EAGAN, Minn. – Brian O'Neill swapped his Vikings uniform for a ghost costume in the name of a good cause.
And then later, Mickey Mouse.
Oh, and Ken and Barbie – times three.
O'Neill changed in and out of costumes all evening long for the Vikings offensive line's Halloween Fashion Show, in partnership with Caribou Coffee and the M Health Fairview Masonic Children's Hospital.
"The kids had fun, and we had fun. And they don't have a lot of reasons right now to celebrate, so this was something for them to look forward to," O'Neill said of the young patients he and his teammates walked the runway with. "I was happy to be a part of it, and I hope they had as much fun as we did."
O'Neill and nine of his offensive line teammates – Dalton Risner, Ezra Cleveland, Blake Brandel, Austin Schlottmann, Chris Reed, David Quessenberry, Hakeem Adeniji, Henry Byrd and Tyrese Robinson – donned Halloween costumes that coordinated with the youngsters' getups. Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips also joined in the fun, as did Viktor the Viking and Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders.
All the costumes were purchased and donated by center Garrett Bradbury, who had planned on participating but missed the event due to the birth of his daughter, Blake.
"Being able to come here and make a difference for these kids and these families is incredible," Risner said. "You want to be the one making the impact, but you always feel like you leave being the one impacted.
"I've been hearing about this event for a few weeks. … I was super excited," he added. I got sweaty like everybody told me I would, walked down the runway three or four times."
Risner's first costume of the evening was a Caribou barista, as he joined 2-year-old Paxton dressed as a Caribou coffee.
"It's just awesome, man. We talk about 'going to war' Sundays, Mondays or sometimes Thursdays? That's not war," Risner said. "I can say this because of people in my life … going through wars, and a lot of the kids and families here today are fighting a war. It's the least we can do to … put on some costumes, make them smile, walk them down a runway."
Nick Engbloom, Senior Director of Community Partnerships for the University of Minnesota Foundation, echoed Risner's sentiments about the positive influences such an event can make on patients and their families.
"A lot of these kids have been through tough hospital experiences; some kids come in for a few days, and some could be in the hospital for a year or two," Engbloom said. "To be able to have one moment where they're not stuck in their room or having to worry about another appointment to get to or an [infusion], they get to have a moment where it's all about them, and that's what is so important about events like these."
In addition to watching and participating in the fashion show, young people could load up on spooky-themed snacks, get their faces painted, have a balloon animal made or a caricature drawing done. Caribou Coffee provided complimentary beverages that included strawberry-banana smoothies and a cookies-and-cream Caribou Cooler.
"It's fun to have an event as an offensive line," Brandel said. "It's great to just help out Masonic Children's Hospital. They do so much awesome work, and those kids and their families are in a really tough spot. So to make their day a little bit better is awesome."
The Vikings partnership with the M Health Fairview Masonic Children's Hospital, specifically with the members of the offensive line, dates back far before the current roster's time in Minnesota.
"The history of events like this has gone back to the days of Steve Hutchinson, inside Masonic Children's hospital, so we are always reimagining what an event like those original Holiday Huddles would look like," Engbloom explained. "This Halloween Fashion Show was born out of that discussion, and here we are today – and we're already running out of space at the Omni. We want to keep growing this. This is absolutely awesome."
View photos of Vikings offensive line celebrating Halloween with M Health Fairview Masonic Children's Hospital patients by walking the runway in costume.
Brandel happily dressed as a number of characters, including Prince Charming from Cinderella and Woody from Toy Story.
"Blake made a really good Woody. They had a great dance going down the runway," laughed O'Neill.
Brandel's hospital patient partner dressed as Jessie, and the two galloped to the front of the stage, the Vikings lineman looking a bit silly in a too-small cowboy hat.
"It was great to get to know [the patients]. It's also nice to get their mind off what's going on for them medically," Brandel said. "I was Woody, and I could talk with my buddy Elizabeth about Toy Story and get to know her story."
Added O'Neill: "It's a great event because you get to spend that 1-on-1 time connecting with the kids and learning more about them."
O'Neill was interviewed live by FOX 9 during the event, and he was joined by Meer, a children's hospital patient who dressed up as a ghost buster and "blasted" the Vikings tackle on stage.
"[Meer] said he was 'freaking out' because he'd never been on live television before, and he thought it was really cool. Plus, he told me he'd stayed up late to watch our game against San Francisco the night before," O'Neill said with a smile.
Among other favorite costumes of the evening were an alien (Cleveland) and astronaut, Hei-Hei the chicken (Schlottmann) and Moana, a horse (Quessenberry) and his cowboy, Sully (Byrd) and Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc., and a watering can (Phillips) with a flower.
"Ezra as an alien was amazing. Plus, he's a big human being, so I was low-key scared," quipped Risner, who said he loves all things fall and Halloween.
"I get the pumpkin iced lattes, the pumpkin patches, the apple orchards, the haunted houses. Now cheese curds? I've never really had them, but I've had like 10 orders of cheese curds since I've been [in Minnesota]," Risner said, laughing. "I'll be ready to go for Halloween. My door will be open, anyone who wants candy."