The news of Tony Sparano's unexpected passing Sunday morning hit the NFL world painfully and deeply.
In addition to heartfelt statements from Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer, social media posts from current and former players and colleagues poured out across the country.
Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune spoke with former Vikings C/G Joe Berger, who played for Sparano throughout his career, working with him in Miami and Dallas and then again in Minnesota, where Sparano served as the Vikings offensive line coach in 2016 and 2017. Goessling wrote:
Sparano became one of Berger's biggest advocates throughout the Michigan Tech product's 13-year career. Berger, who retired this spring, is on vacation in Colorado this week and plans to stop by Vikings Training Camp this weekend while driving a RV back to his home in western Michigan. While there, he said, he had planned to shake Sparano's hand and thank him for all his help through the course of his career.
"I think he comes off as dry and a little grumpy, maybe, but when you get to know the guy, he wants what's best for you," Berger told Goessling. "He was going to tell you what you needed to hear to be a better player and a better person. He was a caring guy. He loved his family. When he would be grumpy at training camp, I would ask him how his grandkids are doing, and his face would immediately change."
Berger told Goessling that he learned early on the gruffness Sparano sometimes used in addressing his players was because "he sees something in you that you don't."
Added Berger: "He had a real knack for bringing out the best in you as a player."
Sparano made 'memorable' moments for family
Media members also reflected on the career of Sparano, who spent 17 seasons in the league at various positions before joining the Vikings.
Vic Tafur, who covers the Raiders for The Athletic, wrote Sunday about Sparano:
Tony Sparano would always build his players up, calling them "King Kong" when he passed them in the hallways. He would criticize them if the need arose, but he clearly loved them. And he loved football.
What struck Tafur the most about Sparano, he said, was how much the coach loved his family – his wife, Jeanette, three grown children and four grandchildren.
He worked for nine NFL teams in 19 seasons, and one of the first things he did in each new town was sample and find the best ice cream place to take his kids and grandkids. Because of his job, Sparano didn't have a lot of time to spend with them, but he planned out and made sure the outings and vacations were memorable.
Players pay their respects
Countless players who spent time with Sparano over nearly two decades took to Twitter and Instagram to pay their respects and share memories about him. Below are a just a few of those thoughts, specifically by Vikings players, posted Sunday: