BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky., Another 90-degree day scalded Bengals training camp Wednesday here at Georgetown College.
But it was a different kind of heat. The sudden death of Vikings Pro Bowl left tackle Korey Stringer earlier in the day turned the sun into death. On a day the Bengals offensive line sent flowers to Stringer's family and cornerback Tom Carter led the team in prayer, the sun kept its relentless vigil.
"Hopefully, the rest of us will pay attention," said Bengals defensive tackle Oliver Gibson.
On Tuesday, the same day Stringer became stricken with heat stroke, Gibson went down here twice. The second time, trainer Paul Sparling sent him into the locker room to get the team's first intravenous fluids of training camp.
Sparling already had his eye on the 308-pound Gibson. For the past three days, Gibson had trouble delivering the sample for a drug test and he had dropped some weight. Those were two sure signs of dehydration.
"I didn't want to be the first guy on the team to get an I.V. and I was fighting it that first time," Gibson said. "But at some point, you have to listen to your body.
"Everybody wants to be a hero, but nobody wants to die," Gibson said. "Sometimes your desire pushes you too far. You've got to use some common sense and I'm sure Korey did use common sense. It probably just hit him a little too fast. He was a hard-working guy. He didn't get to where he was by taking plays off."
Defensive tackle Tony Williams, who had been Stringer's teammate in Minnesota the previous four seasons, said he'd talk to the media after the afternoon practice. The morning was just too soon.
Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau knows how it feels to lose a teammate. He saw one die in front of him during a 1972 game in which Lions receiver Chuck Hughes suffered a heart attack.
"We were in a two-minute drill," LeBeau said. "Twenty-seven years old. Very fit athlete. When the Lord calls you, he calls you."
Fullback Lorenzo Neal became the second player to
get an I.V. when he cramped up on a training table after Tuesday's practice.
"But I was a long way from dying," Neal said. "I don't care how much you weigh, how much you can lift and how big you are, it just lets you know how fragile you really are. If that's the one thing to take out of it, take that. Tell your loved ones how much you love them."
Sparling had to talk Neal into getting the I.V. Neal said he could drink his way out of it, but that's when Sparling says it is too late to combat dehydration.
"I have yet to find a guy that when they really start cramping up, oral hydration is going to take care of it," Sparling said. "And if all you're doing is drinking water, you're not getting any electrolytes back. You're actually diluting the electrolytes in the body. So it's important to also get the Gatorade and the other sports drinks because it's designed to help replace the Potassium."
Sparling figures the Bengals go through 180 to 200 gallons of water per their afternoon practices that run from 3-5 p.m. But he has always said the key to keeping the team hydrated is stressing drinking water morning, noon and night.
Many players can be seen walking around campus with at least one bottle of water, and sometimes two or three if they're headed into a meeting. One refrigerator in the dining hall is dedicated to water, Gatorade, and other sports drinks.
"We must be doing the right things," Sparling said. "It's a culmination of the players being in good shape and the staff keeping them hydrated. You can do everything right and still have to deal with unforseen circumstances."
The staff is also taught to monitor the warning signs of heat stroke: Shortness of breath, effusive sweating or no sweating at all, dizziness, vomiting, and light-headedness.
Sparling also reviews daily the player weights before and after each practice, which the players chart themselves. If a player has lost five to seven percent of his weight, Sparling is tipped that the player is at risk.
"It can happen," Neal said. "You just have to realize how fragile it all is."