Every year during the Super Bowl game, during one of the many time-outs of the most dramatic NFL game of the year, the NFL pays respect to the NFL personnel players, coaches, owners and staff that passed away that year. Last Sunday, just days before the beginning of NFL training, the Vikings got word that veteran Offensive Line Coach Tony Sparano had died.
Sparano, in his third season with the Vikings, was 58 years old. He was one of the big reasons the Vikings had their best season in 2017 since 2004, winning 14 games and losing to eventual Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia in the NFC Championship game. He almost always wore dark glasses on the sidelines day or night because of a hot oil accident he sustained while working at a fast food restaurant at age 17.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman of Tony’s sudden passing. “Tony loved the game of football and his players. More importantly, he was a strong man of faith who treasured his family.”
On Sunday his wife Jeanette found him unconscious at home in the kitchen as they were preparing to leave for church. She performed CPR, but he could not be revived. He had been taken to the hospital last Thursday with chest pains. The hospital released him on Friday after tests had been performed.
The sudden news Sunday sent shock waves through the NFL family. The well-respected Sparano began his career in 1999. He had worked for eight other NFL teams, including the Miami Dolphins, who he guided as head coach to the AFC East Division title and playoffs in 2008.
He was 32-41 as a head coach. He’s the first NFL head coach to take a team to the playoffs after the team won only one game the year before.
He also was interim head coach of the Oakland Raiders and coached for Dallas, New York, Cleveland, Washington, Jacksonville and San Francisco. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said, “I love Tony Sparano. He was a great teacher, a grinder of a worker, and had a toughness and fighting spirit that showed in our linemen.”
Sparano was Zimmer’s second offensive line coach. Zimmer called Sparano “a great friend.”