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J.J. McCarthy Receives Call from Wayne Gretzky During 1st Media Session as Vikings QB

EAGAN, Minn. – Wayne Gretzky probably doesn't get his calls ignored very often.

But that's what happened Thursday night when the hockey Hall of Famer dialed J.J. McCarthy during his virtual press conference with Twin Cities media members.

"Oh wow, Wayne Gretzky is calling me," McCarthy noted almost nonchalantly, reaching forward to decline (momentarily) the incoming call and continue using his phone for the video conference. "Sorry about that."

He added with a laugh: "Hockey guy, and I'm going to the State of Hockey."

Wait … what?

Yeah, there was a follow-up question after that one.

How does the Vikings new quarterback, drafted 10th overall out of Michigan, know the best to ever lace up a pair of skates?

McCarthy explained Gretzky is "really good friends" with the young QB's off-field marketing agent and added "the hockey connection is always there" for McCarthy, whose mother first put him in skates as a toddler.

"He actually hit me up on FaceTime right after the National Championship in January," McCarthy said. "Just being able to sit there and be a witness to the greatness … spreading his appreciation to what I was able to do and what I was able to represent.

"It meant so much, because growing up, he was one of my G.O.A.T.s and on my 'Mount Rushmore,' " McCarthy added. "I give so much credit to him because he inspired me so much."

Though it was a tough decision in early high school to pivot from his "first love" to focus solely on football, looking at how everything has now played out – it seemingly was a smart choice by McCarthy.

The former Wolverines standout, who went 27-1 during his collegiate career, told reporters he's thrilled to be coming to Minnesota.

"Being able to stay in the Midwest, you know, I'm a Midwest guy [that] lives, breathes and eats hockey and football," McCarthy said with a smile. "Just a perfect fit, and I can't wait to be a part of it."

The feeling is mutual for the Vikings.

"He was somebody whose skill set we were really excited about, we know we can build around and win with," General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said Thursday night at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Canter. "And he's just scratching [the surface]."

Adofo-Mensah traded up from No. 11 to 10 to ensure McCarthy would be a Viking.

McCarthy's sample size (713 collegiate passes attempted) is smaller than the other five quarterbacks who flew off the board in the first 12 picks (952 attempts were the next fewest). But the 21-year-old impressed Minnesota personnel and coaching staff from early on.

"Learning an offense is not going to be a problem to him, that's for sure. Really just getting the reps under your belt," Adofo-Mensah said. "I think we have the environment to foster him. You know, [quarterbacks coach] Josh McCown, K.O. (Head Coach Kevin O'Connell), they've got [Offensive Coordinator] Wes [Phillips]. All these guys, they've got a plan for him, down to the day, when he's gonna be working on specific things.

"We're not going to rush his development. We're just gonna do what's best for the Vikings in the short and long term, and we're excited to have him," Adofo-Mensah added.

McCarthy, wearing a vintage Vikings crewneck and with a 2024 Vikings draft hat fitted atop the salad, noted that Minnesota had been a coveted destination among QB prospects in this year's class.

When asked the reason, he pointed to "everything Coach O'Connell is building" entering his third season at the helm.

"The culture, just the man he is and everything that he wants in a football team – people want to be a part of that," McCarthy said. "People want to be surrounded by the great talent that's obviously [on] the offense and the great offensive mind that Coach O'Connell is. It's a perfect destination for a quarterback that's up-and-coming in this league, and I'm just extremely blessed to be a part of it."

View photos of Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy who was selected No. 10 overall in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

McCarthy may not have been too fazed by Gretzky lighting up his phone, but soaking in his first night as an NFL quarterback still felt a bit surreal.

"A once-in-a-lifetime moment, for sure," he said.

And as he prepares to meet other elite-level athletes, including wide receiver Justin Jefferson, McCarthy simply can't envision a better start to his own pro journey.

"To be a part of this system? I couldn't ask for anything more," he said. "I'm just extremely grateful to go through this process and meet so many great coaches, but to be honest, Coach O'Connell was the one who stuck out – and to be able to play for him for however many years to come, it's an ultimate blessing, and I can't wait to see where it goes."