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Every time I put my arms around my wife, Ally, and I feel our little boy kicking — doing his thing — I think of the future. He’s due in May, and we just can’t wait to meet him. He’s going to grow up in California. And, when he’s old enough, I’ll show him all the things I used to do when I was young here. I’ll take him by the UCLA campus and tell him about how Dad used to ball out as a Bruin. We’ll go out to Inglewood and I’ll let him see where Dad played for the Chargers. Mom and I will take him to the beach, let him roll around in the sand. But I know, no matter how much California there is inside him — there will always, always, be some Minnesota in him.

Because there’s a whole lot in his Dad.

A whole lot.

Always will be.

Man…. Minnesota, I love you all so much. I just wanted to say thanks real quick if you don’t mind. It doesn’t quite feel real that I won’t be suiting up in the purple and gold next season. I’m going to miss a lot about being a Viking, I can’t lie. Playing for you guys is all I’ve really known. You’re family. Simple as that. And we had some great times. I’ve been thinking about them a lot these past couple of weeks. And the thing that really sticks out to me? Everything was so fun. It was just fun to play for you all.

Like, man, I remember my first camp. First! I was all fired up to be in the NFL, to be back with my college teammate Anthony Barr. I was just go, go, go, go. Trying to prove myself. Coaches were always like, EK … let’s take it down one notch. But that’s just how I was. And I’m a middle linebacker, so I have to be pretty vocal out there. So early in camp we were running a few plays and I’m trying to direct the defense. I’d only had the playbook for a few days, I wasn’t totally comfortable yet. And we had this play called “Casino.” But I start blanking on the name, I’m freaking out. C…. C…. C…. And the word that pops in my head? Circus. So I just start yelling “CIRCUS! CIRCUS! CIRCUS!” Everybody pauses, looks around. I look at Coach Zimmer and he’s just staring at me like, you remember those Zim stares? Right?? Like he’s about to explode.

He goes “What…. What the F*** is Circus?”

And everybody just starts dying. Dudes are cracking up. Adam Zimmer, our backers coach,  is just going “CIRCUS? CIRCUS? CIRCUS?”

Coach goes, “It’s CASINO.”

Maybe on some teams a rookie making a mistake like that wouldn’t go over so well. But the type of room we had, it was just special. I remember Linval Joseph was the first dude who took me out to dinner. That meant a lot to me. He let me ask him all my rookie questions and help me get used to life in the NFL. Terence Newman showed me the ropes on the road. But the thing that really helped me the most? Getting to know Chad Greenway. When I got to Minnesota, I knew Chad was the guy. But the Vikings picked me in the second round, and I knew there was some expectation on me to play right away and push him. And I think Chad could have gone one of two ways with me: He could have been really stingy with information, or told me to get lost. But he didn’t. And I’ll never forget what he did instead.

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That first camp, he pulled me aside and said, “I’m going to teach you how to take my spot.”

That set me up for the rest of my career, you know what I mean?

I could go to Chad with anything and he’d help me out. It meant so much to me to have him in my corner like that. And it’s something I do with every young guy who comes up to me now. I’ll never be that steely old vet trying to do his own thing. Never. And I thank Chad for that.

I think that, in a way, he and the entire team really embodied what Minnesota is about. It’s a welcoming place. Everybody there, they just want you to see the city the way they see it. Not just how the rest of the country sees it. Yeah, it’s cold. So what. It’s also beautiful in its own way.

I got to know the city with my belly. Ally is a big foodie, so we’d go all around town finding our favorite spots to eat. Shoutout Bar la Grassa, Spoon and Stable, and Zen Box (insanely good ramen, perfect for a cold day). People would come up to us from time to time and they always kept it real. Nothing crazy, just, “Hey man, great game. Beat the Pack this week. See you on Sunday.” It was always love. Always love. Getting to know so many of you, getting to see your loyalty — it's why I wanted to leave a mark in the community off the field.

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The work our entire organization was able to do with local non profits like All Square, Project Success and Every Meal is something that was incredibly important to me. And the forming of the Vikings Social Justice Committee made me feel a sense of pride I didn’t know was possible. The way our guys came together with the city in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and the social justice movement that followed, those are the stories I will tell my son.

I hope those relationships, those connections our team made, only continue to strengthen.

The sense of community that Minnesota has, that’s what makes saying goodbye so tough. I’m going to miss coming to work every day and being with family. Thank you to all the coaches who helped me become the player I am today. Thank you to the equipment staff, Dennis, Terrell, Adam and all those guys for working extensive hours. To the men and women who kept me healthy between games: I appreciate you all so much! And to all the vikings staff: Thank you! 

I’ll forever remember the teammates who embodied what it meant to be a Viking, guys like Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Eric Wilson, Jordan Hicks, Anthony, Linval, Chad, and so many others — Minnesota has had some real ones. And to the Viking fans everywhere: Thank you for being you. You’re loud as hell. You made me feel 10 feet tall every time I stepped onto that field. The Skol chant added another 10 feet. When I pulled on that jersey … I felt all of you. I really did. You’re loyal. You’re devoted. You’re you. And you let me be me. I hope, no matter where you sat, or whatever TV you watched on, you could see my heart, you could see the passion I played with — and you could see how much I loved being a Viking.