It didn't take long for 9-year-old Charlie Huizinga and his head full of curly, golden locks to win over the hearts of strangers across Minnesota and beyond.
Vikings fans first were "introduced" to Charlie in October, when a video of his Make-A-Wish moment – fully suited up and playing catch with Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson – and learning he'd sound the Gjallarhorn went viral on social media.
So when Charlie received the surprise of a lifetime during the Vikings Wild Card game last month at U.S. Bank Stadium, he had an entire fan base behind him.
Charlie and his parents, Chris and Beth, along with his older brother Sean, were invited onto the field and shown on the videoboard with Vikings Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf. The young Vikings fan believed the purpose of the spotlight was to provide an update on his battle with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia … but it was so much more than that.
As Charlie was being recognized, he turned around to see NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who presented him with a pair of oversized replica tickets.
"You're going to the Super Bowl!" Goodell told him.
Charlie's reaction was priceless. Mouth open in disbelief, then bounces of excitement as realization hit him, and then he took the tickets from Goodell, held them up to the crowd and celebrated like a championship boxer.
Goodell spoke with Vikings Entertainment Network's Tatum Everett shortly after the surprise.
"Charlie is passionate about football. He and his family have been through a lot, and it's a chance for us to share the game with people, our fans, that mean so much to us," Goodell said. "Seeing what they've been through, and now he has something to look forward to, it was a great moment for us. His face was as good as it gets. That makes it all worth it."
Three weeks later, Charlie's excitement hasn't faded.
"I thought we were going to go on the field, like maybe I was going to say a couple things, and then I was gonna be off," he recounted. "And when I saw them and I felt my face turning red, and I was getting hot, and I felt like I was gonna faint.
"I actually did feel like I was going to faint," he added, laughing.
A trip to Phoenix this weekend to attend Super Bowl LVII will provide forever memories for Charlie, who also has another date circled on his calendar: Aug. 2.
That Wednesday will mark Charlie's final day of chemotherapy treatment.
Chris said the family will likely have "a massive party" to celebrate the momentous occasion.
Charlie first was diagnosed on May 21, 2021, and immediately began a two-and-a-half-year process that includes an especially intensive first nine months.
"We were in and out of the hospital, and it was really, really hard," Chris said. "The first nine months, once you're past that portion, you've gotten through that period of intensity, then you reach what's called 'maintenance.' "
Beth explained that Charlie takes chemo pills nightly at home, and he has an additional chemo pill once a week. He undergoes bloodwork at the clinic once a month, and every three months he returns to the clinic for a spinal tap and chemo treatments.
Thus far, Charlie has undergone 22 spinal taps; he has two remaining.
"When those first visits start, you live day by day," Chris said. "And then you're able to get week by week. And now we're kind of living month to month."
Throughout Charlie's cancer journey, football has been a source of distraction and fun.
Beth noted that he was able to attend the first three weeks of the 2021 school year before reaching a point in the treatment process where chemo had essentially eliminated Charlie's immune system, and he was forced to remain home.
"That was during football season, so there was a LOT of football watching, and it kept his spirits up," Beth said. "He didn't go to school from mid-October until mid-March. He would go in once a week before school started, and he did school online, and his teacher would FaceTime with him so he could see his classmates like twice a day, every day.
"It was amazing. He got to know his classmates in those first three weeks, and they were his biggest champions," she added. "His biggest supporters."
Photos of Charlie over the past two years show his Vikings fandom growing deeper and deeper.
"One of our neighbors who is a good friend of our boys, his godfather is Carl Eller … so that's really rubbed off on them, as well," Chris said. "There are numerous photos of Charlie in various stages of his treatment with Vikings blankets, Vikings T-shirts, Vikings whatever. They've always been present."
The Vikings season-ending loss to the Giants certainly stung, but Charlie's journey has helped keep things in perspective for his family, friends and even fans who have been following his progress.
As the Huizinga family left U.S. Bank Stadium that day, Charlie was stopped a handful of times by fans who requested to take a photo with the young cancer warrior. After all, it's hard to miss those curls.
"He's always had thick, sort of wavy hair, but it was nothing like this until after he lost his hair during treatments," Chris explained. "They call it 'chemo curls.'
"After losing his hair, that's one of the reasons it's as crazy as it is now, because he won't cut it. It's his thing. He wants to keep it," Chris added. "He's proud of it."
Charlie is equally proud of his Vikings, whether they're in the big game or not.
So if you're watching the Super Bowl this weekend, keep an eye out for him – he'll be the one in all purple.
"We have all our Vikings gear ready to go. That's what we'll be wearing," Beth said. "My brother offered us a Patrick Mahomes jersey, and I said, 'No thanks. We're good.' "