I’ll never forget my Draft Day, 10 years ago. April 29th, 2011. I was the top-rated tight end, and (as a cocky 21-year-old) was feeling pretty good about where I stood. Had a little viewing party and everything — figured I’d go in Round 1, which was a dream of mine.
All of the teams that I’d met with, all of the teams that had an obvious need at tight end….. they passed on me. And before I knew it, the first round had ended without my name being called.
Party over, dream over. I was pretty devastated.
But then the next day, during Round 2, a strange thing happened: The Vikings, who already had three veteran TEs on their roster, and didn’t seem to have a need for me at all — they picked me at #43.
I’ll be honest: It seemed a little random at the time.
Looking back on it now, though?? I’ve come to understand something about that moment.
I got so lucky.
I got so lucky, because — I didn’t just get drafted by some team who “had a need at tight end.” I didn’t just get drafted as, like, the nameless, faceless “#1 tight end on the board.” I got drafted by a team that was all set in terms of need….. but then drafted me anyway.
I’ll always remember that: how the Minnesota Vikings wanted me — and wanted to bet on my potential.
Or to put it another way: how the Vikings believed in me.
And as I’m sitting here now, and going through my memories from the last decade, I think that’s one of the things that stands out to me most. How, at every level….. whether it’s ownership, or the front office, or my coaches, or my teammates, or — especially — you all fans….. I’ve always felt like this place believed in me.
I’ve always felt like this place believed in the Vikings.
As an NFL team, yeah — but also as a larger idea. As a culture. Like: Does Minnesota live and breathe football?? Of course it does. You guys are the smartest, most passionate fans I’ve ever met. But there’s also something else about you, something special, that I really think sets you apart. And it’s the way that you believe in this team….. no matter what.
Every season I played here, every game I played here — you all believed. Whether we were 3–13, or 13–3, or any record in between. Whether we won big or lost big or won a thriller or lost a heartbreaker.
There’s no bitterness in Minnesota. There’s no cynicism. There’s no “Super Bowl curse.”
There’s always just been hope.
You’ve never wavered in believing in what this team is about.
And I want to thank you all for that, because it’s rubbed off on me in so many ways. It’s rubbed off on my life in ways that I don’t think I’ve even fully realized yet. I think being a part of this culture over the last 10 years….. it’s made me grow into a better football player — but also a better father, and a better husband, and a better man.
And as I’m closing this chapter of my career, and saying my piece to Vikings Nation, I feel like the right thing to do is to think about it all from that perspective — the perspective that you guys have granted me so many times.
One of loyalty, and optimism, and gratitude, and respect.
So while I understand that a lot of the news today is going to focus on me and the team parting ways, I’d personally rather focus on the flip side of that: the fact that me and the Vikings stayed together for 10 whole seasons….. an insane run in today’s NFL. I mean, we made it to a third contract with each other. That’s rare. I got to be the longest-tenured player in literally the entire organization. (Which came with a really sweet parking spot, by the way. Just an unbelievably clutch situation during those Minnesota winters. Hate losing it, but shout-out to the next car up. Treat our spot well.)
Bottom line: I’m so proud of the decade I spent here.
And there are so many people I want to thank.
I want to thank the Vikings ownership group, the Wilf family — Zygi, Leonard and Mark. I think people have started to see it more and more, over the last few years: that the difference between a bad owner and a good owner in sports really does matter. And trust me when I say it doesn’t get better than the Wilfs. Both in terms of what they’ve done for the Vikings football operations, and what they’ve done for Minnesota at large. They’ve just been world class.
I want to thank Rick Spielman, who — ask anyone — runs one of the best front offices in the league. I want to thank Mike Zimmer. I want to thank Eric Sugarman, our head trainer. I want to thank all the strength coaches I’ve had in Minnesota, all the offensive coordinators, all the tight ends coaches. I think that everyone who’s come through here, in one way or another, has been instrumental in improving my game. I want to thank the first-rate equipment staff: Dennis Ryan, Aaron Neumann, Adam Groene, Terrell Barnes. Those are all people I dealt with on a daily basis — and to me they’re a part of the core of this team, as much as any player.
I want to thank my Vikings teammates from over the years, and obviously that’s way too long of a list to get into any sort of a roll-call. Trust me — you play 10 years in the NFL, and the names add up pretty quick. Think of it this way: Steve Hutchinson was my teammate as a rookie….. and that dude is in the actual HALL OF FAME now. That’s how old I am.
But in all seriousness, it’s been such an honor to play with the group of guys that I got to call teammates here. Guys like Chad Greenway, who was my go-to vet in those early years, and taught me everything I needed to know about what it takes to make it in this league — as a player and as a person. Guys like Harrison Smith, who’s been putting up with me since back when we were at Notre Dame together. (It’s so funny: First time we were ever both on the field, during a training camp session my freshman year, Harry and I got into a full-on fight with each other. Like, we for real came to blows….. just total knucklehead college stuff. What neither of us knew at the time was that we’d go on to play for the same team, 12 of our next 13 seasons, and basically become best friends.)
Guys like Hutch, Jared Allen, Adrian Peterson — the core of one of the great teams in franchise history. Guys like Matt Cassel, straight-up one of the best human beings I’ve ever been around. Guys like Ev Griffen, a nine-year teammate and an all-time friend. Guys like Eric Kendricks, an amazing competitor, who lined up against me every day in practice and helped mold me into the player I am. Guys like Sam Bradford, who never got the credit he deserved, but battled through injury for two years to try to get us over the hump. (I sincerely believe that we win a Super Bowl in 2017 if Sam is healthy. Such an incredibly talented dude, an unreal passer when his body was right.) Guys like Teddy Bridgewater, another crazy-talented quarterback who had some terrible injury luck, but inspired all of us with his determination, and definitely left his mark on this team. Man, just so many guys — I could go on and on.
And then over these last few years, as I’ve become one of the vets myself, I think about teammates like Garrett Bradbury, and Dalvin Cook, and Justin Jefferson, and Brian O’Neill: young players who are just getting started in this league — and who are going to be a part of the next great Vikings team, I’m sure of it.
What a privilege, truly….. to have gotten to line up and go to battle with these guys, wearing that purple and gold, every Sunday for a decade.
And then of course I want to thank you all — I want to thank Vikings fans everywhere. I won’t go too long with it, because I like to think you know me pretty well by now, and you know what I stand for. And I’ve always been better at letting my play do the talking, anyhow. But I just want to say two main things.
One: I truly love you guys, and am so grateful for the support you’ve given me during my time here. It changed my life.
And two: I really am sorry that I couldn’t help deliver a Super Bowl. I’d give just about anything to change that….. and it pains me to be turning this page with any business left unfinished. But I think the team is in awesome hands. And when — not if, when — the Vikings finally win one, I’ll be first in line to say congratulations. Nothing in the world would make me happier. (As long as it’s not against me!!)
And then the last thing I want to say, is that this is a thank you — but it’s not a goodbye.
I would hope that that doesn’t need saying, but just so you guys know: the Rudolph family — we’re not going anywhere. Sure, I’ll be playing for another team next fall. But it’s like I said: This is a culture that’s about a lot more than 60 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. This is a community.
And it means everything to us to be a part of it.
Jordan and I, we’re from different parts of the country….. but we feel like we’ve become adopted Minnesotans over the last 10 years. And our three kids? I mean, they’re not even adopted to it — they were born here, and have grown up here, and I couldn’t imagine raising them anyplace else. (First thing our oldest daughter said, after we had a little family conversation about Dad playing for a new team: She wanted to make it known that she would not be parting with her Minnesota Vikings baby giraffe blanket. Understood.)
So, yeah….. there wasn’t really much to talk about, in terms of what our family would be doing, in light of Dad changing teams.
My career is my career, and I’m really excited about whatever is around the corner. I think I have a lot of good football still to play — and the fire inside of me to win a Super Bowl is burning as strong as ever. That’s the one big goal I have left.
But it’s still just football.
Minnesota, on the other hand….. it’s so much bigger than that.
It’s where our future is. It’s where our heart is.
Thanks again, Vikings fans — for everything.
We’ll see you around.