ORLANDO, Fla. – Andrea can't think of a better way to wrap up her career as a Minnesota Vikings Cheerleader.
This past weekend, Andrea joined cheerleaders from teams all around the league for the 2024 NFL Pro Games, representing the Vikings at the Thursday night Skills Challenge, NFL Youth Flag Football tournament, NFC team practices and Sunday's culmination of the Pro Bowl Games at Camping World Stadium.
"It was an incredible experience," Andrea said.
Each year, Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders (MVC) coaches selects one member of the team to attend the league's all-star game. Andrea was surprised the morning of Dec. 24 following the MVC's pregame practice, when she was given the news by last year's Pro Bowl MVC, Alex.
Andrea was celebrated by her teammates and gifted the Pro Bowl MVC sash, which she wore during the Vikings-Packers matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium. She also had the opportunity to surprise her family with the news during an outdoor appearance prior to kickoff.
"It's an honor. I think it really means that all my hard work had paid off," Andrea said of the recognition. "This wasn't my end goal, but it added to my career highlights and was so special that I was chosen by my coaches and got to honor the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders legacy."
A Minnesota native who always imagined being part of MVC, Andrea still sometimes finds it surreal that she's spent the past seven years doing just that.
And without her parents and especially her husband, she wonders if her dream would have ever become a reality.
"I was so nervous to try out for the team, and my now-husband Joe was the one at the time who said, 'You need to go and do this. I've heard you talk about it for years. I will drive you to this prep class and help you get through this, but I know you'll never regret trying out,' " Andrea recalled.
So when she and the other Pro Bowl cheerleaders were challenged to write a letter to their rookie selves, she encouraged a younger Andrea to have more confidence.
Chase that dream.
Believe in yourself.
Discover what you're capable of.
Though Andrea didn't have much free time to spend with family, just having them in Orlando for the Pro Bowl was a full-circle moment.
"Honestly, I would not be here without Joe," she said. "I think I've danced at 62 games in my career, and he's probably been to 60 of them. And my parents, as well – my dad is more of a guy who likes watching from home, and my mom and husband are always the ones who attend the games, so having them all together was incredible.
"There's been so many times where they've come and supported me throughout my career … so to have them at my last game was so special," Andrea added.
Andrea made sure to give it her all one last time, learning all 11 dances choreographed by Quinton Peron ahead of her send-off by former MVC Pro Bowl cheerleaders.
Wait … 11??
This Vikings writer was stunned, but Andrea took the challenge in-stride, dedicating 20-plus hours over a week-and-a-half to master the routines.
"We're all professionals. We are able to do this, and we're the best of the best from each team. So that really sets the standard and pushes you to get it done [while being] a perfectionist," Andrea said. "It was definitely a challenge, but I looked forward to it.
"The other challenge was that it was a new style," she continued. "Each NFL team kind of has their own style, but this was a little bit different and new to me, so that was a good [test] because it wasn't just routines and styles I'm used to. And getting newer choreography is always so fun."
Among the week's highlights was meeting the rest of the Pro Bowl cheerleaders in-person and practicing the dances together for the first time.
"Everyone arrived already knowing them, and all of us dancing in one room was so unique and fun," she said. "We'd known each other for like five hours and were already practicing together and running through all the routines we'd spent hours learning."
Similar to the way players from around the league bond over common experiences, Andrea said the cheerleaders came together quickly and easily.
"It's an instant bond," she noted. "We all have those things in common – we love football, and we love our team. But something special I also got to see this week is that every organization is different and have aspects that make them unique. … It's interesting to hear about different team traditions, and learning how all the other cheerleaders got to this point was really intriguing to me."
The Pro Bowl cheerleaders visited youth at the NFL Flag Football games, during which Andrea was able to meet and visit with young people who may have an interest in cheerleading or are simply Vikings fans eager to connect with the team.
After talking to one family and their children, Andrea was approached by Cardinals cheerleader Zaryn, who had been impressed by the interaction.
"She pulled me aside and told me, 'Wow, you know how to make anybody a Vikings cheerleader fan. Or an Andrea fan. It's so fun to see. You just make that connection with them so quick,' " Andrea recalled. "That was really cool for another pro cheerleader to say that and to recognize that. It was awesome. But it wasn't just a one-off – that's what I've tried to do all throughout my MVC career."
As Andrea retires from her MVC career, she's proud of the impact she's made ever since her rookie season, which culminated with the Minneapolis Miracle. She doesn't take for granted an opportunity to inspire young people, and she's grateful for an MVC platform that empowered that.
The decision to close this chapter wasn't easy, but Andrea is stepping into the next one knowing she contributed to the MVC legacy.
"I actually made the decision before tryouts. I decided it was best going into the season knowing it was my last so I could just celebrate everything one last time," she said. "MVC is my world, and I would do it forever if I could, but I'm just ready to kind of move on and open that next chapter and let somebody else have the opportunity of being on this team – give them my spot."
"It's been such an unbelievable honor," Andrea added. "I'm so thankful that [MVC coaches] Karen and Jacie trusted me in representing the Vikings at the Pro Bowl this year."