After most Vikings homes games (non prime-time, because kids' bedtimes are important), Kirk Cousins builds a fire in his backyard and enjoys some family time.
Especially early in the year, the lawn takes on a warm, goldish tint as the sun lowers. Kirk and his wife Julie watch their boys – Cooper, 5, and Turner, 3 – run around and toss tennis balls to the family dog, Abe.
An Australian Labradoodle, Abe is 3 years old and has been a part of the Cousins clan since he was 5 months.
Kirk and Julie initially adopted a rescue dog but had to rehome him when he became aggressive toward baby Cooper. So on the second time around, Julie hired a trainer from Georgia-based Peach on a Leash who recommended the Australian Labradoodle breed to the Cousins.
The trainer helped Julie find a puppy with the perfect demeanor through Davis Doodles, located in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, and then completed Abe's first months of training.
Julie still remembers the day Abe arrived at their Twin Cities house, and the pup grew accustomed to his new home while Kirk was at work.
When Kirk arrived home while Julie was out, it wasn't love at first sight from the new puppy.
"I walked in the front door … and he barked at me right away because he didn't know who I was," Kirk laughed of the memory. "He was already being protective."
Nothing a few dog treats couldn't fix, though.
"We're on good terms now," Kirk quipped. "He lets me know if I haven't petted him in a while or he needs to get some love."
Having a dog wasn't new for Kirk and Julie, who after marrying in 2014 fostered seven different dogs over three years.
From Kirk's favorite, a large German shepherd/poodle mix named Cash, to Precious, Carol Ann and Mac, several four-legged friends have passed through the Cousins family en route to their forever homes.
"We had tried out all different breeds and sizes, and we had fun with that. But we still could not really agree with what kind we both liked," Julie laughed. "I still think one day he will get one that he hand-picks, when we have more capacity to have more. But Abe is awesome."
View photos of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins and his family with their dog Abe in this edition of Purple Pups.
Julie didn't grow up with dogs but quickly fell in love in college, when she first started fostering.
Kirk, meanwhile, had childhood Schnauzers Cody, Hawkeye and Joey.
"Both my parents grew up separately with Schnauzers, so they both understood that they were gonna have Schnauzers [together]," Kirk explained.
The NFL season certainly gets demanding, and Kirk is thankful that Abe provides an extra dose of companionship and security for Julie and the boys.
"He just follows Julie around the house and wants to be wherever she is. He's like her shadow," Kirk said.
And when Kirk is spending time with the kids, playing catch with the football or tennis in the driveway, Abe still maintains a watchful eye.
"If they're running somewhere, he wants to play with them, be with them, keep his eye on them," Kirk said. "If ever he gets pulled away, he always runs back to them to make sure he's checking in. He's not really focused on me as much as he's focused on them."
This past summer, the Cousins family spent time during the offseason in Kirk's hometown of Holland, Michigan, and one day made a trip to the beach.
Kirk and Julie soon realized that every time people would walk across the waterfront near them, Abe would head out to greet them and then trot alongside until they were well on their way before returning.
"He was telling them, 'Move along. You can't hang out by my family. I'm going to protect them,' " Kirk said with a smile. "He was doing it in a very kind way, but he was also saying, 'Move along.' "
Added Julie: "There was one person who stopped [walking], and Abe barked like crazy. … We were just laughing because that was the only time he barked because everybody else kept walking. He would never actually do anything, but he barks, so I feel really safe knowing that if anything is going on, he definitely lets me know."
Abe is caring, fun, energetic and loving.
Asked to compare his pup to one of his Vikings teammates, Kirk didn't take long to answer: Irv Smith, Jr.
"Irv's locker is near mine, so it's fun to hang out with him before and after each practice. … Irv is really fast, can run really well. Abe runs really well – will run all day – and is athletic. And he's just a great friend. Irv's a great teammate. Similar to Abe wanting to be pet, Irv wants the football," Kirk laughed. "Irv definitely wants an opportunity to help the team, and Abe's the same way. He wants to help our family, and he wants to make sure that he's getting loved up [and spreading the love]."
Abe certainly gets lots of love from the Cousins family – and even more on those home game weekends.
Julie said those times are likely Abe's favorite, because he gets so much extra affection from visitors.
"Rarely is it just us here. On a home game weekend, there's going to be grandparents, there's going to be high school friends, there's going to be siblings," Kirk said. "So it's usually a pretty full backyard, and Abe's OK with that."