7-30-02, 3:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN , Ky. _ On Thursday, it will be a year to the day Tony Williams lost Korey Stringer to the heat and the pain still burns deep enough in the Bengals defensive tackle that he tells you he really doesn't want to talk about it.
But without even knowing it, during Tuesday morning's skills session Williams offered a salute to his fallen friend. During a break, Williams jogged over to a water station, took a hit, and then dragged the water a little closer to the field in case someone else wanted a drink.
"You're right. I don't know if I would have done that if it was last year," Williams said. "A lot of teams are doing the right things and guys are staying hydrated. Around here, they've got a beverage for you around every corner. I know a lot of guys worked out more this offseason because of what happened."
What happened, of course, is that Stringer, the Vikings Pro Bowl tackle, was overcome by the heat at a morning practice back on July 31 and died early the next morning. Williams was then in his second week with the Bengals after coming over from Minnesota during the offseason. He would go on to establish himself as one of the top tackles in the AFC while becoming a linchpin of a Bengals' defense that finished the season ranked in the NFL's top ten for the first time in a dozen years.
But with the help of what happened to his good friend, Williams can draw a line between life and football.
"How can you compare life and football?" Williams asked. "When
you really think about it? It makes you think about life, not just the heat. You realize you have to live every day. Winning and life. . .Football is a game. It's your job, your career. With life, every day you wake up, you win."
Stringer's death is one of the reasons Williams traveled to Scottsdale, Ariz., the week before training camp. He wanted to work out in a place that could reach 100 degrees, and never mind that Scottsdale doesn't have the bedroom blanket humidity of central Kentucky.
"Heat is heat," Williams said.
Which is what it was Monday when the temperature reached the mid-90s in the afternoon. Like every other day down here, Williams figured he drank two gallons of water and Gatorade.
"That's always in the back of your mind when you miss a dear, good friend who was a great guy," he said.
The Bengals say they have done nothing different in this first post-Stringer summer except to give trainer Paul Sparling a bigger soapbox to preach what he's been saying for 20 years. Before heading out to Tuesday's practice, Sparling said there have only been two cases in which players have been treated with intravenous fluids since practice began four days ago.
For the first time ever last Thursday night, Sparling followed Bengals President Mike Brown's introductory remarks and delivered a power-point presentation complete with handouts on the dos and don'ts of playing in the heat.
"I think (Stringer's death) made everybody more aware," Sparling said. "Players, coaches, trainers. But we haven't changed anything we do, we just made it a formal education instead of informal."
Sparling figures the club goes through about 200 gallons a day of water and Gatorade when the players are on the field from 11 a.m. to noon and again from 3-5 p.m. That doesn't count what is consumed in the training room and dining hall.
"There's no substitute for a player coming into camp in shape, not overweight, and already acclimated to the heat and humidity," Sparling said. "And not taking dangerous supplements. There's no question that there are some supplements that put a player at greater risk for heat illness."
One of those is ephedrine, a stimulant which went on the NFL's banned list July 1. Asked if the Bengals have players still taking ephedrine, Sparling said, "They better not be because, for one thing, the testing has started."
Stringer's death grimly hangs with Williams. He thinks about him often, but he is also looking at a bright season at age 27. His worth was proved in the three and a half games he missed last season with a right foot sprain. In two of those games, foes rushed for more than 200 yards.
Williams doesn't have the first-round magnetism of end Justin Smith or the high-octane quotes of fellow tackle Oliver Gibson. Even though he is highly-regarded for his effort play and pass-rush skills from the inside, Williams doesn't mind being overlooked.
"I'm just looking to stay healthy," Williams said. "That's all. I'm a team player and that's all I am."
Which means Williams says all the right things when asked about the club's pursuit of Pro Bowl tackle Sam Adams in a bid to put him in a rotation with him and Gibson.
"It's always good to get top players on your team," he said. "It couldn't hurt us. That's all I could say about that."