EAGAN, Minn. — The LSU connections will be aplenty Sunday in Cincinnati, as both the Vikings and Bengals have three players apiece who played for the college football powerhouse.
Minnesota has Justin Jefferson, Patrick Peterson and Danielle Hunter, while Cincinnati will counter with Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and Tyler Shelvin.
Jefferson, Burrow, Chase and Shelvin helped the Tigers win a national title in 2019, with those first three players eventually becoming first-round picks. Peterson himself was a first-rounder back in 2011.
Yet as Week 1 kicks off, those with Louisiana ties have stepped up behind the scenes to help the area that has been affected and damaged by Hurricane Ida.
With Jefferson and Peterson spearheading the endeavor among Vikings players, and including a contribution from the Wilf family, a $100,000 donation was recently made to the American Red Cross to help with relief efforts.
"I definitely wanted to get involved with that with it being my hometown," said Jefferson, who hails from St. Rose, which is included in the New Orleans metro. "The community and everything is pretty bad right now, so I definitely wanted to give back and help in any way.
"They shaped me a lot, just the community supporting me so much throughout my whole way," Jefferson continued. "I definitely wanted to share their love they gave to me back to them. They have been there for me, and I want to be there for them.
"Whenever I go back home, I visit my friends and family members across Louisiana," Jefferson added. "It's just been great with all the love they have given me."
Peterson, who is originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, joined Jefferson in helping organize the donation so that it could make an immediate impact.
"I call Louisiana my second home, and it's tragic to see what that city and the state is going through," Peterson said. "I called it my second home and I wanted to treat it like that.
"It was just a gesture to show them that there are people out there that are willing to help and give them a helping hand," Peterson added. "I always talk about Louisiana having that Southern hospitality. Everyone wants to find a way to help the person next to me, and that rubbed off on me."
As far as the game goes, Sunday is a big one for those with LSU ties.
Jefferson is looking to kickstart his sophomore season after a historic rookie campaign that included a Super Bowl-era record 1,400 receiving yards.
He missed almost two weeks of training camp with a shoulder injury and was held out of the preseason. But the 22-year-old declared himself good to go for the season opener.
"I feel good," Jefferson said. "I feel back to normal, so I'm ready this week."
Defensively, Hunter is making his return to the field after missing the entire 2020 season with a neck injury. And Peterson will make his Vikings debut after spending the previous 10 seasons in Arizona.
"We are all intrigued to see how the season is going to unfold, especially not having any real game time during the preseason," Peterson said. "But [Head Coach Mike Zimmer] put the ownership on us to take care of our bodies. Now it's on us to take care of our responsibilities on the field.
"The game plan is going to be, I won't necessarily say simple, but it's going to allow us to line up and play fast, not doing too much thinking. That's a plus," Peterson added. "I'm excited to get out there for the first time in a Vikings uniform in a meaningful game. I'm really intrigued to see how it's going to unfold."
Burrow, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick, will be back in action after tearing his ACL in the 10th game of the season. Chase will be making his NFL debut after being the fifth overall pick in the 2021 draft.
"He's a very smart player, and he can throw the rock," Jefferson said of Burrow, who threw him 18 touchdowns at LSU in 2019. "He can throw it exactly where you want it, and he can also scramble. So he's a tough football player, and he plays with confidence and swag, so that's definitely tough about him."
As for Chase, Jefferson said the two have stayed close over the past year and he's excited to see his good friend on Sunday.
"I mean, we've been sharing some words with each other, talking some trash and just having a friendly conversation," Jefferson said, "but we're both ready for this game, and it's going to be exciting to go up against each other."
Bragging rights will be on the line in Week 1.