The Vikings season didn't ultimately end the way they wanted it to, but five teammates preparing to participate in the Pro Bowl are taking advantage of an extra week around talented players.
Adam Thielen was selected to his first career Pro Bowl after a career season in which he recorded 91 catches for 1,276 receiving yards. The Detroit Lakes native considers it an "awesome" opportunity to be around so many big names from around the league.
"Being able to able to be in the locker room with this group of men and just being able to kind of pick their brain [is great]," Thielen told Vikings.com. "There's a lot of veterans that have done some pretty amazing things in this league, so it's been really cool, and I'm just taking full advantage of it."
Harrison Smith, who received First-Team All-Pro honors following the 2017 season, is participating in his second Pro Bowl, having also been named to the all-star game in 2015 and 2016.
"It's not what we had in mind," Smith said of being in Orlando for the Pro Bowl rather than Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII. "But be where you're at – enjoy your teammates and guys around the league that had good years, but this isn't the ultimate goal for us.
"It's cool to just talk with guys, try to learn from one another – their experiences, your experiences," Smith added. "So from that standpoint, it's kind of like a little fraternity. That's, to me, the reason that I came."
Kyle Rudolph was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time since the 2012 season, when he went on to named Pro Bowl MVP.
Rudolph also said he appreciates the opportunity to connect with players who are rivals five months out of the year.
"Obviously every player that's down here, their season didn't end the way [they would have liked] it to, so to be able to come down here and celebrate still a successful season, that's what this is all about," Rudolph said. "It's fun to be down here with some of the best players in our game and their families, get to know them both on and off the field. It's unique – there's nothing else like this across the league."
Thielen, Smith and Rudolph are joined this week by teammates Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph. Anthony Barr and Everson Griffen also received Pro Bowl nods but are not participating.
"It's awesome being down here with four other Vikings players. They all deserve that recognition, and to be down here as a team, obviously we had a great season, and our seven Pro Bowlers are a big reason why we had such a successful season," Rudolph said. "It's awesome to be down here with those guys."
Added Rhodes: "It feels good to have teammates down here. Especially the season that we had, this lets you know that we're being noticed for all the hard work we put in during the season."
The Pro Bowl and the week leading up to it offer NFL players a unique experience to share with their families.
Rudolph has had miniature spectators at practice in his twin daughters, Andersyn and Finley, and Thielen's son, Asher, has also been spotted running around the sidelines with a football, just like his dad.
"I don't think this guy knows how special this is," Thielen said with a smile while holding Asher. "But it's really cool to be able to spend it with them – my parents, my wife, and her family. It's pretty special."
The five Vikings teammates will suit up with the NFC Team for the 2018 Pro Bowl, which is scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. (CT) Sunday.
Following the all-star game, the Vikings will enjoy a little downtime before getting back to business.
"We'll take a little [family] vacation and then basically put a plan together to make sure that I'm doing the same things that have helped me in the past – doing the same things that have gotten me where I am and try to build on each season," Thielen said.
Rudolph said he's learned how to better capitalize on his offseason after seven seasons in the NFL.
"The older you get, the more you realize, you've gotta take some time off. You have to refresh, regroup, recover from a long season, and then get back to work," Rudolph said. "It'll be time for us to get ready for the 2018 [season]. I'm excited for [TCO Performance Center] to open up in March and get down there and get back to work with the guys."