LAS VEGAS – Andrew DePaola is a Pro Bowl … multitasker?
In between conversation with Raiders Pro Bowl punter AJ Cole, and with Hall of Famer Peyton Manning just over his shoulder, DePaola spooned individual macaroni noodles onto a silver spoon.
OK, the spoon was actually plastic (though silver in color), and Andrew was named to his first career Pro Bowl in long snapping. But he certainly could vie for a family man award as he pivoted between two toddlers, doling out mac-and-cheese and bites of soft pretzels.
Andrew attended the social hour with his wife, Amy, who currently is 6 months pregnant with the couple's third child; 3-year-old Grace; and 1-and-a-half-year-old Drew.
"Daddy, I don't like this one," said Grace, handing Andrew a half-chewed pretzel that – though initially undetected – had touched the nacho cheese.
Like other parents, Andrew ate the soggy, discarded carb himself.
Hosted on the 23rd floor of the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, the superhero-themed party offered kids colorful masks and capes and featured life-sized cardboard cutouts of The Hulk, Spider-Man and Wonder Woman. Outside and below, feathered showgirls walked "The Strip" amongst dazzling lights and people dressed as towering Transformers.
No one will likely argue the point: Las Vegas isn't naturally the most family-friendly place.
But for Andrew, it was important to make the all-star event a family affair.
"This doesn't happen every year. Maybe for some people, but not for most," he reflected. "To be able to look back and show them, 'Hey, Daddy did make the Pro Bowl, and you were there. We all were on the field, and we did this activity together.'
"To be able to share those memories with my kids is something that I'll be able to have for the rest of my life," Andrew added.
There's no doubt taking the whole crew added a healthy dose of chaos and extra work to Amy's plate. But she wouldn't have changed a thing, she said, noting solidarity with Kirk and Julie Cousins, who also brought their two young sons, Cooper and Turner.
"It being such a monumental moment in Andrew's career, we just wanted – even if the kids don't remember it, we want them to have that experience and we want them to always remember it and look back on pictures," Amy said. "I don't think I could have done it if Julie wasn't here with her kids.
"Grace and Cooper and Turner get along so well, and then Cooper and Turner love Drew, so it was just nice that when they'd go to the daycare, they had each other," Amy continued. "Not only that, but when we went to certain events like the luau or superhero social hour, the kids played together while we could sit and talk."
There were meltdowns and missed naps and chasing Drew around, well, everywhere.
But the family time will be forever cherished.
Highlights of the week for Amy and Andrew included watching Grace and Drew explore the themed parties and take in the "magic" of it all created by the NFL, as well as swimming in the hotel's pool. With their clothes on, of course.
"I didn't bring bathing suits, because I didn't think it was warm enough," Amy laughed. "It was 47 degrees when we went swimming, but the pool was so warm."
On Saturday, Andrew took Grace with him on the team charter bus – which Grace called "The Cinderella Bus" due to the logo of a carriage silhouette.
Wearing a rainbow-patterned sweater, Grace took on the mammoth bus steps and walked down the aisle past Eli Manning, Kirk Cousins, George Kittle and Saquon Barkley, among many others.
"She has no idea," Andrew laughed. "She's like, 'Daddy, I want to watch Masha and the Bear on your phone.' I'm like, 'OK. You know, you're around some of the greatest athletes in the world, but sure, let's watch this Netflix show.'
"We got to the stadium, and you go through the metal detectors … She's on an NFL field, surrounded by all these news outlets and all these great players, former and current, and she just sees her friend Cooper Cousins and is like, 'I want to play with Cooper,' " Andrew continued. "It kind of brings you back down to earth. None of that stuff mattered to her. She just wanted to play with her friend, she wanted to have fun, and it kind of changed your outlook on things a little bit.
"But at least I got some pictures, so I have things to show her later on in life … hopefully one day she'll appreciate it," he added with a smile.
From finding a role to model citizenry
As ESPN's Adam Schefter re-surfaced last week …
… Andrew's career path has been a unique one.
For 15 months after finishing his collegiate career at Rutgers, Andrew worked at his family's pub while pursuing his dream of making it to the NFL. He just wanted someone to give him a chance.
But Pro Bowl? Realistically, it never really was on his radar.
"It was never really a goal, I guess. I mean, it was definitely something I'd obviously want to happen, but I just wanted to be the best player I could be," Andrew said. "I just wanted to do the job well, be a great teammate."
He's done those things now for eight seasons, including three with the Vikings. Andrew has overcome less-than-favorable odds and two torn ACLs, and he's won the respect – and hearts – of coaches, teammates and fan bases along the ways.
"Honestly, even just talking about it now, it brings me to tears because I feel like his journey has just been such an incredible one," Amy said. "To be here today is the biggest honor."
Asked to describe his own reaction upon hearing he'd been voted into this year's Pro Bowl, Andrew struggled to find the words.
"Just kind of awe-struck," he said. "It's hard to describe. It was just amazing. From a recognition
standpoint, just to know that there are people watching and taking note of what specialists are doing, especially long snappers, it was really amazing."
Andrew was grateful to connect on another level with other specialists around the league during Pro Bowl festivities. He was joined on Team NFC by Seahawks kicker Jason Myers and Commanders punter Tress Way. The AFC specialists were Titans long snapper Morgan Cox, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker and Cole.
View behind-the-scene photos of Vikings LS Andrew DePaola during the 2023 Pro Bowl games in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Andrew and Cole overlapped with the Raiders in 2019, during which Andrew was sidelined by injury. He's met and interacted with the others over this career, as they've crossed paths on opposing teams.
He and Cox wrapped college in the same year and are the same age, but Andrew has looked up to him for years.
"I regard Morgan as the best snapper. I've watched a lot of his film – especially when I was younger, trying to get into the league. I just tried to emulate a lot of things he did," Andrew said. "Another thing for me, personally, just being elected to a Pro Bowl with him was really, really cool.
"To be able to hang out with them and get to know them a little bit more on a personal level during the week was another really special thing," he added. "To see those guys without the jersey on, without the helmet on, and in more of a relaxed setting."
That informal piece – the atmosphere that allows players to recharge from the grind of the season and simply BE – truly is the biggest draw of the Pro Bowl, for players and fans alike.
He enjoyed the chance Friday to meet 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds representing St. Paul and the Vikings at a flag football tournament in Henderson, Nevada.
The experience brought him back to his own childhood, Andrew noted, though he didn't fall in love with football until high school.
"I was a huge baseball fan, though," he reminisced. "If I was playing Little League baseball growing up or what have you, and a big leaguer came to one of my games or one of my tournaments or something like that, what kind of affect would that have on me?
"I was that kid who looked up to these athletes and emulated them and wanted to be them one day," he continued. "So I always try to be the person that I wanted to look up to as a kid."
He happily signed autographs all week, from headbands and jerseys at the youth tournament to footballs attached to makeshift ropes and lowered down from the stands on Sunday.
"I thought that was creative," Andrew laughed. "I definitely signed some of those."
Though he didn't play in Sunday's trio of 7-on-7 flag football games, Andrew appreciated a new perspective from the sideline and the opportunity to simply enjoy as an observer.
"It was really loose. I think the guys were really having a good time. They were kind of able to let their personalities come out a little bit," he said. "The NFL wanted us to post on social media during the game, they wanted us to be really interactive with the fans, so that was really neat – just being on the sidelines for an 'NFL game' and being able to share stuff on social media, walk over to the fans and talk with them, sign some autographs.
"I thought it was great," Andrew added. "I really enjoyed it, and I thought the format was a big hit for a lot of people."
Not everything was entirely smooth sailing. Is it ever?
But Andrew embraced the silly moments – and the awkward ones – as part of the overall experience.
Take, for instance, the simple task of using a rideshare service back to Las Vegas from the youth games.
After spending time at the park on a beautiful, breezy, blue-skies day, DePaola took a headcount – himself and four members of Vikings Entertainment Network – and ordered a minivan.
As the group, including this Vikings writer, approached the van, the driver made a request of Andrew:
"Can y'all please take your shoes off?"
Sensing the need for an explanation, the driver offered, "Well, I just vacuumed. I need you all to take your shoes off before getting in."
It's one of those situations where you wondering, in hindsight, why you didn't instead request another vehicle. But instead, all five individuals slipped out of their shoes and uncomfortably into the van.
"That was just one of the wildest things I think I've ever really been a part of," Andrew laughed when asked about it during an interview. "I mean, I think you have a business where you pick people up in your car, and then you ask people to take off articles of clothing so your car doesn't get dirty? It just doesn't really make any sense.
"Initially when it happened, no one really knew what was going on or what to say. But then as we got in the car and thought about it more, we were like, 'No, this IS strange. This is weird," he continued. "We need to talk about this, but we can't really talk about it, so let's just text."
A silent string of texts were exchanged among various groups, including one Amy (very confused back at the hotel) was a part of, while riders attempted to stifle any snickers.
"As the drive went on, my feet started sweating more, and I was like, 'Gosh, this is so bad for everybody in this car. This guy doesn't even know what he did,' " Andrew quipped.
It all seemed silly until the driver seemingly went the wrong direction, away from the hotel, at a main intersection.
"When he made that left … Instead of going right and going to the hotel, he makes a left to make a left to make a right to make a left to make a right," Andrew said. "I'm like, 'We're dead.' I started, you know, fight-or-flight kicked in and I was like, 'I've gotta protect everyone in this car.' "
In addition to the Dodge Caravan debacle, DePaola had run into another hairy situation when visiting a "gifting suite" set up for Pro Bowlers at a local Top Golf location.
Andrew brought Amy, her cousin, his brother Nick and Nick's girlfriend to the event featuring various high-end sponsors and their products – which players were in exchange for promotion and social media posts.
"I went in, and there's a person you're assigned to, and they have this big bag, and you get products just thrown in, and you take a picture with the product for the company. So I'm kind of feeling, 'Wow, this is really cool. I'm big-time. I've made it,' " Andrew said. "I go into this gifting suite, and the first product that gets handed to me is a product for, like, hair gel."
(Note: Google Image search photo of Andrew without a hat.)
In response to my laughter, Andrew acknowledges the amusement of the situation.
"Right? That was everyone's reaction," he said. "And it was just kind of like God smacking me back down to reality being like, 'Check yourself, bro.' I had a hat on, so I don't really know if the lady knows I was bald, but she's like, 'Hey, this is a great product; we love it. Do you mind just standing here and taking a picture?'
"I turn around to take the picture, knowing that everybody I'm with is going to just be dying laughing," Andrew continued, "and I turn around and it's just exactly what I had pictured in my head, I'm like, 'Yeah.' I'm just standing there holding a tub of hair stuff. And I'm like, 'OK, thank you.' She goes, 'Oh, you're gonna love it,' and I go, 'I bet I am.' "
The best yet
Andrew's first career Pro Bowl featured five whirlwind days of gaffes, laughs, competition, connection and creating lifelong memories.
It provided a fun ending to the 2022 Vikings season that Amy and Andrew agree has been their best yet.
"It just felt like a dream, honestly, because everything – from Andrew's Pro Bowl to First-Team All-Pro, to just making so many new friends," Amy said. "We had so many cool experiences, like going to Buffalo. … I wasn't planning on going to any away games this year, and I ended up going to three. It was just really fun.
"The organization is amazing," she added. "They always have events for the families, so we had a lot of fun at those. The kids' events, the holiday party, the wives' luncheon … it's just been a really, really fun season."
Andrew admitted when the Vikings changed leadership and hired Kevin O'Connell as the team's 10th head coach last year, he wasn't sure what might be in store for him.
"A new head coach, a new general manager, a new special teams coach, I just kind of – in case there were any question marks about me as a player, I wanted to put those to rest for those guys," Andrew said. "I always kind of wanted to be a person coaches could look at and be like, 'OK, we don't have to worry about him, we don't have to worry about that position. Let's move on to another area that we need to keep our eyes on.'
"To kind of be able to do that for these guys and maybe alleviate some worries or some headaches for this newer staff, it just meant a ton for me. And then for them to put their trust in me to be the guy at the beginning of the season, I just wanted to prove them right, essentially," he continued. "And getting to know the guys on the team a little bit more, you know, this being the third season I was on the Vikings, you develop relationships with guys and get to know them on a little more personal level as time goes on. … You make some lasting friendships in this league, and I definitely did that this year with a number of guys on the team."
As most in the NFL world know, anything can happen from season to season.
Andrew is slated to become a free agent in March, and it remains to be seen whether he'll remain in Minnesota.
But the DePaolas are taking each day in stride. Because above all, they're thankful.
That doesn't mean it's time to look back yet, though. There will be time for reflection and nostalgia down the road.
"I'm just more focused on what I have to do next and what is going on today," Andrew said. "I think that story and that reflection will be something I can do once football's over with. I don't want to be caught looking back and then miss going on in the present.
"So I just try to be in the moment as much as possible, and I'm so grateful just to be able to play this sport and play this game – and not only to play it but to play it for an organization like the Vikings," he continued. "I just want to enjoy every minute that I can, and that's just kind of my outlook and philosophy on life, really."