EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings’ staff tricked Kyle Rudolph into crying.
Thinking he was going into a room for a routine interview, Rudolph found a folder in the middle of a table with lights and cameras focused on him. The Vikings Pro Bowl tight end opened it to find letters from a number of families that he’s touched through his work as the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. There were also letters from his former coach Charlie Weis and one from his wife Jordan.
Vikings Entertainment put together the video package called “Dear Kyle,” which showed family members, hospital workers, Jordan and Vikings owner Mark Wilf, reading the letters aloud. It also went into detail about the “End Zone” area of the hospital, which is therapeutic play space for children and teens, that was funded by Rudolph. It only took three-quarters of one letter for Rudolph to show his emotions — something Jordan said does not come easy for him.
“I was pretty surprised because he’s a tough one to crack,” she joked.
The video was submitted to nominate him for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. Each team has one nominee for the award given to a player with outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field.
(You can see the video below)
You've seen what @KyleRudolph82 can do on the field.
But off the field?
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 6, 2018
At TCO Performance Center on Wednesday, Rudolph’s voice cracked as his two-year-old twin girls Andersyn and Finley climbed up and down two purple chairs in amusement.
“After a big win or a tough loss, you leave that hospital with perspective and I think that perspective chances greatly once you have your own kids,” Rudolph said.
The hospital will receive $50,000 from the NFL as part of Rudolph’s nomination.
“I sit down there and I think about how strong these parents are to have the ability to go through the things that they go through,” he said. “Most of them have other children to take care of and their lives have to continue on when it seems like all has stopped for one child. For me having two kids, thinking about what life would be like if we had to stop everything for one and try to make things as normal as possible.”
Charitable work isn’t anything new for Rudolph, who has been visiting the hospital since he joined the Vikings as a second-round draft pick in 2011. He was encouraged by teammates like Chad Greenway, John Sullivan and Steve Hutchinson.
“I think the biggest thing in having kids of your own, it makes me realize how truly strong these parents are.”
One family featured in the nomination video has been close with Rudolph for the better part of his career. Their son passed away shortly after the Vikings’ loss in Arizona in 2015.
“I thought back to the time in the hospital, sitting there with them and for a couple hours everything was good…things just stopped and time stood still for a little while,” Rudolph said. “That one was hard.”
Rudolph’s work has another personal connection. He was 15 months old when his brother Casey was born with neuroblastoma, a type of cancer found in young children. Casey beat the disease.
“The biggest thing for us was, we just wanted to provide them with a little bit better experience while they were at the hospital, whether they were there for a day or some of these families are there for at least 100 days,” Rudolph said. “If we can provide them with a little bit of comfort during their stay, then great. One of the things we’ve started to realize over the course of our years are the relationships we build with parents.”
The Vikings’ tight end was also nominated last year. The Payton Award winner will be announced at the Super Bowl.