ORLANDO, Fla. – The Vikings have all three phases – offense, defense and special teams – represented at the 2024 NFL Pro Bowl Games.
Fullback C.J. Ham, outside linebacker Danielle Hunter and long snapper Andrew DePaola have spent the week bonding over the experience, reconnecting with other peers from around the league and spending quality time with their families in the Florida sunshine.
"To have that representation from all three units says a lot," said Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels, who also made the trip to Orlando. "Those three guys are well-connected, and that's what we preach – that's what we're all about. Building a well-connected, good-chemistry group. So to have all three of those guys there is just a huge credit to how we build out the roster … and how well they perform."
Hunter, who brought his parents and siblings along to his fourth career Pro Bowl, took his family to Disney's Hollywood Studios Friday afternoon and has appreciated the opportunity to connect with his NFC teammates during practices, meetings and Thursday night's Skills Challenge.
"We're having fun out there, I think that's the most important part," Hunter said. "And we're always competing. You can tell all the players are having fun, but they're also [competitive]."
DePaola also brought a large group, which included his wife Amy and their three young children, both sets of parents, siblings and a lifelong friend and his family. In addition, the DePaolas happily and graciously treated Daniels and his family to the long snapper's second career Pro Bowl trip.
The generous gesture is not lost on Daniels, who has coached DePaola in Minnesota the past two seasons that have resulted in consecutive Pro Bowl trips, as well as selections to the All-Pro First Team (2022) and Second Team (2023).
"Coaches spend a lot of time away from their family because they're pouring so much into the players, so now my family kind of reaps the benefits of time spent away from them," Daniels said. "For Andrew to do that for us says a lot about who he is as an individual … and it's been so awesome to be able to be down here and support him through all of this."
Daniels praised DePaola's performance in the “Snap Shots” challenge Thursday. The coordinator said he, DePaola, Ryan Wright, Greg Joseph and NaJee Thompson have an ongoing text thread, and the group encouraged DePaola just beforehand.
"I said, 'I know you're gonna make us all proud,' " Daniels recounted. "That's kind of what the standard is in our room, and he showed up in the bright lights and brought it all home for the home team. We were all geeked up about it. … We were all pumped for him. What do you expect, though? Of course he comes through in the clutch.
"You only get so many of these opportunities for these types of premium accolades across the NFL. To be one of two [long snappers], really, one of one from an NFC standpoint, is incredible," Daniels added.
For DePaola, the experience really is about creating memories and showing gratitude to everyone who's helped him reach this point of his NFL career.
"[Especially my wife and kids], being able to share as much of this experience with them as I can is so important. It's not just for me, it's for them, too," he said. "They support me all season … and I want to give back to them as much as I can. It's honestly what I enjoy the most about this.
"Anytime you can come back [to the Pro Bowl], be selected as one of the best, it's always amazing. Being here in Orlando has been really cool – and a little different than Vegas last year," laughed DePaola, who attended his first career Pro Bowl last February. "[The NFL does] such a great job with events and having stuff for us to do, making it special. This is really cool."
Ham also is participating in his second Pro Bowl, after he previously was named to the all-star game following the 2019 season. He and his wife Steph have enjoyed watching their three children take in the full experience.
"It's been great, being able to come back out here," he said.
Ham grew a bit emotional noting his mother, Tina, had proudly attended the 2020 Pro Bowl festivities in support of her son. That experience will forever be special to Ham, as Tina passed away a year-and-a-half later following a hard-fought battle with pancreatic cancer.
"My mom isn't here this year, but my son is here," Ham said of Trip, who was born in February 2021. "It's just such a blessing to make these memories and to have this honor.
"It's incredibly special," he added.
View photos of Vikings OLB Danielle Hunter, FB C.J. Ham, and LS Andrew DePaola at Day 2 of 2024 Pro Bowl practice in Orlando, Florida
As Ham, DePaola and Hunter look ahead to Sunday when the Pro Bowl Games will culminate in a flag football game, they have confidence in their group under the guidance of NFL Legend Eli Manning.
"Eli's great. He's super funny. And then you've got Keenan [McCardell as offensive coordinator] – obviously I know him very well, and he's excited and is so awesome for our group," Ham said. "Team NFC. That's all I've got."
"I think we've got some forces out there at the receiver spot who can get the job done, and our QBs can sling it, so I think we're gonna have another NFC coming out on top," he said.
Added Hunter: "The NFC's gonna win. It's gonna be tough, but I think we're gonna come out on top."