How the Minnesota Vikings Changed My Life
Passion is one of the most complex emotions human beings can feel.
It’s not necessarily an easy feeling to achieve, however, as every person on the planet is genetically different, leaving us all without a map to discover what in life truly makes us happy. Some people find passion in a special relationship. Others invoke its power to benefit their career or enhance their social life.
And then, unfortunately, there are those who never discover their passion at all.
Personally, I was lucky enough to find my life’s passion at the age of 22. Well, to be honest, it was more the other way around — my passion found me. I was sitting in my bedroom during my senior year of college at Marquette University when my phone rang unexpectedly. That call completely changed my life.
The person I evolved into that day is the guy that you see — er, read — before you today. But, like I said, it hasn’t always been that way for me. I have maintained essentially the same personality throughout my entire life without any significant changes, but that October morning brought out the absolute best in me.
I became more focused than I ever previously had been before; my confidence soared through the roof; and, most importantly, for the first time in my life I attached myself to something other than my friends. I won’t ever forget that day, and every year that goes by it becomes more and more meaningful to me.
So, without further adieu, I’d like to finally share with you all the story of how the Minnesota Vikings changed my life.
I grew up in St. Paul, Minn., attending Highland Catholic (Lumen Christi) middle school and Cretin-Derham Hall high school. I was granted a ton of advantages in life — loving parents, the best group of friends that anyone could ever ask for and a financial situation that allowed for me to pursue attending college as if there was not an alternative option.
My dream, as a 14-year-old that is, was to attend Syracuse University and major in broadcast journalism. I couldn’t tell you why I was so obsessed with this particular college, but, nevertheless, my goal was to perform well enough from an academic perspective to assure that a fat envelope came in the mail following the application process.
And, to be frank, this bar was well within reach for me. School had always came very naturally to me — well, other than math; we’re just not going to go there. Now, honestly, I haven’t ever been great at most “stuff”, except two things: Writing and Talking. Sure, I was more than capable of earning strong marks in other classes — again, except math — but I simply refused to put any effort in beyond the necessary amount to achieve good enough grades to become the first person in my family to graduate college.
I did not read a single book in high school. All I had to do to earn above-average grades was attend and participate in class. To be clear, I’m not trying to convince you that I’m some type of genius cause I most certainly am not that — we went over math already, right? However, I am intelligent enough to coast through lectures, which made applying to college a considerably less stressful task.
I applied to five schools: Syracuse, Marquette, Creighton University, St. John’s University (Minnesota) and Montana State University. Now, I had absolutely zero intention of attending three of these schools, but my high school advisor rightfully convinced me to have multiple “safety schools” for in the event that I didn’t get into one of my top choices.
Ultimately, I was fortunate enough to take my pick. And, as I said before, there were really only two options in my head — Syracuse and Marquette. So, to keep things simple, my two choices were to attend Syracuse and study broadcast journalism (as I had always dreamed) or enroll at Marquette to study both English and Spanish with the intention of applying to law school upon graduation.
Fair Warning: This is when things begin to get interesting.
My mother, an unbelievable woman named Pat Reidell, had been in and out of the hospital since I was 13 years old with multiple different ailments — medical problems that even the Mayo Clinic couldn’t decipher.
So, simply put, I lived most of my teenage years with the understanding that my mom could be gone at a moment’s notice. I didn’t really talk about it all that much except with a couple of my closest friends, but it definitely still weighed on me to some unquantifiable degree.
In the end, her health concerns became the primary reason I decided to attend Marquette instead of Syracuse. I was so nervous that something would go wrong and that I’d be stuck out in northern New York, completely incapable of returning home to St. Paul if the worst-case scenario ever occurred.
Fortunately, I had visited Milwaukee, Wis. multiple times during my senior year of high school and had fallen in love with the energy and atmosphere at Marquette. Despite it not being my 14-year-old dream school, becoming a Golden Eagle was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I loved every second of being there. The people were amazing, the professors were incredible and, let’s be honest, the bar situation there made things interesting on a day-to-day basis.
Fast-forward to my senior year.
Everything from an academic perspective had gone fairly well to that point, and I was on track to graduate in four years as I had planned. Similarly to when I was in high school, I had been doing pretty close to the bare minimum necessary to assure that law school was a possibility for me upon graduation. I was doing well enough, but my primary focus had remained on my social life throughout the entirety of my first three years.
Then my phone rang.
It was the middle of October, and I was busy sleeping in after, well, let’s just call it a pretty strong performance at the bar the previous evening. I generally have my phone on vibrate at all times, but for whatever reason, I had left the ringer on the night prior. That stupid iPhone ringtone — you know, the one they use at some point during pretty much every Romantic-Comedy filmed during the 21st Century? — woke me up, and I was not happy folks.
I didn’t have to be in class until later that afternoon, so I had very little interest in being awake at 9 a.m. But that painfully annoying tone just kept going and going and going until finally I picked up the phone. It was my mother on the other end of the line.
She was a worrier — any time she hadn’t heard from me in roughly 48 hours she’d call to check in with me. Yeah, I know, she was the absolute greatest. That said, it admittedly did get annoying, and I typically picked up the phone saying something to the effect of, “MY GOD MOM, I’M FINE! PLEASE STOP CALLING ME! YES, I LOVE YOU TOO, GOOD BYE!” in a volume that certainly would not qualify for “indoor voice” standards.
But, for whatever reason, when I saw “Home” pop up on my caller ID that day, I answered in a very soft, appreciative tone.
“Hello? Hi ma, what’s up? Still in bed, I don’t have class until noon. Yes, I’m sorry, I forgot to call yesterday. I know it’s not difficult, I’m sorry. Yes, yes, I know, I know. I love you too mom.”
That was the final conversation I had with my mother. And yes, I do remember every last word of it. A couple hours later, I received a second phone call. This time, it was from my dad.
“Hello? What? Dad, I can’t understand you. Stop. You can’t be serious right now. I’m so sorry Dad. I’m so, so sorry.”
My mom died of a massive heart attack sometime between the point that she called to check in with me that same morning and the time that my dad gave me the wake-up call of a lifetime. The phone was resting at her feet where they found her, so it remains entirely possible that she called me, told me that she loves me and then passed away. That’s the story I choose to believe, at least.
I was never the same again after that call — but not in a negative way.
Tragedy affects everyone differently, so, before we go any further, I’d like to encourage you to never judge anyone by their immediate response to loss. People do some crazy things, and, as I’m sure many of you can understand, it can sometimes be very difficult to witness.
For me, it was quite the opposite, however. Again, just as I can’t explain why someone else reacts the way they do to loss, I can’t quite explain what clicked in my brain that day. I remember calling one of my friends, who literally began walking out of class the moment he heard my voice, and within about 45 minutes four of my closest friends from school were in my room losing to me in Mario Party — not on purpose, I’m really, really good; nobody can stop me, seriously — and two more were on their way up from Chicago, Ill.
It was surreal.
I knew my friends cared about me — I had known most of these guys since I was like 12 — but, man, I can’t even begin to explain to you how important that was to me. I felt alone for the split second between the time my dad hung up the phone and the time my buddy picked up my call, and I haven’t felt that way since. In fact, I stayed at Marquette for the next four days to finish my midterm exams before returning home for the funeral — a choice that far too many people failed miserably to understand.
Again, what exactly happened to me that day, I don’t know, but the sensation was similar to stepping up to the plate with the bases juiced, down by three in the bottom of the 9th inning. Or perhaps, I don’t know, stepping onto the field down 28-3 knowing exactly what was at stake and what needed to be done.
Now, allow me to try to explain without a sports analogy.
I lost my best friend that day, but, to a degree, I was well-prepared to handle the situation. Hell, I had known it to be a possibility since before I hit puberty — and she did too. My mom had quietly been prepping me for the day her life came to an end, saying things like, “Remember Beej, I’m not always going to be around; you need to learn to live without me.”
But there was one quote that she always said — to the point that it was almost annoying, you know what I mean?
“Your Success is My Success, and Don’t You Ever Forget that Robert John Reidell the Fourth!”
Yeah, she would use my full name whenever she was being serious. And, for what it’s worth, I took her very, very seriously every single time she said it. But, it wasn’t until she no longer was around to recite this quote that its power began to affect me in a meaningful way.
I made a decision that day — October 9th, 2013 — that I was done messing around. Losing my mom gave me a greater purpose in life; not only was I responsible for my own success, but I was also responsible for how she would be remembered.
And I absolutely refuse to let her down.
A couple weeks later, upon returning to Marquette, I made a life-altering decision. I decided that law school wasn’t for me, and that I needed to do something more rewarding. It needed to be something challenging — an occupation that was not easily obtainable — something I was capable of doing and doing well and something that I would enjoy every second of because that’s exactly what my mom would want for me.
And so, here we are, four years later. I am proud to say that I have accomplished many of the goals that I set for myself that day through countless hours of trying to find my voice as a writer, honing my grammatical skills, reading the dictionary — I know, gross — watching hours of game tape and talking to countless players, coaches and writers much more talented than myself.
But, I still have a long, long, long way to go, and I’m never going to quit because there is simply too much at stake — and too much still to be done.
Someday I’m going to reach a place that satisfies my competitive nature, and I’m going to look up to the sky and know that my mother is looking down on me with a big stupid grin on her face because I had finally accomplished the one thing she wanted for me all along — to be truly, insanely, head-over-heels happy with the person I grew up to be.
That’s what success meant to her; and that’s what success means to me. And that won’t ever change, folks.
And that, my friends, is what writing and talking about the Minnesota Vikings means to me — the world. So, when I tell you that I truly appreciate you taking the time to read or listen to my work, I am not exaggerating in the least. All of you guys — even you, Mike Kano — mean the world to me because you allow me to do exactly what I want to do and, for that, I am forever in your debt.
Thank You. All of You.
“There’s no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than what you are capable of living”