EAGAN, Minn. – Brian O'Neill is better at playing right tackle than he is at TikTok dances.
To be fair, it was the 6-foot-6 lineman's first attempt at making such a video. He'd successfully avoided joining the TikTok craze, but at a holiday event with young people from The Link, O'Neill felt the timing was right.
"Viktor the Viking asked me to do a TikTok a few months ago, but the kids here – I wanted that to be my first one, for sure," O'Neill laughed. "That's the main goal for us – to bring joy to people today."
He and the rest of the Vikings offensive line – from starters to practice squad members – teamed up with SCHEELS to host a "Winter Wonderland" event at the Viking Lakes Omni Hotel. Fifty youth from The Link, a North Minneapolis nonprofit established in 1991 by Vikings Legends Jim Marshall and Oscar Reed, were invited to a special afternoon that included face painting, horse-drawn carriage rides, a Build-a-Bear station, food and dessert buffets, Santa Claus and more. Each attendee also received a brand-new winter coat donated by SCHEELS.
"We love working with them. They're so down-to-earth, just really genuine guys," said Austin Link, SCHEELS Marketing and Events lead. "So being able to partner with the Vikings, obviously we get to work with them all year, but when it's this time of year and being able to take that relationship even further, it's just so fun to be a part of."
In addition to making a TikTok with a young woman and fellow tackle Blake Brandel, O'Neill joined Garrett Bradbury in playing air hockey with a few young people.
"I got to play with Jackson and Malik. They both beat me, but it's OK – we'll come back strong," Bradbury quipped.
"Obviously being able to provide things like coats is huge, but I think the more fun part of this for us is getting to spend time with them," Bradbury added. "Hanging out, playing some air hockey and foosball and stuff like that, just getting to meet these kids that are in the Twin Cities with us is awesome."
The Link CEO Beth Holger grew emotional as she looked across the room of Vikings players and families laughing and smiling together.
"The Vikings relationship is extremely special for us," Holger said. "I know [Marshall and Reed] were incredible Legends and talent on the field, but what they did for the community and founding The Link is just outstanding. To have a relationship with the Vikings currently is just so amazing, and to have current players stepping up and helping the youth, and all the Vikings Foundation does for us, it's just so incredible."
Holger emphasized the importance of acknowledging daily needs, such as winter outerwear, but also providing youth a safe space to simply be kids.
"The thing that's tough is when you're young – when you're 10, 11, 12 and you're experiencing homelessness – yes, you absolutely do need a safe place to sleep. You need food. You need gloves. You need things like winter gear and coats, absolutely. But they also need fun," Holger said. "They're young, they're growing up, they haven't necessarily had the chance to go to holiday parties or get gifts, so it's just incredible to combine [these aspects]."
Later that evening, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins joined SCHEELS in hosting 160 individuals from People Serving People, a Minneapolis shelter serving families experiencing homelessness.
View photos of QB Kirk Cousins as he hosts a surprise Holiday party for more than 100 individuals from People Serving People at Omni Viking Lakes Hotel.
"The main thing is being able to give back to the community, and especially those with extra needs," Link said. "With how windy it can get, how cold it can get in Minnesota, I just can't imagine not having a winter coat. So being able to give back and see a smile on a kid's face is incredible.
"And that's what it's all about. Being able to make a difference and make an impact," he added. "That's why we do what we get to do every day."
Kendricks provides tires, shoes & holiday gifts | By Sam Thiel
Eric Kendricks is, in his words, "a big car guy."
As a self-described motor vehicle enthusiast, the Vikings linebacker also knows the importance of staying safe on the roads, especially during the winter in Minnesota.
Last week, Kendricks partnered with Firestone Complete Auto Care to provide eight local families with a new set of tires and opportunities for other car services.
"I know how important tires are in the winter, especially here in Minnesota when it gets slick," Kendricks said. "And it's the holiday season so it's all about giving back. I love cars and I know that [this is] just something that I wanted to do. I've kind of been thinking about it for the past couple of years, and I'm excited to get it done now."
Firestone Complete Auto Care and Tires Plus are two service centers owned by Bridgestone.
Bridgestone Minneapolis Region Manager Suzanne Coppola added she's grateful for the chance to team up with Kendricks and the Vikings in giving back to the community.
"It's exciting. The Vikings are the hometown team and then in addition, Bridgestone does a lot to give back to the communities," Coppola said. "We in Minnesota are especially proud because we've got the Tires Plus brand — which originated in Minnesota — and then we've got our Firestone brand. Giving back to the communities knowing that we've got a hometown player that is as passionate about giving back as we are is just really cool."
Kendricks also teamed up with Tradehome Shoes to provide the families with shoes and socks. Kendricks had an extra surprise in the trunk of his car, as he gifted the families some holiday presents.
As for advice for those driving in the winter in Minnesota, Kendricks noted to slow down in slick conditions and look at the tread on tires.
"When I first came here I remember I was crossing a bridge and there was a huge accident. Obviously you want to try to avoid accidents, but slow down on the bridges. I know it gets really slick and slippery, especially early in the morning or [when it's] cold out at night," Kendricks said. "Also, make sure you check your tread on your tires. They're very important; it's an underrated safety feature on the car, but it's really the only safety feature that touches the road. I think they're often overlooked."