EAGAN, Minn. – It's always been Chris Reed's dream to play for the Vikings.
Same for his family. So when Reed signed with Minnesota this spring, his parents moved from Omaha, Nebraska, to St. Paul.
Chris and his wife Anna – who as a 9-year-old took play-by-play notes of Vikings games her dad missed – relocated from their Florida home and lived with his parents for three weeks while their Twin Cities home was finalized.
Not everyone would be thrilled by the idea of living with their parents again as an adult. But Chris and Anna were grateful for a temporary living situation that provided extra opportunity to bond with Chuck and Anne, and for their 1-and-a-half-year-old daughter Brynnley to spend time with her grandparents.
Chuck was made to be a grandfather. Or "Popi," as Brynnley affectionately called him.
He often took Brynnley on walks along trails near their home or snapped goofy selfies with her and proudly posted the photos to Facebook.
"… The gene pool is strong with this one…," one caption read beneath a photo of Chuck mimicking Brynnley's stuck-out tongue.
"I hadn't spent that amount of time with my parents since senior year of high school," Chris said. "Even if we didn't do anything all day, it was really special to just walk out of the bedroom in the morning and see Dad sitting at his laptop, working."
Even when Chris, Anna and Brynnley moved into their own home, they regularly visited Chuck and Anne.
Chris appreciated the opportunity to have consistent chats with his dad, especially when an injury hit ahead of his eighth NFL season.
After two weeks of Vikings training camp, Chris had to undergo a scope procedure on his elbow that sidelined him for the next two weeks.
"I was frustrated during that time because I wanted to be on the field and out there playing with my teammates," Chris said. "I would vent to my dad about it.
"He was always a good listener; you could use him as a sounding board. He'd give advice but not [try to fix it]," Chris later added. "He was always very good at that."
On Monday, Aug. 22, Chris received the go-ahead for full practice participation. He was on Cloud 9 all day, finally back doing what he loved. He couldn't wait to talk to Chuck the following day and fill him in.
But Chris' good day shattered around 10:30 p.m. that night. He'd just returned home from the Vikings team facility when he received a call from his mom, who was frantic. Chuck had collapsed at home.
"EMTs were there, firetrucks were there. I rushed over to the house and picked her up. I've never seen her like that," Chris recalled. "We rushed to the hospital, and they basically tried to establish a regular rhythm, and they just couldn't.
"It was out of the blue. There was nothing that could have predicted this happening," Chris continued. "My dad was super active. He swam every day; he biked every day; he walked the dogs every day. He was a very active person. Even someone as active as him … he had plaque buildup that we didn't know about, and one of them ruptured, and that's what ultimately led to his heart attack and sudden death."
Chris worked to contact his brother and sister, who lived out of state, and share the heartbreaking news that they'd lost their dad.
They miss him every day.
Chris regularly shuffles through photos of his phone, thankful for the memories captured of Brynnley and her grandpa. He's taken screenshots of Chuck's Facebook posts that he finds especially funny – that encapsulate his dad's wit and charm.
Peas. Pod. Popi and B, reads another caption accompanying Chuck and Brynnley lying on their backs on a quilt.
"My dad was a lot of things. First and foremost, he was a good person. He was a good dad, a good husband, a good grandpa," Chris said. "One of the best things he was good at was connecting with people. He worked in higher education marketing and research for 30-plus years, and he'd recently gone on his own venture with another one of his colleagues, and they started their own company doing higher-education marketing and research for different colleges and universities all over the U.S.
"One of the things I didn't know about my dad until after he passed, which I'm kind of sad about, is how much he loved his work because he got to talk to people and do the things he loved to do," Chris continued. "His partner sent us an hour-long symposium that my dad had done over Zoom on how brand drives enrollment, and I watched a good amount of it. I'd never seen my dad work before. So seeing him and how much he loved it – I mean, his presentation was supposedly one of the best that anyone's ever heard. So I was very proud of him in that moment."
Chris laughs when talking about his dad's habit of making conversation with anybody. At the grocery store, the gas station, out on a walking trail.
"Sometimes you'd be there for a little bit longer just because he's talking to somebody," he said. "But he always listened, too."
This weekend for the Vikings My Cause My Cleats game, Chris will don kicks that are custom-painted to honor his dad and represent the American Heart Association, the largest and longest-standing organization combatting stroke and heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.
Depicted on the right cleat is a silhouette of Chuck riding his bike along a forested trail. On the left, the nonprofit's name is printed in a pattern in purple. Both cleats are primarily periwinkle, Chuck's favorite color.
Chris' goal is to raise as much awareness as he can for heart disease and encourage people to get checked out. It's important to realize, Chris noted, that anyone – no matter how active or healthy – can be affected.
Because Chuck lived a healthy lifestyle – watching his diet, keeping incredibly active and taking medication to control his blood pressure – he didn't present with the typical risk factors or experience the typical signs of heart disease in males. While he did develop some minor back pain, nothing pointed to the root problem at hand, which was undiagnosed atherosclerosis.
"One of the things I want to do is just bring attention to getting checked. I've already gone in, my brother has gone in, my sister's going in to check and make sure things aren't hereditary or something like that, because it's a huge scare. If it happened to him, it could happen to anybody," Chris said. "There's relatively simple, quick tests they can do to see if you have any blockages that are forming, because it calcifies and you can see that on a CT scan. They can tell if you have plaque buildup in your arteries.
"That's something my dad never got the opportunity to do, even though he'd been seeing a cardiologist for an arrythmia, something that a lot of people have that can be caused by a multitude of things," Chris continued. "So it's just a simple test getting checked out, getting preventative care with either your general doctor or your cardiologist. That's my focal point for My Cause My Cleats this year."
Chris continues to mourn the loss of his dad; it's likely that sting will never entirely go away. But he's also thankful for cherished memories, for those three weeks of living in the same house again and connecting during what he'd come to realize was limited time.
Chris is committed to honoring his dad's legacy in the best way possible – by helping others.
"My Cause My Cleats is a great platform that people can [utilize] to represent and bring attention to something," he said. "I think that's a big deal, especially because the NFL is so passionate about it and allows it to be on the field and for players to show that off. I think that raises a good amount of awareness.
"Awareness is one of the biggest things. More than the money, it's bringing attention to issues that maybe people don't think about. Or are thought about but not emphasized in people's lives," Chris added. "It's just a really good platform, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to do it."