities was clearly impactful.
"We open up Training Camp with very heavy hearts," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman shared today. "Tony was such a big part of our football team but also as a man and the values that he stood for."
The stories, memories and thoughts shared following Sparano's death showcase a man that was not only a great football coach but one who invested in the lives of his fellow coaches and players. They showed a man who was a admittedly "a little crusty" on the outside, but had a heart that overflowed with love for his players, his coworkers and most importantly his family.
"I would describe him as a caring and sensitive man," Spielman continues. "You don’t normally see that side of him."
Fighting through tears of his own, head coach Mike Zimmer also shared personal memories of Tony. Memories that span back to 2003 when the two coached together in Dallas.
"Every part of him was [Bill] Parcells," Zimmer said Wednesday. "Tony was exactly what I was looking for with an offensive line coach when I hired him because of that toughness."
The Vikings have already cancelled practice for this Friday so that the team can attend Sparano's memorial service and funeral together, but today they had to get back onto the field to prepare for the season.
"If Tony was here he would tell us ‘You gotta get out there and go to work’", Zimmer shared. "Getting back out here takes a little bit of the sting away from losing a great friend."
The Vikings have 18 total practices scheduled for Training Camp in Eagan this year.