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Kevin O'Connell, Matt Daniels & Vikings Players Host Children's Hospital Valentine's Party


MINNEAPOLIS – Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell was impressed by Ryan's arm.

But Ryan isn't an NFL quarterback. At least not yet.

Rather, O'Connell met 2-year-old "Ry Guy" during a visit to the M Health Fairview Masonic Children's Hospital.

Despite undergoing kidney dialysis treatments, Ryan smiled widely at his special visitors, O'Connell and Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels. The toddler's giggles were contagious as he showed off a bin of small plastic dinosaurs and a miniature basketball, baseball and football.

Understanding Ryan wanted to play catch, O'Connell and Daniels took a couple short steps backward and held out their hands. But the 2-year-old wound up and let the mini football fly, sending it almost to the room's doorway.

"Wow!" O'Connell laughed, genuinely impressed.

The coaches played for a bit with Ryan before leaving him a stuffed teddy donated by Build-a-Bear, which he happily and tightly hugged.

"To get to come in and meet young kids that aren't under the best of circumstances currently, they're all very much an inspiration to all of us, and to be able to try to put a smile on their face even for a short time means the absolute world to me," O'Connell said.

He and Daniels joined Vikings players Ryan Wright, C.J. Ham and Josh Metellus for a special Valentine's Day-themed afternoon at the hospital. Wright's fiancée Ashley and Ham's wife Stephanie, along with Viktor the Viking, also supported the festivities.

View photos of Vikings players and coaches visiting the Masonic Children's Hospital for Valentine's Day.

The players helped host a Valentines party in the lobby, where they served pink-and-red frosted donuts, helped guide young people through the Build-a-Bear station, joined in at arts-and-crafts tables and handed out party favors.

"It means the world to us, just to come out and serve and be in these spaces. We've done hospital events before, and it's special," Ham said. "We're thankful that we can be here and share these moments with them.

"My family and I have molded our life around servanthood and what that means to us," Ham added, pointing to his Christian faith. "Jesus didn't come to be served but to serve. We try to model our life that way, as well, and to serve those around us."

Metellus echoed several of Ham's sentiments, saying he embraces any opportunity to make a difference in the Twin Cities.

"It's all about the kids. Especially in a community that does so much for us," Metellus said. "The love and support. It's just great to see smiles on their faces during a challenging time."

Becoming a father himself nearly three years ago strongly impacts Metellus' perspective, he noted.

"I have younger siblings, but being a dad, being a parent, seeing kids in a different light, having them depend on you, brings out a whole different side of you," Metellus said. "And being able to give back to kids … that's what I'm here for."

O'Connell and Daniels also are fathers, O'Connell to four youngsters and Daniels to two, which made their personal room visits to connect with parents and children even more special.

In addition to Ryan, the coaches met patients that ranged in age and health situations.


They met London, whose hair was colored pink and purple.

"Do you think I should put some color into my hair?" O'Connell asked her.

London grinned and nodded before responding, "Maybe purple on one side and yellow on the other – for the Vikings."

And there was 20-year-old Naz, who was thrilled to meet O'Connell and Daniels just a couple of hours before being discharged from his current hospital stay.

A Miami native, Naz admitted he's primarily a Dolphins fan but expressed excitement to meet two NFL coaches. O'Connell and Daniels talked football with the young man before asking him about his interests in Marvel films – his favorite being Iron Man – and building LEGO sets.

Naz showed off a 1,082-piece Star Wars AT-TE model he'd constructed over just two days.

"It was really nice to talk to them," Naz said. "I didn't expect them to come by. That was a really nice surprise. A good sendoff.

"Having them talk to me about the LEGOS and stuff, it shows that they care," he added.

O'Connell and Daniels autographed a Vikings SKOL card and wished Naz well as he continues to navigate his medical journey.

"It's not necessarily about me or Matt Daniels. It's about them. It's about getting to know somebody like Naz," O'Connell said. "Knowing he's a Dolphins fan, we had a little fun with that, but ultimately it's about whatever joy we can bring by coming by here. And what you end up finding is the amount of joy you bring to them, it gets multiplied by 10 for us."


Both Vikings coaches have supported pediatric healthcare and participated in hospital visits at their previous NFL stops, but they enjoyed being introduced to the M Health Fairview hospital for the first time Wednesday.

It was especially fitting that shortly after touring the Kyle Rudolph's End Zone space, created by the former Vikings tight end and his wife Jordan, O'Connell was mistaken for Rudolph by a young patient.

O'Connell, who was wearing a mask according to health and safety protocols, got a kick out of the innocent confusion by 9-year-old BhargavaRam.

"I'll take it. That means I'm a heck of a lot closer to my playing career than maybe I would have given myself credit for," O'Connell quipped. "But really, I just think that speaks to Kyle's influence on this hospital. He's probably here a lot, and the kids very much look forward to it, so I stepped in for Kyle today, but I'm sure he'll be back soon.

"The unbelievable place that this is, whether it's Kyle Rudolph and his influence, or the Wilf family – you can tell it has a real Minnesota Vikings feel to it," O'Connell added.


The Vikings partnership with the children's hospital goes back a long way, and players and coaches alike are proud to continue that connection.

Metellus said it meant a lot to see O'Connell give time out of his day to spend with young patients and their families.

"I think that's just the culture we've built in our organization," Metellus said. "[Coach O'Connell] wanted us to be in the community helping, and to do that, you've gotta lead the way. That's what leaders do. … For him to come out here while he's busy trying to figure out what next season holds, it just shows how much he cares and how much he does."

"I think it's always great when people use their free time to come out and do things like this," he added. "I believe in showing up for people in times of need, so that's why I'm here today."