View images from Friday's Team Vikings vs. Team Thief River Falls football game from the 2015 Arctic Blast.
THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. — Harrison Smith, Kyle Rudolph, Brandon Fusco, Phil Loadholt, Charles Johnson and Adam Thielen felt the heat at halftime.
The Vikings players were referees and sharing a locker room at Ralph Engelstad Arena with Vikings staff members and alumni players that were trailing a Thief River Falls community team at the break.
"They got in our ears, and there were some bribes thrown around, so we had to weigh our options and decided to play it by the rules," Smith said. "We gave (former Vikings kicker Fuad Reveiz) a chance to kick (an extra point) that might have been a little low, but we gave it to him. It was kind of a pitty point."
The game was a new element of the 20th Arctic Blast Snowmobile Rally, which was held for the first time in the hometown of Arctic Cat, more than five hours northwest of Winter Park.
The five-on-five competition followed a youth football clinic led by Vikings Youth Football Manager and former LB E.J. Henderson and Thief River Falls Prowlers players. It was part of a weekend of fellowship and fundraising to benefit the Vikings Children's Fund. Current Vikings visited Sanford Health in Thief River Falls, which made a $10,000 donation to the VCF while alumni and staff mounted snowmobiles.
The only point after a touchdown attempted was kicked through the opening where the Zamboni machine enters the ice playing surface and gave the Vikings a 49-48 lead late. Thief River Falls stormed back for another touchdown, moving down the field faster than Hall of Famer Chris Doleman on a snowmobile to re-take the lead, but Fusco, who handled microphone duties as a ref/emcee determined that three seconds remained.
It was enough time for Brooks Bollinger to fire a pass the length of the field to Henry Thomas, who benefitted from a no-call of offsides for the game-winning touchdown. The former Vikings defensive tackle, who had 56 sacks of quarterbacks in eight seasons in Minnesota, showed nice hands in bringing in the spiral from Bollinger and was swarmed by teammates before posing for selfies and photos taken by Doleman.
"It was a great game," Thomas said. "Everybody came out and had a really good time. I was just fortunate enough to have a little left in the tank to turn on the afterburners and find myself in the end zone. It was kind of like 'The Flash,' a little blue streak going by. Nobody could see it, but I did what I had to do."
Rudolph and Smith managed to work in an ice cream break without missing any of the action.
"It was interesting. I think my favorite part of the game was the Dippin' Dots break that I took briefly to get up to the concession stand, but the Thief River Falls faithful showed up," Rudolph said. "It was a great crowd. Thief River Falls put a great team together, the Vikings came out on top, so we were happy about that."
Rudolph also caught a long toss from Bollinger and then handed the ball off to Vikings cheerleader Ting Ting, who ran for a touchdown. Ting Ting also was flagged by Johnson for a "hit on a defenseless receiver" at the other end of the field.
"Benchwarmer" Bob Lurtsema kept the transaction wire warm. He was traded multiple times before winding back up on the Vikings squad.
"This is the first time I can actually say officials helped us," quipped Lurtsema. He and former Vikings defensive tackle Doug Sutherland were presented game balls by Vikings Children's Fund Coordinator Pat Leopold for their work with Arctic Blast. Lurtsema co-founded the event, and Sutherland has been a participant each year.
"The football game was truly unique," Leopold said. "It's something I haven't seen in my career with the Vikings. It was a blend where the current players came out and supported it by being referees and the former players, and you could see the adrenaline takeover and could see it got a little more physical than I would have planned on having, but it was great. The guys went in and I told them to take it easy and had a really good time. They had a great time. It was a truly unique thing and something I'll treasure for the rest of my career."
Vikings alumni and staff followed Friday's festivities with a 28-mile roundtrip snowmobile ride on the frozen Red Lake River. The slick serpentine path was selected because of a rare shortage of snow in February, but it substituted for the fun that has brought alumni back to Minnesota multiple times.
"The snowmobiles are awesome," Steve Jordan said. "I probably don't need to be on them because I tend to be a little bit of a speed freak, but they are absolutely a blast, and Arctic Cat is amazing in terms of their equipment and gear. It can be as cold as it wants to be, and you put on this gear and you're toasty."
Darrin Nelson, Carl Lee, Jordan, Thomas, Doleman and Reveiz are all repeat visitors, and their closeness seems just as strong as when they were on the Vikings roster. They are able to joke with each other like only those who truly like each other can, and share memories as they flipped through bound volumes of Viking Update that Lurtsema brought. Some of the clippings jogged memories of stories that were published, and others that weren't.
"For me, it's a great experience," Lee said. You meet all kinds of different people and you get a chance to meet with the guys that you've played with and don't see that often. It seems like it's the locker room because you know no matter how great you thought you were, this is the group that knows you and will never give you credit for what you did on the field."
After the snowmobile ride and hospital visit, current players, alumni, cheerleaders and Viktor the Viking ventured out to multiple "Blast Points" around the town of nearly 9,000 for autographs and photo sessions with fans of all ages.
The past and present players showed how much they enjoy meeting fans who came down from Canada, over from the Dakotas, up from Iowa and from locations within Minnesota that are several hours away. The players were grateful for the genuine welcome they received from everyone.
Saturday evening, Smith, Rudolph, Johnson, Fusco and Loadholt participated in a Q&A with KFAN's Mike Mussman, who hosts Vikings Country on Thursdays during the season to open a blistering rock concert with pyrotechnics by the band Hairball, who specializes in 1980s rock and accompanied the Vikings to play a show in London in 2013.
The weekend wrapped up with a raffling of $30,000 in prizes that included a grand prize from Arctic Cat, as well as flat screen televisions, tickets to 2015 Vikings home games and autographed memorabilia.
Thief River Falls native Kelly Thygeson had the winning ticket and opted for an Arctic Cat XR550 all-terrain vehicle instead of a snowmobile.
"It's been an awesome experience from the get-go, from the autographs to the game and last night's show and now this," Thygeson said. "This puts it right up there, and now we just need a Super Bowl win. This has been a great thing for Thief River Falls. It just brought everybody together. It was really great to watch and for a great charity. That's the main point."
Leopold highlighted the work that Vikings staff members did to coordinate the logistics for the event and sponsors like Arctic Cat, Miller Lite and Pepsi for their role in making the event a success.
"It went really well. Coming into the event, we had the lack of snow, but that's the beauty of this, we designed it where you don't have to have snow to have a great time and raise a lot of money for the Vikings Children's Fund," Leopold said. "We had so many activities that went on throughout the weekend and we're just so fortunate that the community of Thief River Falls and the surrounding region came out in such big numbers to support it. We raised a lot of money for the Vikings Children's Fund and couldn't be any happier with how everything went."