John Randle is staring through a window at Hazeltine National, gazing at a vista of grass, sand, water and sun. He is thinking of other windows — one that introduced him to Minnesota, and one that compelled him to return.
As an undrafted rookie out of little Texas A&I in 1990, Randle visited Minnesota for the first time shortly after signing and took a bus from the airport to a local hotel. “I’m looking at the snow saying, ‘What am I doing here?’ ” he said. “I really didn’t think I had any chance at all.”
He also thought: “If I don’t take advantage of this, I will regret it for the rest of my life.”
Shortly after he retired, Randle found himself again staring through a window, wondering how life might change. He had returned to Texas. His son, Jonathan, lay in a hospital bed because of complications from a birth defect. Doctors gave him a 10 percent chance to live.
Randle turned one way, and saw cars snaking through traffic, people taking the routines of daily life for granted. He turned the other way and saw a priest visiting the rooms of children, administering last rites.
“I played football, where you take your hands and can control something, and now you have no control,” Randle said. “You’re in this room, holding your wife, sitting there, waiting. I felt so helpless.”
Randle turned himself into a Hall of Fame defensive tackle with the Vikings. Jonathan is a thriving 11-year-old, living with his parents and twin sister, Ryann, in the Twin Cities.
“It was such a tough time for us,” Randle said. “For four months, my wife and I were like two ships passing in the night. One would be home taking care of Ryann, one would be in the hospital with Jonathan. When he got healthy enough, we decided to come back to Minnesota because I believe we have better access to doctors here.”
Jonathan began walking and speaking later than his sister. John and his wife, Candace, scoured the cities for help. Former Vikings teammate Chris Liwienski recommended St. David’s Center, and that’s how Randle wound up at Hazeltine on a recent weekday, looking through the window at the golf course.
Randle raves about his son’s progress at St. David’s. Randle and the Vikings sponsor the St. David’s Center Tee Up for Tomorrow Golf Tournament every year at Hazeltine. St. David’s Center originally set a fundraising goal in 2012 of $13.7 million to upgrade their buildings and facilities. They stood at $13.2 million before the tournament, and plan to end the campaign in September.
“John and Candace became these wonderful champions of our organization, made this commitment to stay alongside of us for many, many years and do things like this golf tournament,” said St. David’s Center Executive Director Julie Sjordal. “And now Candace is a board member.”
Randle himself is the picture of health. He is sure he must have suffered a concussion at some point in his career, but he doesn’t feel negative effects. He works out three times a week at a local Life Time Fitness, and feels so energized sometimes he will work out more when he returns home.
“I’ll see other former players and they’ll ask me if I’m making a comeback,” Randle said. “I’ll say, ‘No, I’m just trying to stay around.’ ”
Randle has become a golfing fiend who delights in playing with other Hall of Famers every year in Canton, Ohio. He plays often with the Hall of Fame guard who used to face him in practice, Randall McDaniel. “He can hit his 4-iron about 260 yards,” Randle marvels.
So many NFL stories end in sadness. Randle’s first Minnesota bus ride led to a Hall of Fame career. His son’s illness led him back to Minnesota, where he found St. David’s.
“I’m a country guy,” Randle said. “What I mean by that is, when someone does something like that — what St. David’s did for me, teaching my son to talk — I’m indebted for life.”