There aren't many people kinder than Matt Blair.
I first met the former Vikings linebacker at the 2011 Uptown Art Fair, of all places.
Known on the field as a dominant defender under Hall of Fame Coach Bud Grant, Matt also had a creative side. It wasn't uncommon for Matt to be spotted on the practice-field sideline with camera in-hand, and he'd later develop images of his coaches and teammates in an at-home dark room.
As a Minnesota native and lifelong Vikings fan, I had learned about Matt Blair the Linebacker from my dad. And as someone with an interest in photography myself, I found Matt's story to be an incredibly compelling one.
I remember feeling a little starstruck, seeing him at the art fair that day. Amid crowds of colorfully dressed, oft-eccentric artists, Matt wore a non-assuming, pale yellow polo and a white baseball cap emblazoned by the Vikings Norseman.
I mustered the guts to introduce myself, and Matt's smile almost immediately put me at ease. He greeted me with warm eyes and engulfed my hand in his own. I specifically remember noting the size of his hands and the way the tip of his left-hand ring finger jutted out awkwardly.
The two of us chatted about the Vikings, a shared interest in photography and the fact that I someday hoped to work as a writer in sports. To write about the Vikings would be my ultimate goal, I noted. The two of us snapped a photo together, which he would later autograph for me in the distinctive script now easy for me to recognize.
Matt graciously agreed to a 1-on-1 interview for a two-part story that was published by Bleacher Report. He invited me to meet with him after an interview with WCCO at Lifetouch Studios – coincidentally located just down the street from the Vikings Winter Park practice facility where I'd work four years later.
I learned so much about Matt that day.
Sure, he told me about his upbringing and his football journey. I heard the story behind his crooked finger, the result of it getting stuck in the helmet of a Denver Broncos player during a game. He explained his love for photography, which started with the purchase of his first-ever camera prior to a trip to Europe.
But what I really learned was so much more about Matt's character. The love he had for his family and his former teammates. The genuine interest he had in the lives of others, including myself.
View photos of Vikings legend and Ring of Honor member, Matt Blair.
I kept in touch with Matt following that interview and would chat with him every so often. Not long after that story, he sent me a small, softcover book he'd published of his photography. I'm not sure he understood how much that meant to me.
After joining the Vikings in 2015, the dream job I once told Matt about, I was able to see and interview him on a few more occasions. And in August 2016, almost exactly five years after posing for a photo at the Uptown Art Fair, I stopped at the home of Matt and his wife, Marybeth, who were hosting a garage sale.
It only seemed fitting to take a photo.
After learning that Matt passed away Thursday, I reflected on his generous sharing of his time and talent and the kindness that he and Marybeth extended to me.
Thank you, Matt, for being so wonderful to this Vikings fan from Andover, Minnesota. You will be deeply missed.