Painted faces, candy and a magician surrounded Kyle Rudolph. Some Vikings teammates sported fake mustaches, but a No. 82 jersey was the only “costume” Rudolph needed.
In his sixth year visiting patients and their families at the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital, Rudolph officially led his first “Halloween Huddle” on Tuesday with his wife, Jordan, and some teammates. The visits, which include a trio of holiday-themed parties, have taken on an added significance for Rudolph through the years.
Aside from being a new father to 3-week-old twin girls, Tuesday marked Rudolph’s first event as the Vikings’ leader in charity work with the hospital after center John Sullivan was released in August.
“After Sully left this year ... we wanted to keep them going,” Rudolph said. “Not only do the things we’ve done in the past for the children’s hospital, but make sure we continue to put these events on for the kids. These kids don’t have the opportunity to get out and celebrate the holidays and, in this instance, go out and trick-or-treat, so to bring a little bit of joy to their lives during a tough time is what it’s all about.”
Rudolph, the Vikings tight end, already made a habit of sponsoring movie nights at the hospital and joined Jordan, then his girlfriend, during a spa day for children in February 2015. The Rudolph family is also partnered with the hospital to raise money for “Kyle Rudolph’s End Zone,” a 2,500-square-foot area designed for kids to play and relax.
He would also accompany Sullivan when the veteran offensive lineman led the holiday parties, which Rudolph has continued this fall. A Thanksgiving visit is up next.
There wasn’t an official passing of the baton, said Rudolph, whose interest in the hospital began soon after he was drafted by the Vikings in 2011. It’s just a cause close to his heart. When Rudolph was 15 months old, his little brother, Casey, was born with neuroblastoma, a cancer common among infants. After operations and chemotherapy, Casey eventually beat the cancer.
“I don’t remember it,” Rudolph said. “I just hear stories from my mom and dad about being a 15-month-old and getting dragged in and out of the hospital and how strong my little brother was and how strong my mom and dad are. So when you have something that close to your family, this obviously weighs heavy on my heart.”
It’s something the Rudolph clan rallies around. Kyle’s mother, Jamie, watched her infant granddaughters while Kyle and Jordan visited hospital rooms Tuesday with quarterback Sam Bradford, receiver Laquon Treadwell and others. They shared stories, signed autographs and posed for photos.
“All the different events that we’ve done, I could never imagine bringing my kids here for a reason to stay,” Rudolph said. “You see how strong the parents are that are here with their kids and how strong the kids are, the patients that are going through it.”
Downstairs in the lobby-turned-Halloween festival, tight end Rhett Ellison posed for photos with patients and family members, some holding handwritten get-well messages for their ill kin. Children able to leave their rooms collected candy and gravitated toward Vikings players while some huddled around a magician using dollar bills in sleight of hand tricks.
“It’s all about them being kids,” Rudolph said. “If we can make them, for one day, forget about why they’re here; come down and get a bunch of candy, enjoy a nice meal.”
Former Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson started the visits during his time in Minnesota. Before Hutchinson’s football career took him to Tennessee, he recruited Sullivan, now playing for the Redskins, to take the lead.
Now, when the 6-foot-6 Rudolph removes his giant yellow gloves, the work is in his hands.
“It was kind of seamless that this was something we wanted to do,” Rudolph said. “First backing John before and now that John is gone; we wanted to make sure all these traditions still stayed.”