When the first-graders who sent sympathy cards to Vikings kicker Blair Walsh met him Thursday, they were more interested in getting autographs and high-fives and learning about his personal life than further discussion about his season-ending missed field goal Sunday.
Walsh told the kids he’s 25, his family has a poodle, he lives in Uptown and he doesn’t have a guinea pig. “Oh yeah,” he wants to play in the new stadium, he said, then asked if the students would be attending games there. The kids responded with enthusiastic cheers. As for being cursed at, he said, “It happens. Trust me.”
Nobody did anything but smile during his hourlong visit to Northpoint Elementary School in Blaine. Because his missed field goal was the disappointing finale of the 10-9 loss Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, Walsh has received lots of media and fan criticism.
But it was the kids’ act of kindness toward him that got his attention. Walsh said he first heard of the letters from his father, then went online to look. “They weren’t hard to find,” he said.
He was so touched to hear from children who didn’t know him that he pushed his flight home back a day to make the Northpoint visit. “I wanted to show these kids that I cared and I didn’t want to wait until spring,” he said.
As he stood before the students in dark jeans and a fitted gray T-shirt, he thanked them. “It was very touching to me. … A lot of [the cards] were very pretty and creative. … I will cherish them forever,” he said.
As he has since Sunday, he made no excuses. “I take accountability and ownership” for the missed kick, Walsh said amid more than a dozen news reporters and cameras. “And that’s a big lesson for you.”
The kicker also told them about the importance of persistence. “It’s what you have to do,” he said.
After his 10-minute group session in front of the class, Walsh spied 4-year-old Max Birdwell wandering into the room with a soft football. He asked if Max could kick and held the ball down for him. Max gave it two successful and successive boots, sending the first into the gut of a newspaper photographer.
Encircled by reporters in an impromptu news conference, Walsh didn’t admit to a favorite condolence card but did say, “ ‘The best kicker in the universe’ was pretty funny.”
The kicker said he wanted to make sure the kids got the message that the kick “isn’t the end” and won’t be a “defining moment” for him.
He went to each classroom, handing out and signing trading cards, miniature helmets and “eye black” stickers that many kids immediately put on their cheeks.
The cards were a hit.
Maddux McGeehan, 6, who was wearing a Vikings jersey, rifled through his, recalling that his note to Walsh said, “ ‘I wish you had scored the field goal’ and then I said I loved him.”
McGeehan pronounced the visit “fun,” but didn’t pick up anything new. “We already learned about empathy,” he said.
Teacher Sarah Myhre said she talks to the students about empathy and understanding every day, but having them see it come full circle and learning how “one small act of kindness can multiply” was something else. “I feel like they can’t even understand what’s happening because it’s so beyond them.”
Walsh spent more than an hour at the school, patiently smiling and posing for photos with teachers, staff and all who asked. He gave out innumerable high-fives to the kids and emerged from the visit carrying a multicolored stuffed animal given to him by a child. As to his plans for the furry acquisition, “Walsh said, ‘I don’t know but I’m keeping it.’ ”
Staff Writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.