The Minnesota Vikings didn't have the start they envisioned at 1-5, which is why they are fortunate to have a leader like Kyle Rudolph on the roster. Rudolph is in the midst of his 10th season with the Vikings, and has experienced the highs and lows. He is fifth in franchise history in receptions (435) and receiving touchdowns (48), and 10th in receiving yards (4,277) -- making Rudolph arguably the greatest tight end in franchise history.
Rudolph has been a Pro Bowler on the field, but a Hall of Famer off it thanks to his work with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. The Vikings tight end and his wife, Jordan, have been involved with the hospital for a decade, creating "Kyle Rudolph's End Zone," which was created to help children and teenagers play, relax, engage in healing therapies, and socialize with other kids who know what it's like to spend time in the hospital.
Rudolph continues to give back to the hospital, teaming up with Polaris to auction off his personal, Vikings-inspired custom Slingshot. All the proceeds from the auction will be donated to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. Rudolph has already raised over $20,000 from the auction.
In an exclusive interview with CBSSports.com, Rudolph discusses the mission behind "Kyle Rudolph's End Zone," the Vikings' start, and his future with the franchise he's spent a decade playing for.
The Vikings obviously aren't off to the start you guys envisioned at 1-5. What did you guys say to each other going into the bye week?
Rudolph: "The biggest thing was ... it gave us an opportunity to go back and study not only the things we did well for the first six weeks, but not only what we were doing that was causing us to lose football games. When you go back and look at it -- for us as an offense -- we break things down and study and you wouldn't believe at 1-5 you would be in the top five and top three in almost 10 statistical categories. And when you look at that it makes you wonder how we are losing football games. Then you go and look at 'okay, what are we not doing so well' and then you see our lack of execution in the third quarter and turnovers. Just like we were in the top three in a lot of categories, we were in the bottom three -- if not last -- in all of those.
"It really gave us a perspective of what we got to do moving forward. We studied it and now we got to address it. We have a 10-game season starting with three straight division games to get this thing back on track."
I know you're not getting the target share you used to be getting, but at the same time the Vikings are a top-10 running offense.
Rudolph: "For me, I'm not getting the targets I'm accustomed to getting. With that being said, I am still on the field and I have a job I like to do -- and that's a blocker in the run game and a lot of times that's a pass blocking in the pass game. For me, that's something I always have to work on, I always continue to get better at -- something that has become very natural. That's been what I've worked on the most."
The Yannick Ngakoue trade was kind of sudden. He was here for a minute it seemed and all of a sudden he was on another roster.
Rudolph: "Being here for 10 years, I have complete faith in Rick (general manager Rick Speilman) and our front office and the guys that are making decisions on our football team currently and the future of our football team. They felt like that was a move that was best for our football team.
"It's something that I learned over my time here, the decisions Rick has made are in the best interest of our football team."
Are you concerned about your future with Minnesota?
Rudolph: "That's the way things go. When you don't win football games everybody's job is on the line. That's the nature of our business. If you're not performing, if you're not winning football games, then everybody has to look at themselves in the mirror and your job is always at risk."
You were on a team that started 1-5 before in 2013. Do you share that experience with some of the guys on this team?
Rudolph: "I think the biggest thing is -- not necessarily going back to a year where we started 1-5 and we finished 3-13 -- but going back to a year like 2017 where we started 2-2 and reached the NFC Championship Game. We won eight straight games to get to 10-2. That's kind of where we're at as a football team. Yea we're still 1-5, but there's 10 weeks left in the season.
"Who knows what could happen. So it's about going out this week and like I said, we got three straight division games coming up. What better way to get ourselves back on track by going out and playing well in those games. Anything cna happen in the next 10 weeks and we'll see where we are when the chips fall."
With the extra team in the postseason, you guys still have a legitimate shot.
Rudolph: It seems farfetched to be talking about the playoff race, and it certainly will take an astronomical feat for us to climb our way back in. We won eight straight games before, so if we go off and rattle eight straight games and we're sitting at 9-5 -- it doesn't seem so crazy.
"That's the biggest thing we keep relaying to our younger guys. Things may not be bright right now, but we lost to two (previously) undefeated teams by one point. We're not as far off as our record may seem."
Can you explain 'Kyle Rudolph's End Zone' and the mission behind it?
Rudolph: "We came up with an idea for space at the hospital after spending a lot of time with patients and families and really getting to know them and asking them aside from things they already had at the hospital, what would be something that would make your visit -- as short or long as it is -- more enjoyable. That goes for patients, for siblings, and quite honestly for parents because when you're there -- whether with a patient or with siblings -- it's not easy for them.
"If we were able to create a space where these kids can escape -- which we have -- the realities of their doctor's appointments, their hospital visits, and in some cases their extended stays at the hospital, it lets them be a kid. Quite honestly, that was our main goal. At times, their childhood is taken away from them when they check into the hospital. We just wanted to provide them with a little bit of that back."
What amenities are in the hospital?
Rudolph: "First of all, we met with a group of kids -- the hospital kid council -- and although I think I'm pretty cool and my ideas are pretty cool, often times kids don't agree with me and they don't think what I think is cool (laughing). We were able to pick the brains of the kids' council at the hospital -- which is comprised of current patients, former patients, siblings of patients -- and really get a feeling of what they want in the space. We came up with a space that has a basketball hoop, a sports simulator that has all different kinds of sports on it. Obviously there's a video game section with four TVs and XBoxes. There's actually a full kitchen, which is used for baking and cooking but it also is used for arts and crafts.
"Then we also have something for the older demographic for the teenagers -- and often times they are the ones forgotten about in a children's hospital -- so we have this lounge are where the teenagers can hang out. When friends are coming to visit, they don't have to sit in their rooms because often times you don't want to sit next to mom and dad to hang out with friends. You want to get away and hang out, that's what the lounge is for. And then we have a "forest" area, which is kind of a quiet space for kids to kid of go back and read books and do things like that.
"We try to, in conjunction with the kids council, come up with anything they need or they want to do while they're there."
How involved are the Vikings in the project?
Rudolph: "That's one of the things I love most about our organization. Being here for 10 years, I've gotten to see first hand the work the Wilf family (Vikings owner Zygi Wilf) does. Our space is actually built right next to a space the Wilf family developed -- a bunch of conference rooms, an auditorium where they can do telemedicine but can also be a movie theater for kinds where they can do down and watch movies and have other events.
"The Wilf family have been extremely involved at the hospital, not just in supporting our initiative, but also initiatives of their own. The Vikings have had a relationship with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital for over 45 years, so this was something I was introduced to when I was a rookie -- and this was something I was passionate about and wanted to do it."
What led to Polaris donating your customized version of the Slingshot? That's something I would want to ride!
Rudolph: "It's a ton of fun. Three years ago I got the Slingshot from Polaris and we were able to customize it in Vikings purple and gold and it has the Vikings logo on the hood along with my number stitched in the headrest. This year, I actually got a Polaris Ranger which is more like a workman truck as opposed to the Slingshot -- which is a lot more fun. As we all know, as a guy when you get one toy -- often times your wife will make you get rid of the other. She said we're not keeping both in the garage. You have to get rid of the Slingshot if you want to keep the Ranger.
"I just felt like it was a great opportunity for us in a year where we couldn't do the fundraising events we typically do, it would be a great way to raise some money for the hospital in doing that. A Vikings fan can get a one-of-a-kind vehicle and it is something that would be really cool for them."
Now when you had the Slingshot, did you roll with that into practice?
Rudolph: "Oh absolutely! Especially in Minnesota, when the summertime hits and the weather gets nice, there's noting better than riding around in that baby! I drove it all around town, drove it to and from work a lot, and it was something I really enjoyed. In Minnesota, you kind of celebrate the warm weather in the summertime. There was no better way to celebrate than driving around in that Slingshot."
I heard it gets pretty cold up there around January and February.
Rudolph: "So we set a record for the most snowfall -- the earliest in 100 years -- last week. Winter has reared its ugly head up here a bit early, but it makes you appreciate the gorgeous summers up here that's for sure."