MINNEAPOLIS – Kyle Rudolph is a regular host of Holiday Huddles at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, but there's a first time for everything.
Or in this case, a first time for two things.
During his Thanksgiving Huddle last week, Kyle couldn't help chuckling as he autographed a young patient's Crocs; later that afternoon, he and his wife, Jordan, were challenged to a unique scavenger hunt during a bedside visit.
Duey, a timid young boy who celebrated his sixth birthday on Wednesday, spent most of the Rudolphs' visit "hiding" behind his I.V. pole. He peeked out several times, however, to giggle and give Kyle and Jordan clues as they searched for rubber reptiles tucked inconspicuously around the room.
Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph and his wife, Jordan, hosted their annual "Thanksgiving Huddle" at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.
"Duey was a little shy … I can't imagine if someone my size walked into my room when I was a kid. There's definitely that intimidation factor," Kyle said afterward. "You always try to ask them about things that they love to do – and it's even better when they send you on a hunt with lizards and frogs in their room."
Kyle and Jordan visited several patients who were unable to leave their rooms, including Duey; Talon, who added Kyle's signature to his white Crocs; 7-year-old Dylan, who preferred to be called Iron Man; and Megan Wagner, whom Kyle and Jordan have come to know over her extended stay.
Kyle was joined at the hospital by fellow tight ends Irv Smith, Jr., Tyler Conklin and Brandon Dillon, who is on Minnesota's practice squad. Vikings Legends Dave Osborn, Stu Voigt and Rickey Young also attended, as did Viktor the Viking and Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders.
A number of the Vikings guests remained in the lobby, where patients and their families could enjoy Thanksgiving desserts and holiday-themed activities, as well as snap photos with and receive autographs from the players.
"It just says a lot about our locker room, the kind of guys that we have and the high-character guys that we have in our [position] room," said Kyle, who pointed out that the team had practiced that morning coming off the bye week. "We had work this morning – normally Tuesdays are completely off – and they were still willing to go out and do something and support our cause."
Smith was happy to follow in the ninth-year player's footsteps.
"I knew Rudy did a lot of work in the community, but I didn't know he had that [extensive of a connection] with the children's hospital; seeing that was really cool," Smith added. "It just shows how great of a person he is, and we support him as a tight ends group."
The Thanksgiving Huddle marked Smith's first hospital visit with the Vikings, but the second-round draft pick explained that he had spent time visiting children's hospitals during his collegiate career at Alabama.
Smith and Dillon also made bedside visits and met several young people courageously facing challenges.
The pair of rookies enjoyed connecting with the families, as well. They spent time getting to know the parents and five older brothers of 1-year-old Bo, who underwent a liver transplant on June 19.
Smith and Dillon later met Megan and listened intently to her story. They were visibly affected when told that Megan had defeated osteosarcoma but now is in heart failure due to the treatment's toxicity.
"Just hearing her story, she beat cancer, but now the chemo [is causing further complications] – her going through all of that, and the other kids going through what they are, is tough," Smith said. "But it shows how strong they are."
Megan gave Smith and Dillon yellow wristbands to match the one that Rudolph has worn on his right wrist for the past four games, including for his one-handed touchdown grab in Dallas.
On one side of the wristband is printed #MEGAN STRONG. On the other, STRONGER TOGETHER.
Smith, who scored his first career touchdown in Week 11 against Denver, told Megan the wristband will likely bring him good luck.
"I really enjoyed being a part of something special," Smith said. "[Meeting the kids] provides motivation – and not only for them but really for us."