Having penned a four-year contract extension with the Minnesota Vikings, Kyle Rudolph has only one goal for the years to come: win an NFL championship. In a June press conference, he addressed reporters with a look of steely determination on his face. “I have unfinished business,” he said, “and that business is bringing the first championship here to this organization and to the state of Minnesota.” After three seasons at the University of Notre Dame, Rudolph was drafted 43rd overall by the Vikings in the 2011 NFL Draft. He has been a purple-and-gold regular ever since, holding the record for most touchdown receptions by a tight end in franchise history with 41. He has more to flaunt than just impressive football stats, though. In 2017 and 2018, Rudolph was awarded the Minnesota Vikings Community Man of the Year and is a two-time Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for his work with the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital. A dogged worker on the field and a gentle, doting father and husband off it, burly No. 82 has certainly left a lasting impression on the Vikings faithful.
When did you know you wanted to be a professional football player?
At an early age. I didn’t necessarily know I wanted to be a football player, but I knew I wanted to be a professional athlete. I’d tell people all the time. As a first grader, you go through the class and ask everybody what they want to be when they grow up. One third of the people say a professional athlete, one third say a doctor or lawyer, and one third say a cop, firefighter, etc. Then as you get a little bit older, that professional athlete number dwindles. By high school, most people have decided they want to do something besides sports. I never wavered from what I wanted to do. All I ever wanted to do was play sports.
Have your kids taken to football yet?
That’s all they know. They went to their first game when they were 4 or 5 days old. They were born on a Tuesday, and they were at their first game on Sunday. They’ve grown up around the Vikings, and they are obsessed with Viktor—although they don’t love the idea of the mascot when he gets close, they love him from afar. I don’t know many 2-year-olds who will sit in their own seats and be locked in on a game for four quarters, but that’s my kids. That’s what they want to do. That’s what they look forward to—especially this time of year.
You were named the 2017 and 2018 Minnesota Vikings Community Man of the Year. How important is it for athletes, celebrities, and notables to be involved in the community?
Professional athletes, whether they choose to use it or not, are given a platform to impact people. That can be for the positive or for the negative, but I try to use my platform to impact the community we live and work in for the better. We’ve done a lot with the children’s hospital at the University of Minnesota, and my wife and I are both extremely passionate about kids—underprivileged kids, sick kids, kids that battle different challenges mentally and physically. Kids are going to be the future of this community and our country. Anything we can do to impact them positively, we try to do.
What’s it like working with Masonic Children’s Hospital and all the children there?
It’s really cool and it’s actually inspiring for me—especially now as a parent. You draw so much strength and courage from these patients and their families when you spend time with them. You see them going through some extremely tough times, both as people and as a family. To me, that always allows me to draw perspective. I’m quickly reminded that what I do for a living is just a game, it’s not life or death, and no matter how much much time or energy we put into it, there are far bigger things going on in this world. My family has always been passionate about pediatric illness and pediatric cancer, in large part because my younger brother is a childhood cancer survivor. It’s just something that has always been near and dear to my family’s heart. I’ve taken that existing relationship and tried to build on it.
You’re also a two-time nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, one of the most prestigious awards the NFL offers. Tell us about what it means to you to receive that recognition.
Both Nationwide and the Walter Payton Man of the Year awards do a great job of elevating the platforms of 32 individuals who are going above and beyond to serve their communities. To have the opportunity to be nominated twice is pretty special. It has been a lot of fun to learn about what [Walter Payton] did not only as a player, but for his community and for the servant he was. Obviously, Walter played far before I was around and far before I started following the game of football, so [it’s getting] to know his legacy and what he meant—not to the game of football, that goes without saying, but who he was as a person.
After being here for almost 10 years, what do you like most about living in the Twin Cities?
I would say the biggest thing my wife and I enjoy about living in the Twin Cities is the people we’ve met. We’ve got a lot of really good friends here in the Twin Cities. But also, when we are out in public and we see fans and we meet new people, they are always extremely polite and respectful. It’s a pleasure for us to go out in the community and spend time downtown, in restaurants or out on the lake.
What’s it like playing in U.S. Bank Stadium?
It’s incredible. I feel like we have the best home-field advantage in football. It’s a tough place for teams to come in and play, and certainly a tough place for teams to come in and get a win—that’s in large part to our fans. They make that place extremely hostile and it’s very loud when our defense is on the field. That makes it really tough for opposing offenses to communicate, be on the same page and execute for four quarters.
How would you describe the Minnesota Vikings fanbase?
They are extremely loyal. Our organization has been through a lot over almost 60 years—four championship losses, multiple NFC championship losses, a lot of heartache, a lot of tough times—but year in and year out they come out and they support and they have expectations of winning a championship. That’s part of the reason why it was so important for me to be in Minnesota and to finish my career as a Viking. I want to be a reason and I want to be a part of the first championship in this organization. This organization, this fanbase, the state of Minnesota, quite frankly, deserves a championship.