EAGAN, Minn. – “Vikes” on 3! … 1, 2, 3, VIKES!
Cap’s voice was joined by a chorus of nearly a hundred players and coaches as they wrapped up a recent Verizon Vikings Training Camp Practice.
“He was kind of getting nervous before [breaking down the huddle], he was kind of awestruck,” said Cap’s father, Dave. “But then he got into the moment, and he said it felt great once the players circled around him, and he just decided to fall back on what he knew he was going to say.”
Having been introduced to the team by Head Coach Mike Zimmer, Cap was heartily greeted by several players who snapped photos, signed autographs and complimented his shoes.
Below a Norseman bucket hat, gray Vikings T-shirt and white shorts, Cap wore a new pair Birkenstocks over white socks. Much to his parents’ dismay, they might add.
Dave and his wife, Tonya, had debated with Cap earlier that day on his choice of footwear. They argued back-and-forth a bit, telling their son that tennis shoes would be more appropriate for the sideline.
But Cap insisted and, in the end, won the battle.
First-round draft pick Garrett Bradbury approached the young fan after practice with a, “Hey, I love your Birks, Cap.”
And then linebacker Anthony Barr: “Hey, you’ve got your Birks on!”
“It was so funny; Mom and Dad don’t want him to do that, and then of course it’s a hit with the players,” laughed Dave. “And then I see Garrett Bradbury on TV … and he’s got Birkenstocks on. It was like, ‘Of course. Let’s just let Cap be Cap.’
“It kind of snaps you into that reality. Let him do what he wants to do and just be a kid,” Dave added. “That was special. It was fun.”
The entire afternoon proved special for Cap, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in late June and has been undergoing treatments.
He and his family, through the partnership of the Mike Zimmer Foundation and Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, were invited to practice for the day as a way to get their minds off of difficult circumstances and get an up-close look at their favorite team.
Zimmer invited the George family to stand near him for the last bit of practice. In addition to his parents, Cap was joined by his grandfather, Steve; and two younger brothers, Cooper and Cullen.
“We were saying, ‘Yeah, we realize players can kind of fly around,’ and Coach said, ‘Well, don’t worry. They won’t hit me. Stay next to me,’ ” recalled Dave. “We noticed that there’s a little parting of the Red Sea around Coach. … We all laughed about that.”
The sunny afternoon gave Cap a chance to just be a kid again, and the experience – particularly breaking down the huddle – will be a lifelong memory.
“That was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Cap said. “I just had fun and enjoyed the moment.”
One young fan had the opportunity to break down the Vikings huddle at Training Camp.
The experience with Cap was just a portion of how the Mike Zimmer Foundation plans to give back to young patients and their families. Corri Zimmer-White, who runs the foundation, explained that the partnership will involve hospital visits, hosting a couple of other families for training camp and games, and a monetary donation from the foundation.
Zimmer emphasized the importance of supporting individuals going through difficult life situations and added that he’s proud of the team for consistently pitching in, as well.
“The players love when a young guy comes out here and they can lift him up a little bit,” Zimmer said. “We just want him to know that we’re behind him, and he’s not fighting this alone.”
Zimmer, who spent three months in Children’s Memorial in Chicago as a youngster, specifically appreciates the foundation’s relationship with young patients in the Twin Cities.
“To be able to give back to these kids, to get them out of the hospital for a little time, to get them where they know that we care, that’s the biggest thing – we want to let people know we care,” Zimmer said.
The sentiment is not taken for granted by Cap or his parents.
Dave spoke highly of Children’s Minnesota, the Ronald McDonald House and the Mike Zimmer Foundation, who have all provided support systems that he doesn’t know what he would do without, and he said that a visit to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center offered a chance to re-energize.
“As you can imagine, the weight of the world is on you at that moment after you get a new diagnosis,” Dave said. “Being able to see your son have an amazing experience that he’ll remember forever, and that we’ll remember forever, and it was captured forever by [Vikings photographer Andy Kenutis].
“It’s very heavy when you go through something like this, and just to be able to have moments that break it up, they mean the world to people and families in this situation,” Dave continued. “Otherwise, you just sit and live in your own head and your own fears, and it’s an absolute breath of fresh air.”
Prior to their visit, Dave did some research on the Mike Zimmer Foundation and came to realize that it was established in the memory of Zimmer’s wife, Vikki, who passed away unexpectedly in 2009.
“She had a passion for children’s hospital, and I can just tell that Coach Zimmer has continued to carry that forward with his wife in mind,” Dave said. “I can tell that Coach has a big heart and that he really does care about kids like Cap and trying to make their days better. He absolutely does that by providing these types of experiences for kids, and our family is in a debt of gratitude to him for doing that.
“There’s a bigger purpose to what [the Vikings] are doing,” Dave said. “I believe that, and I’m grateful for it.”
Click here to learn more about Cap’s story and follow his fight against cancer.