EAGAN, Minn. – Earlier this summer, Ellen Charcut bought her 11-year-old son a copy the Alan Page biography, All Rise, so he could learn more about the Pro Football Hall of Famer and retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice.
Will is prepping for sixth grade, which will mark his first year at Justice Page Middle School.
"Justice Page is somebody who had so many different talents and used them all. I just think that's such a great example," Charcut said. "He was such a great athlete, but he didn't let that box him in. He branched out, and he used his brain, and he challenged himself and had a really important, significant career.
"I just think that's such a great lesson for these kids," added Charcut.
So when the Charcut family, along with Will's friend Drew – who also will be attending Justice Page Middle School – arrived at Vikings Training Camp Saturday, they were elated to see a Q&A with Page scheduled as part of the team's "Back Together Saturday" festivities.
"Of all the people today, were like, 'Oh my gosh, Justice Page is going to be here?!' " Charcut exclaimed.
Page spent 30 minutes answering questions and speaking to the Charcuts and other fans on the plaza at TCO Stadium.
The former Purple People Eater fielded inquiries about his time as a judge, his playing career and, of course, the "old days" of training camp in Mankato. Asked about his favorite Mankato memory, Page smiled and noted his most treasured times were those he spent with the love of his life, Diane. Fans clapped in response, expressing respect for his late wife.
Page later expressed gratefulness for the thoughtful questions and warm reception from fans.
"It's fun to be appreciated, number one. But in a sense, it's also an opportunity to pay back all the support that I've gotten over the years," he smiled.
An especially fun aspect of the Q&A for Page was the broad age range of fans excited to meet and hear from him.
"That's the magic of the game of football. It can be generational," Page said. "Having people who were born, basically, 50 years after I played still have an interest."
Brandon Schmidt, a native of Duluth, Minnesota, is among the younger fans who jumped at the opportunity to hear Page speak.
"I didn't grow up watching the Purple People Eaters, but it's cool to get his perspective and just hear about the teams in those years," Schmidt said. "And it's great to hear about the time after his pro career, how he got involved with law. I just think it's really cool."
Schmidt is equally enthused about the 2022 Vikings team and said he's especially looking forward to seeing how Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and the rest of Minnesota's offense play under new Head Coach Kevin O'Connell.
And he isn't the only one. Vikings Ring of Honor member Chuck Foreman attended Saturday's practice, as well, and kept an eye on his fellow running backs.
Foreman has connected multiple times over lunch or dinner with Cook, Alexander Mattison and the other Vikings running backs – whom he called "exceptional football players but also exceptional people."
View photos of players during 2022 Vikings Training Camp practice on July 30 at the TCO Performance Center.
Interestingly, Foreman has been keeping tabs on Cook for much longer than likely any other Vikings fan.
Foreman played college football for the Hurricanes in Cook's hometown of Miami, where he's since stayed connected. He said he first heard of the younger running back when Cook was in eighth grade.
"That's how good he was back then. I remember my friend, his name's Arnold Johnson, he said, 'Hey Chuck, we've got this kid down here named Dalvin Cook … He's the real deal,' " Foreman recalled. "So I kind of followed him through Miami, to Florida State, to here.
"He doesn't even know that I know more about him," Foreman added with a laugh. "He's one of my favorite backs of all the backs who have been here since I left – he's the one that I identify with the most."
While watching the current Vikings, Foreman reconnected with former teammates that included Carl Eller, whom he'd signed autographs alongside earlier in the day.
"To see the fan base continue to grow, seeing it passed on year after year after year. … It's a great feeling to be recognized after all this time," Foreman said.
Eller, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Vikings Ring of Honor, called it "wonderful" to spend time visiting with fans and helping the Vikings bring back football for the 2022 season.
"It felt so good. I mean, this is really one of the best things," Eller said. "The fans are so good. They keep that joy going [for us who were] Vikings. … It makes you feel good. I'm out here today and I feel like, 'Man, it's really a privilege to be a part of this organization and to have interactions with the fans.' It's really a great time. I love it."
Also at Saturday's camp were Vikings Legends Dontarrious Thomas, who helped lead a youth football clinic, Ed McDaniel and 2022 Vikings Ring of Honor inductee Jared Allen.
McDaniel serves as the defensive coordinator for East Ridge High School's varsity football team and attended practice with youth from the East Ridge and Hopkins teams.
"You have fans of all ages who have come to see Chuck, to see Carl and then to see me. They tell stories of their grandparents, or their parents, taking them to a game," McDaniel said. "I'm 50 … Eventually the players of today will be in our situation, and the cycle continues to go on.
"[Vikings inside linebackers coach Greg] Manusky was playing for the Vikings when I was drafted [and] now he's come back as a coach," McDaniel added. "It's really come full-circle. It's a great opportunity to see that."
Things felt a bit full-circle for Allen, too, as he engaged with fans fewer than 24 hours after being surprised with the Ring of Honor announcement.
View photos of Vikings fans during training camp practices at the TCO Performance Center.
Allen's press conference with Twin Cities media members was broadcast live onto the TCO Stadium video boards, and he soon after addressed the fans directly.
"First of all, I just want to welcome everybody to training camp in 2022. I had a nice chance to meet the players and coaches. You guys are in good hands," Allen told the crowd. "I'm excited to see what the Vikings do this year and in the future. One thing that you guys have to contribute is continuing to support and provide energy during these long, dog days of camp. We really make it through when we see all of you guys out here cheering us on.
"Thank you for so many great years of your support," Allen added. "I honestly love the Vikings fans. Minnesota is always going to be a home to me. God bless you all, and thanks again."
Jason Doherty loaded up a 15-passenger fan and drove 60 miles from Zimmerman to help his son Dylan celebrate his 13th birthday. He sported a Jared Allen jersey that now has the Ring of Honor member's autograph on the sleeve.
"That's awesome. I love it. He deserves it," Doherty said of Allen joining the Vikings Ring of Honor. "Obviously he's one of my favorite players."
Most of the group were first-timers to Vikings Training Camp, which welcomed more than 3,000 fans Saturday.
Current Vikings relished in having fans in the stands during a practice that included a big showing by K.J. Osborn and Cam Bynum interception.
Thielen addressed the fans following practice, while numerous teammates signed mini footballs and tossed them into the stands.
Several Vikings, including Justin Jefferson, Kirk Cousins, Eric Kendricks and O'Connell, stopped en route to the locker room to sign autographs for a group of Vikings Kids Club Members. The youngsters also received high-fives from Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith, and one joined Cousins in a rendition of "The Griddy."
Hunter, Smith and Harrison Phillips then visited with one of their own heroes, Page, on the sideline.
"I think the fan boy in me still comes out a little bit," Phillips said. "I'm proud of how I kept my composure and kept it cool, like I was just talking to some buddies. But I was kind of trippin' out. It's very, very cool that they're here. And to pick their brains just for the small chance I had means a lot. They are the gold standard when it comes to the type of player and person you want to be here in Minnesota."
Phillips emphasized the importance of remembering the Vikings who came long before him and established the franchise's legacy.
It's a sentiment Page deeply appreciates.
"The fact is that we are part of, as Alfred Tennyson said, 'all we have met,' " Page said. "We continue to be part of [the Vikings history]. We continue to have connections. Those connections live on. To be able to actually experience it, it's really nice."