When Vikings fullback C.J. Ham laces up his cleats Sunday morning, he'll feel a little extra motivation – and emotion – ahead of taking the field at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It's not because this weekend's game is a divisional matchup and a hopeful bounce-back for Minnesota after a tough loss to Seattle on Monday Night Football.
Rather, C.J.'s custom-designed kicks for the NFL's My Cause My Cleats game feature a portrait of his mother, Tina, who currently is fighting pancreatic cancer.
C.J. surprised Tina with the cleats after a recent Saturday morning walk-through. Sharing the first look, mother and son each were taken aback by the detail as they lifted the box's lid and picked up the shoes.
On one, Tina is painted with a wide smile and in Vikings gear, a photograph snapped pregame at the Crucial Catch game in October; You are the strongest person in the world is written in white across the toe. The other reads, I love you, Mom. A purple ribbon for pancreatic cancer wraps across the outside panel of each cleat.
"These are made specifically for you," C.J. told Tina. "I know you've been through a lot in this past year, and I just wanted to make these special for you."
"They're so cute," she said, breaking into a matching smile.
C.J.'s cleats represent the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which is dedicated to fighting "the world's toughest cancer" through research, clinical initiatives, patient services and advocacy.
Tina was diagnosed in March 2018 initially with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer, but surgery revealed that it actually was Stage 4.
C.J. has been inspired by his mother and felt strongly about dedicating Sunday's game to her ongoing battle.
"With everything she's been through, staying strong this entire time, I just wanted to honor her," he explained. "I love my mom, and I just want to do all I can for her."
He gave Tina a hug and kiss and then was joined by his wife, Stephanie, and daughters, Skylar and Stella.
"That's Granny!" Skylar exclaimed excitedly, pointing to the portrait.
"It's way better than I even imagined. Words can't even really explain," C.J. said. "Just the portrait itself – there's so much strength in that picture.
"She truly is the strongest person I know, and I know when I'm wearing these cleats, it's going to help me," he added, his voice wavering.
As the family continued to admire the uniquely designed cleats, Tina reiterated how much she loved them.
"But I don't get to wear them," she said, laughing.
"No, you don't get to wear them," C.J. agreed with a smile. "But I get to wear them for you."