Vikings trade footballs for shovels

The Vikings volunteered their time and money Friday to construct a school playground in a rough Twin Cities-area neighborhood. They turned an area that a school official called "pathetic" into revived lot for children's fun.

Vikings mascot Viktor stood atop a mountain of mulch in full mascot uniform and starting shoveling the product on down the pile. Joining him on the mountain were other players.

A few first downs away were the vice presidents of the franchise assembling a purple plastic slide. In the middle of the playground was team owner/president Mark Wilf, working alongside other players and staff. On Friday, Viktor was the only Viking still in game-day uniform. Executives shed their suits and players replaced their jerseys. All were wearing t-shirts designed for a day of building a playground for Crest View Elementary School.

"I think it's just gotten better and better every year. This is a great venue," head coach Brad Childress said after the annual playground construction was completed, this time in Brooklyn Park. "It's a little more spread out. It's always diverse. We've got a bunch of diversity on our team, from people and characters."

More than 250 volunteers, including employees from team sponsor Toro and KaBOOM!, an organization devoted to building play areas, banded together to erect a large playground, plant trees in excess of 10 feet tall, assemble wooden benches and put a fresh coach of paint on existing soccer goals and basketball poles.

"It's just great to be out here, just helping out the community and knowing that we can make these kids happy is a big plus," said wide receiver Sidney Rice, who joined offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson and receiver Jaymar Johnson to paint a soccer goal.

Rice was a big attraction to the kids who later joined in the ceremony. He posed for pictures and autographed paper and t-shirts alike. It was a bit of a different element than the one he is used to when it comes to community work.

"I like going to the children's hospital. I've visited Gillette, me and a couple of the other players, before the OTAs started," he said. "It was a great opportunity for me and the rest of my guys, just being in there. Seeing the patients in the room when they're coming out of surgery, it just brightens up their day so much. We're just glad we're able to be a part of that. We're blessed."

Last year, all 53 players on the Vikings' active roster participated in some form of community volunteering through the team's programs. On Friday, at least that many on their expanded offseason roster were helping out.

"It means a lot. These guys do tons of things. When we talk about Community Tuesdays, a lot of times those typically aren't covered (in the media)," Childress said. "We've got guys that have got something literally every week during our offseason program, whether it's a children's hospital or whether it's over at the church. I just think it's great for people be able to see that."

The kids at Crest View will be able to see and enjoy the Vikings' work for years to come. One of the projects was painting a map of the United States on the blacktop that is part of the playground. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and receiver Bobby Wade were two of the players putting the different colored paint down on various states. Shiancoe was in charge of painting Minnesota purple, but they were working under the watchful eye of Childress.

"I'm interested to go over there and check their geography on that United States map," Childress said after the event. "… Geography is not a great subject these days, as I understand it. Sixty percent of the people can't point out where Minnesota is on the map."

Shiancoe knew and he joked with an observer that maybe he'd paint his own special river from Mississippi to Minnesota so Brett Favre could make his way to the purple state if he needed to.

Between Rice's painting project and his short walk to the ceremony about 50 yards away, the wide receiver was stopped several times by volunteers and kids. He talked and signed autographs with a smile, knowing it didn't take much to brighten the day of kids attending school in a rough neighborhood, where police had to guard the entrances on this special day.

But Rice knows the impact a short visit or community project can have on kids.

"I'm always surprised. I'm a very humble guy and I really don't see myself as someone like that. I just see myself as a regular person that plays football," he said. "But the things it does for those people when they see you and finally meet you, a simple hello and a simple handshake, let alone things like this for a school that can't afford it, just being able to help out, it's an amazing feeling for me and I'm sure for a lot more of my teammates."

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