MINNEAPOLIS –If there's a silver lining to a five-month hospital stay, 16-year-old Zack Heinrich will tell you it's his view.
From the fifth floor of the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, Heinrich can look to the left of his bed and see U.S. Bank Stadium nestled in the Minneapolis skyline.
"It's super cool to be able to see what's happening on TV and then just look out my window and see the stadium, knowing it's happening over there," Heinrich said with a smile.
It's known throughout the hospital that Heinrich is a deeply committed Vikings fan – it's hard to ignore the purple-and-gold paraphernalia decorating the walls of his room. His face lit up when tight end Kyle Rudolph and quarterback Sam Bradford paid him a special visit Tuesday as a part of Rudolph's "Halloween Huddle."
"That was amazing," said Heinrich, who played football for White Bear Lake High School prior to his hospital stay. "Just to have people like that know my story was pretty cool."
Rudolph and Bradford talked casually with Heinrich and learned that he often plays Madden, and the Vikings are "always my team."
Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph and a few other Vikings players hosted a 'Halloween Huddle' event at U of M Masonic Children's Hospital.
Bradford said he was grateful for the opportunity to visit with Heinrich and other patients, and that his involvement with children's hospitals started back in college, when Oklahoma University Coach Bob Stoops got the team involved often.
"Coming here and being able to meet some of the patients and hopefully just bring a smile to their face, but also just interact with them – ask them how their day is going," Bradford said. "Walking into that room and seeing all the Vikings gear Zack had, and just being able to talk to him about seeing the stadium, about him playing as the Vikings in Madden. These are things we take for granted every day, and you realize just how special they are.
"Or [meeting Anne, who played] her ukulele and sang to us – that's so cool," Bradford added about another patient. "Hopefully we can bring as much joy to them as they do to us when we come down here."
Bradford was excited to join Rudolph, who has built a six-year relationship with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital since his rookie season. The Vikings partnership with the hospital was started by former guard Steve Hutchinson and then led by center John Sullivan, who was with the Vikings from 2008 through the 2016 offseason.
Rudolph and his wife Jordan have now taken the torch.
"It was kind of seamless that this was something we wanted to do," said Rudolph, who also hosts a holiday party and movie event at the hospital in December. "[We backed] John before, and now that John has moved on, we wanted to make sure that these traditions stayed."
One tradition Rudolph maintained was the crew of offensive linemen who participated in the hospital visit. This year's group included Brandon Fusco, Jeremiah Sirles, Zac Kerin, Nick Easton and Sean Hickey. They were also joined by rookie Laquon Treadwell and Rudolph's tight end compatriots, Rhett Ellison and MyCole Pruitt.
In addition to private room visits, the Vikings spent time in the hospital lobby, where a Halloween party – complete with costumes and candy – was thrown for patients and their families. Guests received autographs and snapped photos with the players.
"These kids don't have the opportunity to get out and celebrate the holidays or, in this instance, go out and trick-or-treat," Rudolph said. "To bring a little bit of joy to their life during a tough time is what it's all about.
Rudolph said the cause hits home for a number of reasons. Primarily, he feels that much more grateful for the healthy births of twin daughters just over three weeks ago. He also shared that his own younger brother had cancer as an infant.
"I just hear stories from my mom and dad about him being a 15-month-old getting dragged in and out of the hospital, and how strong my little brother was, and how strong my mom and dad are," Rudolph said. "So when you have something that close to my family, that obviously weighs heavy on my heart.
"It's all about them being kids," Rudolph added. "If we can make them, for one day, forget about why they're here and come down and get a bunch of candy and enjoy a nice meal, then that makes us feel a lot better, as well."
As part of his partnership with the Masonic Children's Hospital, Rudolph committed to a new initiative to build a state-of-the-art 2,500-square-foot patient family centered space. If you would like to team up with Kyle and Jordan in creating the Kyle Rudolph's End Zone, click ****here***. *