John Randle and Everson Griffen were like two kids in a candy store.
The pair of Vikings superstar defensive linemen — one past and one current — recently had an adventure that neither will soon forget, as they rode in a Blackhawk helicopter from St. Paul to Bemidji and back, stopping in the northern Minnesota town to play flag football and give back to the community.
“For two high-energy guys to get to do something like that, it was so much fun,” Randle said. “It was something new, almost like going to [an amusement park] and getting on a ride.”
The trip was planned by the Bemidji unit of Minnesota National Guard.
“The focus was just to give back to the community,” said Sgt. Aaron Cope of the Minnesota National Guard. “They have helped us in the past and shown support for us, so we wanted to kind of give back to the kids by bringing some Vikings players here.
“The event was centered around community interaction. We had students from several different schools around Bemidji,” added Cope, who is based in Bemidji. “We got together to talk a little bit about the Minnesota National Guard and talk about the community.”
The trip started Saturday morning in St. Paul as Randle, Griffen and a small contingent made the 200-plus mile trip to Bemidji.
Randle said the scenery along the way was breathtaking.
“The windows are open, so you can stick your head out and look outside,” Randle said. “You could see Mille Lacs Lake, you could see Breezy Point … it’s a different perspective that you can’t get on a plane. I think we were around 2,000 feet hovering in the air, so the view was really spectacular.”
But the Vikings Ring of Honor member and 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee also said he came away impressed at the continuity and teamwork of those in charge of the helicopter.
“You get to put on headphones and have conversations with the pilots,” said Randle, whose 137.5 career sacks are tied for ninth all-time in NFL history. “You really get hands-on details to what’s going on in the cockpit.
“They’re showing you different things … and something I didn’t know what how in-sync those guys work with each other,” Randle added. “With the two pilots and the two gunners, it’s like a small football team.”
Once the group landed in Bemidji, they rode to Bemidji High School in a Cougar 4x4 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP), a three-ton vehicle that can top out at 65 miles per hour.
“It’d be fun to drive in the snow,” Randle quipped.
The duo was met by 100 local students who were doing the SKOL Chant. They played flag football, with Griffen serving as quarterback, before doing a question-and-answer session with students.
“Everson decided to be the quarterback. He was trying to use his athletic skills,” Randle said. “It was a lot of fun. It was fun to be in Bemidji; I had never really been up there.
“And it was awesome to interact with the military guys and get to know them and their sense of humor,” Randle added.
Randle and Griffen were each presented with a commemorative coin in Bemidji. And the flag that flew on the helicopter on the trip was folded up and given to the pair once they touched back down in St. Paul.
Cope said he appreciated Randle and Griffen’s willingness to be open and honest with the kids during the question-and-answer session.
“Everson, you can tell that guy is so focused on what he does and his commitment to the Vikings,” Cope said. “He talked about his career and growing up and certain barriers he’s run across.
“And John is a huge supporter of the military, so seeing his reactions was pretty awesome,” Cope added.
Cope said this was the first time the Minnesota National Guard had organized such a trip involving NFL players. He added they would be open to doing a similar event in the future, provided the logistics and details work out.
“The whole setup and planning of the day was exciting for us since this was kind of new territory for us,” Cope said. “But honestly, seeing the Vikings players coming off the bird and seeing them coming out of the MRAP vehicles when they got to the school, it was pretty exciting.
“And being able to play football with them and seeing their interactions with the kids … there was a lot of great feedback from the kids and they really enjoyed it,” Cope added. “It was definitely a day to remember for them.”