EAGAN, Minn. – You would have thought Ihmir Smith-Marsette scored the touchdown himself.
The Vikings rookie jumped up and down and cheered alongside a young man who had just "scored" and now was celebrating with "The Griddy."
"Let's get it! Let's get it! Show me that Griddy!" A celebrating Marsette encouraged his new friend.
Smith-Marsette wore his purple practice jersey. The fan wore a T-shirt depicting Justin Jefferson's signature TD dance; he also wore braces on his legs that helped him walk in a halting, erratic motion.
But when Smith-Marsette handed him the football, the young man grinned ear-to-ear and set off on a mission to the painted end zone.
"Just being able to come out here and be able to put a smile on these kids' faces. Show them that anything is possible – you just have to put your mind to it and have fun in whatever you do," Smith-Marsette said.
"I always had a motto: 'Catch the ball, score the ball, celebrate.' The biggest thing is making sure they catch the ball first and then score the touchdown, and then after that you just have to be yourself in the end zone," he added. "Just have fun and bring your own tenacity to the game, and then let yourself shine."
View photos of the Vikings who teamed up with Shriners Children's Hospitals to host an all-abilities PLAY 60 clinic at the TCO Performance Center.
Smith-Marsette joined three of his rookie teammates – Camryn Bynum, Chazz Surratt and Patrick Jones II – last week in helping to host an all-ability PLAY 60 clinic for a group of Shriners Children's Hospitals patients. Participants ranged in age from 3 to 19 and all had mobility restrictions or orthopedic conditions such as amputation/prosthetic limbs. They ran through modified drills and enjoyed an adaptive football camp.
Smith-Marsette has a special affinity for young people facing physical challenges.
A former Iowa standout, Smith-Marsette was a rookie when the new University of Iowa Children's Hospital was completed and a unique tradition was born.
The top floor of the hospital features a "Press Box" where patients and families can come together and view Hawkeyes home games from a near-perfect view of Kinnick Stadium. At the end of the first quarter, fans filling the stadium turn and wave up patients and their families.
"Them going through what they do every day, just being able to look down on Saturdays, wave at us and see us play, it's always good," said Smith-Marsette, who often autographed photos to be given to children in their hospital rooms.
While Smith-Marsette coached route-running, receiving and, of course, touchdown celebrations, his teammates each took charge at a different drill station, as well.
Surratt showed participants the benefits of a ladder drill, Jones worked with the young people on passing drills and Bynum focused on agility – and added in some receiving practice himself.
Bynum jumped right in to play with the youth, encouraging them and getting to know each one who came through the station.
"I just enjoyed giving my time, being able to serve other people. I know it's our off day, but this is more important to me – just being out here, being able to give back to the community," Bynum said. "See these kids have fun, just ignore every other care in the world, be out here and play football – do what I may take for granted on a regular day.
"That's always a reminder just to enjoy every single moment of life," he added.
Shriners Children's Marketing & Communications Manager Lauren Elm expressed gratitude to the Vikings for hosting such a special event.
"It's always our goal at Shriners Children's to do events and activities that meet the needs of every kid. We always try to adapt things so that children can try any sort of activity and just test out their interests," Elm said. "A lot of our kids aren't able to go to standard camps. Pre-COVID, we ran a bunch of our own camps, so we're anxious to get back to that so our kids can have special experiences themselves."
She called it an "extra special" experience for young people to not only play at the Vikings facility but to enjoy direct interaction with four young NFL players.
"Let's be honest – they like to play, too," Elm laughed of the rookies. "It's a great experience for the kids, and we're thankful that this all worked out and we were able to do this on a beautiful night."
As Bynum took notice of various challenges faced by the children, he also noticed something else: the kindness and elation shared among them all.
"I see so much joy coming out of every single one of them. I know they all have a different disability, but I don't see any kid looking at each in a different way," Bynum said. "Everybody's loving each other and seeing each other as just another person, and they're all having fun in their own way. It gives me so much life and joy to be able to see it."
Smith-Marsette only has two regular-season NFL games under his belt, and his sights are set on big-time benchmarks and team-oriented goals.
But he also recognizes the unique platform he's been given to make a difference.
"Football is going to be there, but at the end of the day, it's bigger than football. You've got to be able to be somebody that you once needed," Smith-Marsette said. "So coming out here and providing for these kids, it's big. … I'm [excited] to be that person now."