PRIOR LAKE, Minn. – Six Vikings players – and two Legends – were in the banquet room Tuesday, but they weren't the guests of honor.
Rather, the attention was centered around 12 individuals who have beaten or are currently battling cancer.
The Vikings and American Cancer Society teamed up to host the eighth annual ACS "Crucial Catch – Intercept Cancer" luncheon at Mystic Lake. Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, an annual attendee of the event, appreciates the NFL using its platform to tackle multiple types of cancer.
"You get to kind of take that initiative that they do and bring it down into a little more intimate setting," Kyle Rudolph said. "The NFL did a great job for so long with breast cancer [awareness and] early detection and screening, and now they've … expanded it throughout all types of cancer.
"People that know [our family] well know that cancer is something that we've battled head-on, and we're obviously very passionate about it," added Rudolph, whose younger brother survived pediatric cancer. "It's fun to be here, get to spend time with the survivors and hear their stories."
The Vikings and American Cancer Society teamed up to host the eighth annual Crucial Catch Luncheon.
Rudolph was joined by five teammates: WR Brandon Zylstra, P Matt Wile, T Aviante Collins, WR Chad Beebe and CB Marcus Sherels, who has attended the Crucial Catch luncheon every year since joining the Vikings as undrafted free agent in 2010.
Vikings Legends Rickey Young and Hall of Fame safety Paul Krause also were in attendance. Viktor the Viking provided plenty of entertainment for the guests, and the SKOL Line and Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders helped welcome the guests as they arrived.
Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren addressed the room prior to lunch.
"It truly is a pleasure to be here today in a very intimate setting. Today is a day that, any time you get an opportunity to discuss the importance of coming together as a community and the importance of coming together to save lives, the importance of coming together to really deal with issues that [people don't deserve to face]," Warren said. "So on behalf of the Minnesota Vikings, our wonderful ownership group, the Wilf Family, all the people who work at the Vikings on a daily basis, our players, our coaches, our staff, our fans around the world, we'd just like to welcome you."
KFAN personality Carly Zucker served as the afternoon's emcee and introduced ACS North Region Executive Vice President Dave Benson.
"We have cancer survivors here who have had a variety of different types of cancer," Benson said. "Different cancer journeys, different cancer treatments and different walks of life. You represent why the American Cancer Society is so proud to be able to serve cancer patients, no matter where they come from, no matter what kind of cancer they have – we're there for them 24 hours a day."
Benson went on to talk about ACS's focus on cancer research and shared the results of that research. According to Benson, the number of people in 2014 who were living beyond a cancer diagnosis in the U.S. was nearly 14.5 million. By 2024, the expectation is that the number will increase to almost 19 million.
"That's incredible progress," Benson said.
Benson made a commitment to continue striving for more progress and thanked the Vikings for their longstanding partnership with ACS to help make that a reality.
During the luncheon, guests were joined at their respective tables by one current or former Vikings player, and the cancer survivors and patients were presented with a football that they could get autographed.
The event concluded with a Q&A with Rudolph and Zylstra, during which Zucker asked a series of questions and then opened it up for inquiries from the audience. In his first year with the Vikings, Zylstra was grateful that he chose to attend the luncheon and meet so many strong individuals.
"I thought it was super cool to hear everybody's stories and their background," said Zylstra, a native of Spicer, Minnesota. "This is the community I grew up in, and I didn't make it here alone. It's just good to show your support and try to give back. Like these cancer survivors were telling us, you never know who you can inspire or touch just based on your influence.
"I think it's huge," Zylstra added of the NFL's Crucial Catch campaign. "Any kind of awareness you can bring is positive."
Carolyn Hardy-Best, who battled colon cancer in 1996 and more recently cervical cancer, described the afternoon as "awesome."
"I didn't know what to expect," Hardy-Best said. "It's just been a great journey, and I'm going to [continue to tell my story]."
Tuesday marked the two-year anniversary of a prostate cancer diagnosis for Kelton Kent, who is now cancer free.
Kelton said he was overwhelmed by the support from the Vikings and ACS and felt encouraged to be even more open with his story. He especially enjoyed getting to visit with Collins and the other Vikings.
"It allowed me to get to know them better than one normally would, and it was a much more personal interaction," Kent said.
At Rudolph's table, the tight end connected with Grant Haar, the only one of the survivors to have battled pediatric cancer.
"Like my brother, he was born with cancer and was something that he fought at a very early age. Thankfully Grant is now 13 years old, an eighth grader," Rudolph said. "He plays the trumpet, loves music and is doing things that any normal 13-year-old kid is doing. That's why we do what we do, and those are the stories that we like to hear.
"Unfortunately, that's not everyone's story," Rudolph added. "And that's why we're here; that's why we're bringing more awareness to cancer. Any voice or any little effort that we can make will help us have one more Grant story."