MINNEAPOLIS — Holidays are often a time of maintaining traditions in an ever-changing world.
Vikings seventh-year center John Sullivan has led groups on annual December visits to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. Sullivan was sick and unable to attend Tuesday, but his teammates and Vikings alumni players carried on the passing of joy and encouragement to patients and their families.
Left tackle Matt Kalil, who is about to wrap his third season with Minnesota, has appreciated the opportunity to attend the event for three years.
"It means a great deal. Sully's a really good friend, and I'll do anything I can to support whatever cause he's doing," Kalil said. "I've enjoyed it tremendously. My rookie year, we did a visit, and I had never done anything like that. It's such a touching experience to go in there and talk to the kids, see how they're doing and just kind of put a smile on their face."
Kalil donated pepperoni and cheese pizzas from one of his Pieology Pizzerias. He and teammates Joe Banyard, Austin Wentworth, David Yankey, Scott Crichton, Zac Kerin, Isame Faciane and Carter Bykowski were joined by Vikings alumni Bob Lurtsema, Dave Osborne, Oscar Reed and Stu Voigt for the visit.
The players, past and present, signed autographs and posed for photos with patients and their families and shared smiles and laughs with patients and their families as carolers sang songs of the season and cookies were decorated.
The players also visited the rooms of patients who were unable to make it to the lobby. Kalil said the patients are a "little overwhelmed at first" when multiple 300-plus-pound offensive linemen walk in the room, but players try to show their "teddy bear side" to make the visit cozier for patients.
"It's kind of our little way of giving back," Kalil said. "You have kids in here who are sick and can't go home and spend time with their families for the holidays, so anything we can do as football players and representatives of our community, just being out here and giving them a morale boost. I hope we don't scare them too much when they see big giants walk in the room. We have such great fans and such dedicated fans that watch our games and are die-hard, so for us to come out like this and show a little support, and give a holiday spirit, it's all worth it."