EAGAN, Minn. — There were four teams representing four different branches of the military at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
But in reality, the kids and athletes on the field were part of a larger team, one than one bigger than an NFL organization or even a branch of the military.
The Vikings partnered with the United Heroes League to host children of military families for some flag football games Saturday afternoon, and there was plenty of respect and admiration to go around.
“It’s awesome. The kids love it,” said Neil Constine, who has been a Master Gunner Sgt. in the United States Marines for 24 years. “I’m not going to lie, we’re not Vikings fans, we’re Packers fans … but this was a great opportunity.
“Regardless of what team we root for, it’s great to see that the Vikings care for us and the kids. How many kids get the chance to play with NFL players on the field? It’s just awesome,” Constine added. “Sometimes we have a thankless job … to see people say they care about us and the military, but to follow through and take time like this, it’s fantastic. It shows that people not only have the words that they care, but they actually do care.”
Stephen Colford, a retired Navy First Class diver, added: “It’s amazing, especially for the kids. To come out here and have this kind of exposure, especially for military kids because they spend a lot of time traveling around, I know my kids really appreciate it. Everyone out there is having a blast.”
Roughly 50 young people participated in the games in front of their parents, a group made up of 150 active and retired military members.
The Vikings partnered with the United Heroes League to host children of military families for some flag football games at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
The Vikings were represented by four players — running back Latavius Murray, tight ends Kyle Rudolph and David Morgan and safety Anthony Harris. The kids were split into four teams representing the branch of the military their parents are involved in.
Murray was in white to represent the Navy, while Rudolph wore red for the Marines. Morgan was in dark green with the Army, while Harris was in blue with the Air Force.
Vikings players said the chance to interact with military families was extra special to them in advance of this past Sunday’s Salute to Service game against the Lions.
“It was fun, man,” said Murray, who’s fiancée, Shauntay Skanes, is in her 11th year of serving in the United States Navy. “Anytime you get a chance to interact with kids, and obviously kids that are involved and their families are involved in the military, it’s great.
“I think everyone knows my background at this point, so I’m connected in some different ways than other players,” added Murray, who was the Vikings Salute to Service award nominee.
Morgan added: “It was great to bring a smile to their faces. Anything we can do to help those guys. They do so much for our country and protect us so it’s always good to give back and it’s a big honor to play in front of those guys.”
The day was organized by the United Heroes League, an organization that helps military children stay healthy and active in sports while their parents are deployed.
Ben Mattson, the Chief Marketing and Development Officer of the United Heroes League, said Saturday’s event is one of the highlights of the entire year for the organization. This was the second year the Vikings and the UHL partnered together for the event.
“When the kids come in here and get to find out that Kyle Rudolph is their all-time quarterback, or that Latavius Murray is a Navy guy, that makes their experience so cool,” Mattson said. “The neat thing is when you look to the sideline and they see their heroes.
“Their parents are their heroes and the reason we’re here, and then their sports heroes are right next to them, it’s a really cool bubble to put everything around,” Mattson added.
Each team had a chance to play an opposite branch, as the teams rotated through playing each other over the course of an hour.
There were plenty of smiles and cheers on the field.
Jackson Colford, 11, spent the afternoon on the same team as his brother, Ryder, who is 8.
Jackson said playing with the Vikings was “a lot of fun” and that his favorite part was “when I made the touchdown.”
Quintin Constine, 10, said: “I had fun. I love football.”
And the Vikings players who joined in also had a great time.
“It was a blast to go out there and be a kid and have fun and fulfill my lifelong dream of playing quarterback,” Morgan said. “It came down to the end [against Rudolph’s team] but we ended up tying, and I think that was good for both teams.”
It was a day that no one will soon forget.
“Sometimes we have a thankless job … to see people say they care about us and the military, but to follow through and take time like this, it’s fantastic,” said Neil Constine. “It shows that people not only have the words that they care, but they actually do care.”