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Vikings Team with Make-A-Wish for Memorable Touchdown


EAGAN, Minn. – Carter leapt and caught the football behind his head, just between his fingers.

The entire Vikings team cheered for the 9-year-old as he snagged the high-sailing snap, kept his cool and got the pass off to Justin Jefferson in the end zone.

A "Griddy" by Jefferson followed, of course.

"That was a great throw!" Jefferson told Carter, who wore a purple No. 18 jersey.

The big-time play took place following the Vikings Saturday morning walk-through on Oct. 7. In partnership with the Make-A-Wish foundation, the team welcomed Carter as a special guest and gave him the opportunity of a lifetime.

"That moment was pretty amazing, to watch him catch [the snap]," said Carter's father, Kevin. "This was, to a T, what he probably envisioned. It was amazing. It was better than I expected. The Vikings did such a great job, and we're very grateful and thankful."

After running the play on the field, Jefferson presented Carter with a "J.J." branded gift box that included a Vikings Classic jersey, a Jefferson bobblehead and, perhaps best of all, a child-sized pair of Oakleys that matched the All-Pro receiver's.

It's been a difficult seven-plus months for the Crawley family.

In February, Carter's parents took him to the doctor after discovering a small lump in his arm. Initial X-rays and an MRI prompted a biopsy, which confirmed the presence of synovial sarcoma, a rare mesenchymal tumor that presents mainly in those under 30 years old.

Carter immediately underwent surgery to remove the tumor, which was dangerously close to a large nerve bundle. Thankfully, the surgeon was able to completely resect the mass while preserving full arm and hand function.

Because of the tumor's size, however, it was determined further treatment would be the best way to ensure the cancer had been completely eradicated. Carter has since endured 30 radiation treatments and 22 rounds of chemotherapy.

"He did everything as well as a kid possibly could. He didn't complain at all," Kevin said. "It was pretty amazing stuff. We're about a month-and-a-half away from his final treatment, and his scans three weeks ago were clean.

"Blue skies ahead," Kevin added. "We're just super excited."

Kevin, Melissa, Carter and his older sister Emerson were all smiles Saturday as they observed Minnesota's walk-through from the indoor practice facility at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

View photos of Carter's visit to the Vikings walk-through on Oct. 7, at TCO Performance Center.

The family proudly wore Vikings gear, though they admitted that Carter is the true fan.

In fact, the Crawley family traveled all the way from Tucson, Arizona, for the special experience.

"And I'm actually a Cowboys fan. I'll get some grief for that," Kevin quipped.

That makes it even more unique, though, that Carter discovered his Vikings fandom all on his own.

Having played soccer from the age of 3, Carter only this year started flag football – and completely fell in love with the sport. He dived into YouTube to watch NFL highlights and videos, and the young QB came across a mashup of Jefferson's one-handed catches, touchdowns and Griddys galore.

"I also really liked videos of Justin doing football camps with other kids," Carter said, smiling.

The rest is history.

"I always was like, 'No football, no football, no football.' But then he got a little taste of it, and it was just game on," Melissa laughed. "He picks something he loves and doesn't care what anybody else says. He dresses [in all his Vikings gear in Arizona]. If he decides it's cool, he's doing it."

Added Kevin: "Which is why we're never getting those Oakleys off his head."

A humble, kind-hearted and incredibly brave youngster, Carter has asked his parents why he received such a special trip.

"I don't think he quite [grasps] what he went through," Kevin said. "He's kind of like, 'Why am I getting all this?' 'Well, you went through something no one should have to go through, but especially little kids. You endured it.' He'll say, 'Well, it wasn't that bad.' "

"For us, it's a really big deal just to see him happy," Melissa said.

Prior to throwing a pass to Jefferson, Carter was introduced by Head Coach Kevin O'Connell to the entire team, who gave him a loud and hearty welcome.

"It's a genuine great opportunity for all of us to come together [and make a difference for someone]. That's us; that's the Minnesota Vikings; that's what's important to us," O'Connell later said. "In addition to being the best team we possibly can be and trying to win football games every opportunity we get, we have an opportunity to change people's lives for the better.

"Even in a 10-, 15-minute stretch right there – why not do everything you can to put a smile on somebody's face?" O'Connell added.

The head coach ensured Carter had a football better-sized for his 9-year-old grip, and he invited Kirk Cousins to come alongside and check Carter's fingers against the laces.

"That's exactly right," Cousins complimented. "You're ready to run a play."

The pair of quarterbacks walked to the line of scrimmage together, Cousins' arm draped across Carter's shoulder.

Cousins asked Carter to choose a route for Jefferson – a post – and talked him through the cadence from center Garrett Bradbury before the touchdown pass.

"That was really fun," Carter said with a wide grin. "He taught me how to be a good quarterback."

A father himself, Cousins appreciates the opportunity to connect with young people like Carter – and encourage them and their families during trying times.

"It's a mixture of emotions, right? Your heart breaks for the family and what they're going through, but on the flip side, you're so glad that we can strategically use our platform to make a difference for people," Cousins said.

He noted the importance of being fully present for impact opportunities that included Carter's visit.

"You want to make sure the moment's special and that he gets everything out of the experience. That you spend some time with him and give him the chance to throw the football," Cousins said. "That's gotta be nerve-wracking, too, when you get there and you've got guys twice your size staring at you and asking you questions. So you also want to make him feel as comfortable as possible. It was really fun to have him."

The Crawleys also were the Vikings guests at Sunday afternoon's game against the Chiefs.

Carter had the opportunity to reconnect with O'Connell and some of the players pregame, and he watched in awe as the team thundered through the Vikings longship tunnel.

And while a win would have been a bonus, Carter and his family headed back to Tucson with full hearts and hopeful spirits.

"Since February, I don't think we've been as scared or cried as much as we have during this time. We've just kind of been waiting for feeling good days," Melissa said Saturday. "We've had a lot of challenges in our lives, even outside of this, and I can't wipe the smile off my face. It just feels good to see him happy.

"It's kind of what got us through all those dark times, knowing he would get to do something amazing afterward. Something probably not many people get to do," she added. "The smiles. I don't think we've smiled this much in a very long time."