MINNEAPOLIS – Marshall and Ashley Baltzell believe that Kyle Rudolph and his wife, Jordan, have already gone above and beyond to support them through difficult times of their son, Cooper, being hospitalized.
But early this week, the Rudolphs had one more surprise for the family they've grown connected to.
Upon entering Kyle Rudolph's End Zone, 3-year-old Cooper's favorite space at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, the tight end was immediately greeted by his little buddy.
Cooper ran over and gave Kyle a high-five and big grin.
"I have a surprise for you, Cooper," said Kyle, kneeling down.
"OK," Cooper said casually, causing his parents to laugh.
Kyle reached into his sweatshirt pocket and pulled out three tickets to Super Bowl LIII.
"You get to go to the Super Bowl! You'll ride on a plane with your mom and dad. It's a little longer ride to Atlanta than to the 'North Pole,' though," Kyle quipped to Cooper, who the previous evening had attended the Rudolphs' unique holiday experience for hospital patients and their families.
While the magnitude of the big game may not be fully grasped by Cooper, Ashley and Marshall grew noticeably emotional and excited at the news.
They also were humbled by the unexpected surprise.
"I just kept thinking, 'Why us?' I was in shock," Ashley said. "There are so many other families who have gone through [difficult situations]. I know he's been in the hospital a lot, but we don't deserve this."
Cooper was diagnosed with Hirschsprung's disease at 1 day old and has been in and out of the hospital countless times over the past three years. In October, he underwent surgery due to a complication called enterocolitis.
"I think it still hasn't hit me," Ashley said. "We've never really taken a big trip with him before because we are here all the time. But now he's doing really, really well … so I think we can comfortably go on a trip."
As the Vikings Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, Kyle received the Super Bowl tickets from the NFL to give to a recipient of his choice. After some consideration, he and Jordan knew they wanted to gift the Baltzells with the experience.
"Just getting to know them at the hospital and knowing everything that they've gone through – they really haven't had an opportunity to take a family trip because of Cooper's illness, and he is just such a high-spirited little guy that's always smiling," Kyle said. "We just felt like their family deserved something cool like that, and it's something that they haven't been able to do."
Marshall said he's still "trying to wrap his head around" such a generous gift from Kyle. He's been blown away by the amount of care and concern he's seen from the Rudolphs toward Cooper and is incredibly grateful.
"We just really appreciate that they want to help any way they can," Marshall said.
"I hope people know how much Kyle actually does," Ashley said. "He doesn't just put his name on things. He really cares – and so does Jordan."