Dalvin Cook made his father a promise before he passed away.
He was telling me, 'If you get the chance to put [No. 4] back on, put it back on.' And the first chance I got, I did that," Cook said of his dad James, who died in December 2020. "It was just important for me to keep my word and to live that on."
The first time Cook saw his game-day jersey since opting to switch from 33 to 4, his smile said it all.
"This here's my baby," said Cook, patting the freshly pressed jersey in his lap.
A crisp, white number 4 is embroidered onto Vikings purple beneath the COOK nameplate.
Some may question, why make the change? Cook has made his mark on the Vikings organization since being drafted in 2017, and 33 jerseys quickly became a staple around the Twin Cities.
But for Cook, returning to 4 feels like finally being comfortable in his skin.
It's part of his identity.
View photos of Vikings RB Dalvin Cook showcasing his gameday jersey as No. 4.
Cook still remembers the first time he watched his older brother, Deandre Burnett, playing football at a park near their Miami home. Even at a young age, Cook recognized the way Burnett lit up while on the field.
"I saw how much he passion he played with. How much he loved the game," Cook said. "If football can bring that much to your life, if it brings that much excitement to you on a daily basis – you're waking up and feel like you've got an opportunity to go accomplish something as a group … Once I saw my brother out there playing football, it was a no-brainer that I wanted to go out there and do the same thing he was – make some plays, have the crowd screaming for me, win games."
Cook wanted to follow in his brother's footsteps, and that meant wearing the same jersey number he did. And so as soon as he started playing himself, Cook chose 4.
He wore it all throughout his childhood years, in high school at Miami Central and then as a star at Florida State University.
But until recently, the NFL held strict guidelines about which numbers each position group could choose to wear. Cook couldn't sport the number he'd always had upon being drafted, so he went with 33 instead.
It just never felt right, though. Even wearing the new number, Cook's friends, family and teammates called him "Four."
"When I got here, [former running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu] just started calling me 'Four,' and everybody's looking around like, 'Why is he calling him that?' " Cook laughed. "But it carried on to everyone else around the building, and everybody knew this was my number.
"My mom calls me 'Four' sometimes. My family calls me that," he added. "It's just a part of me and a part of my culture."
Back home in Miami, Cook and the No. 4 are one and the same.
"It's like a standard now, for where I'm from, for the youth where I'm from," Cook said. "Just carrying on that legacy of No. 4 is important to me because you only do things once in life, and giving an opportunity for another kid to say, 'I put on a number because Dalvin did it' or 'I put on the number because my big brother did it,' I wake up proud of that every day.
"I look up to [Deandre]. That's my hero," Cook said. "I know a lot of kids and a lot of people look up to me … but passing that number down to my little brother, to my little cousin and to everybody that comes through my high school – if you put on No. 4, it's just a standard that doesn't even have to be talked about. You just know."
The number has become a family tradition, as Cook's younger brother (also named James) will wear No. 4 as a rookie with the Bills in 2022.
When Cook had the opportunity to change numbers, he made sure to let Burnett know early on.
"I told him I have my number back, and he was happy. Seeing that joy right there on my family's faces, on the [faces that are] most important to me – seeing them happy, knowing that I'm happy, it was overwhelming just to have that moment," Cook said. "I know he's going to be proud for what I'm going to do in the upcoming year."
Cook knows his dad is proud of him, too.
When he runs out of the tunnel of U.S. Bank Stadium for the Vikings season opener against the Packers, Cook will be thinking about fulfilling a promise to his father.
"It's very meaningful because I know he's going to be there in spirit," Cook said. "Just carrying my number, carrying that name on my back, it's all I want. I wake up every day happy, wake up every day with a smile. I enjoy it.
"Come game day, I know he's going to be there with me," Cook added. "That's going to be important for me, just to go out there and ball out – and do what I did when he was here."
Though he's spent so much of his life wearing the number, Cook said it felt "surreal" – in the best way – to swap his Vikings 33 for 4.
"Back home, this number is like gold," he said. "You put it on, you just know the standard of how you're supposed to play. Enjoy football, enjoy life and just show up ready to work.
"It was that kind of moment, like, 'I'm back in my number.' It didn't feel real," Cook added. "This number brings me joy. It brings me happiness. I feel light. I just feel like me. It feels perfect all around."