Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from www.purplePTSD writer and editor of purplePTSD and VikingsTerritory, Joe Oberle.
The first practice of the 2018 Vikings Training Camp at TCO field was held under overcast and grey skies, setting the right mood for what many in attendance were likely experiencing. The rookies gathered and had a walk through with their brand new quarterback Kirk Cousins, but without their offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who unexpectedly passed away earlier in the week. Sparano wasn’t there physically, but, spiritually, everyone in attendance felt his presence.
“[We] open up this training camp with very heavy hearts,” general manager Rick Spielman said when addressing the media after practice. “To be out there on the practice [field] for the first time today without Tony’s presence, I know it affects each individually differently. But Tony was such a great coach and great family man and so strong is his faith. In his short time here with the Minnesota Vikings, Tony was such a critical part of our success not only as a football coach but what he stood for as a man and the values that he gave to us.”
In the walk through, head coach Mike Zimmer spent plenty of time watching the offensive line unit, which was being run by tight ends coach Clancy Barone. He spent most of the walk through watching how they were handling things, particularly with new center J.P. Quinn, who was signed this week, as news came out that starting center Pat Elflein would begin training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Still, Zimmer’s thoughts were certainly elsewhere on this gloomy Wednesday morning.
“Good morning. Uh, it’s good to get back out here on the field,” Zimmer said. “You know, it takes a little bit of the sting away of losing a great friend, a great coach, a good man. You know, unfortunately I’ve been through this about eight years ago when I lost my wife, so we’re hoping that this is the last time.”
Both Zimmer and Spielman had trouble getting through their press conferences without being overcome by emotion, as there was no nothing more important to report than somehow trying to put into words what the loss of Sparano meant to the organization.
“Tony was a very good friend of mine, an excellent football coach, a mentor for me to go in and talk to him about things in the office,” Zimmer said. “He was always there very, very early in the morning, as I usually am. We were able to sit down and talk about, not just football, but life, talk about kids and things like that. So, it’ll be a hard few days, but we’ll get through it and we’ll get back to work and do the things that we do—and that’s what he’d want us to do.”
And that is what the Vikings did, with veteran quarterbacks Cousins and Trevor Siemian leading the offense through the paces. Even veteran running back Dalvin Cook showed up, and his presence, along with Cousins sent a very good message to the incoming rookie players. In fact, Elflein was in uniform at the walk through, watching with interest the newest Viking Quinn trying to get on the same page with Cousins (it wasn’t always pretty).
But this day was about the immense void left by the sudden passing of Sparano. In fact, the rest of the week, particularly Friday, will be more of the same, when the team will attend the fallen coach’s funeral. It will be a process to get through for the entire organization.
There was no talk of who would replace Sparano on the offensive line, as the team is trying to get through the week and trying to respect the family in this difficult time. Zimmer was asked if he took extra care to speak with the offensive line at practice.
“I kind of tried to be like Tony today and gig them a little bit,” he said. “Elflein was out there, so I was giving him a hard time. That’s kind of how Tony was. But not really. I’m going to be myself to.”
It doesn’t appear that anyone will be able to replace the much-loved Tony Sparano.