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Vikings Legends Thank First Responders Ahead of Somber 9/11 Anniversary


EAGAN, Minn. – It isn't uncommon for Scott Studwell to be recognized.

After all, the Vikings Legend played linebacker for 14 seasons in Minnesota, including back-to-back Pro Bowl campaigns (1987-88), and later worked in the team's scouting department until his retirement in 2019.

He was recognized again, multiple times, Tuesday morning at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. But as excited as local first responders were to meet him, the often-stoic Studwell matched their enthusiasm – and then some.

He greeted police officers, firefighters and more with a box of donuts, a cup of hot coffee and a sincere thank-you.

"They're the ones who are always in first … and do great things for the community and keep us safe," Studwell said.

"It's just a small token of the Vikings appreciation for what they do," he added. "Just a small thank-you goes a long way for these guys and women. Maybe the donut and the coffee make it a little more special, but I think the thank-yous would be more than sufficient. At least let them know that we care about what they're doing, and we appreciate what they're doing."

The two-hour event was sponsored by Verizon, which provided not only the Caribou Coffee and boxes of donuts from Hy-Vee but also hats and water bottles for all in-person attendees and their co-workers.

"For more than 30 years, Verizon Frontline has stood side-by-side with first responders, providing them with the mission-critical technology they need to achieve their mission," said Jennifer Chronis, Senior VP of Verizon Public Sector. "As a trusted partner of public safety professionals across the country, it is our privilege to participate in events like this that give back to those who give so much of themselves to their communities."

Vikings Legends thanked first responders in a special first responders event at TCO Performance Center ahead of the 9/11 anniversary.

Studwell was joined at the unique drive-through by fellow Vikings Legends Leo Lewis (1981-90) and Rickey Young (1978-83).

All three have stayed local to the Twin Cities in their post-playing careers and welcomed the opportunity to recognize frontline heroes.

"Any [event with] the Vikings is always good, but certainly we want to do our part as a family to recognize all of the first responders, and especially Eagan police. We love them. We have a good relationship with them," Lewis said. "It's been a pleasure."

Among the morning's first drive-through guests was Eagan Chief of Police Roger New.

The St. Paul native was all smiles as he greeted Studwell and Lewis (Young arrived later) and spoke warmly with Vikings staff members assisting with the distribution.

"I was pretty excited to go. The Minnesota Vikings always put on a great event where there's lots of energy, there's lots of excitement," New said. "And honestly, having grown up as a Vikings fan and getting to see Leo Lewis and Scott Studwell, that was even cooler.

"It was funny because both of them stopped to introduce themselves, and said, 'I've got to tell you, I've been a Vikings fan for years, since I was a kid, and there's no need to introduce yourself. I know exactly who both of you are,' " New added with a laugh.

Lewis appreciated the opportunity to speak with New and other local law enforcement.

"You never get a chance to meet any of these guys. They're always on the beat, they're moving, they're serving the community," Lewis said. "And this is a great opportunity to have an in-person, face-to-face talk with some of these guys."

"An event like this helps establish relationships," Lewis continued. "Certainly you want that, first and foremost, so that you can have a good discussion and trust each other – and to be able to talk about very important topics that are critical for that relationship-building."

Later in the morning, members of the Inver Grove Heights and Eagan Fire Departments stopped by for pastries and appreciation.

"We got a phone call saying that they were doing a first-responder awareness [event] honoring men and women in the service. … It's a great way to honor us, and we appreciate the recognition," Inver Grove Fire Inspector Neal St. Onge said. "It's great to have that relationship with surrounding businesses like the Vikings because we could be called here – with Eagan and with Mendota Heights – for a big incident, so having the faces to go with names is great."

St. Onge enjoyed genuine conversation with the Vikings Legends and smiled as Young crawled up into the engine's passenger seat. Studwell later received a complete tour of the truck, even climbing to the vehicle's roof.

"This is amazing. It's truly an honor to meet them. We're probably going to grab them and take them back with us in the truck," St. Onge quipped. "So if they come up missing, we'll bring them back."

Tuesday's gesture was especially well-received after 15-plus months of frontline workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the navigation of increased civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

New called it a "truly turbulent time" for frontline workers and, in particular, law enforcement.

"And honestly, events like the one Tuesday help rebuild that spirit and … [reinforce] that there are people in the community who support us and support the work that we do," New said. "But it also suggests the importance that we need to come together as a community – both police and community members – to continue to bridge that gap that was created over the past 15 months or two years."

On the 20-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, New especially hopes the community will once again come together during difficult times.

New recalled that tragic day two decades ago. En route to his job as a middle school resource officer, Roger heard news of American Airlines Flight 11 hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Upon arriving at the school, he went back and forth between watching the events unfold on television and speaking to fearful students and staff members.

"There was a true sense of fear with people, around what was the next thing that was going to happen. People wondered, 'If this could happen in New York, could this happen here [in the Twin Cities]?' " New said. "It was a very, very stressful time for everyone."

Studwell and Lewis, much like everyone old enough in 2001 to comprehend the attacks, also remember exactly where they were on that Tuesday. Both former Vikings worked at the team's Winter Park facility – Studwell in the scouting department and Lewis as the director of player development.

Lewis remembered players being "really concerned" two days following Minnesota's season opener against the Panthers.

"There was anxiety filling offices all throughout this country," Lewis said. "One of the things that was important is that we felt safe [thanks to law enforcement]."

Studwell had been preparing that morning for a drive to Champaign, Illinois, to scout a game between his alma mater, the University of Illinois, and Louisville, a contest that ended up being postponed until Sept. 22.

"I saw it on the television, and it was kind of surreal … [the second plane] was live. Obviously l canceled my trip," Studwell said. "[The attack] was a [testimony] to those people who went into the building to get people out. Not many people would do that.

"My hat's certainly off to people who lost their lives there and the [first responders] who have lost their lives since," Studwell continued. "It's a huge sacrifice, what they do, and we need to appreciate that."

Twenty years later, New remains impacted by individuals across the nation who united in the face of unimaginable catastrophe and heartache.

"It took a tragedy for people to bond together," New said. "There were many lives lost. There were firefighters and police officers, but there were also many people in the private sectors whose lives were lost that day, and it was truly a tragedy.

"One of the biggest takeaways from 9/11 that we all need to remember is that we need to come together, and we need to make sure that we're working cooperatively together," New added.