EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. At 6-foot-6 and 258 pounds, the Minnesota Vikings' Kyle Rudolph has the size and skills to make him a natural at tight end.
As it turns out, his athletic skill isn't just a fit for football. Rudolph can swing a bat a little bit, too -- a cricket bat.
Rudolph, along with teammates John Sullivan and Harrison Smith, traveled to the United Kingdom last week to promote the Vikings' Sept. 29 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in London's historic Wembley Stadium. Touring the region, the Vikings players met up with the Yorkshire Vikings, one of the most historic cricket teams in the United Kingdom. Rudolph and Smith quickly showed off their athleticism by trying their hand at the tradition-rich sport.
"Obviously, it's a totally different dynamic," said Danny Reuben, the Yorkshire County Cricket Club communications manager who helped set up the meeting in conjunction with the NFL's office in the United Kingdom. "This is a bat-and-ball game, very similar to baseball. American football is very physical, it's a collision sport. It's totally different. We were pleasantly surprised how well they took to it. In terms of their natural hand-eye coordination, it was up there with the best athletes around. I think that's why they play at their level, the elite level, because they have natural ability and certainly that natural hand-eye coordination came as a bit of a surprise to us all."
Yorkshire, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2013, recently made the name change to Vikings after years of competing as the Yorkshire Carnegie. York's historic roots dating to days of Vikings in the area prompted the change. As soon as the NFL's office in London heard of the new name, it contacted the club, setting up the unique meeting of Vikings and Vikings.
Minnesota's Vikings mingled with several members of the team and tried their hand at cricket, putting on the sport's equipment before getting into the "nets" for some batting practice.
"They were surprisingly good actually, to be fair," said Jack Brooks, one of Yorkshire's players. "They were able to hit the ball quite cleanly even at top pace. So they surprised themselves, but you'd expect sportsmen to have good hand-eye coordination, and they had protective equipment on so they didn't get hit. They were quite good."
With a "bowling" machine pitching at 70 miles per hour, Rudolph was so good, the overseas Vikes upped the speed to see what he could handle.
"I couldn't believe how they really got into it," Reuben said. "He smashed it. He had really great hand-eye coordination. We couldn't believe how natural he was at playing the game."
The size of Rudolph and Sullivan (6-4, 301) made an immediate impression.
"I'm 6-foot-2 and about 14 stones (about 196 pounds), so I'm not small," Brooks said. "But coming up against those guys made me look like a small boy. It was shaking hands with a guy whose hands are twice the size. Rugby players are quite big guys, and these guys are big. They are really down-to-earth guys and really quite nice. They definitely gave the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings a good rap."
Yorkshire's Vikings have a record of success Minnesota's Vikings can only dream of. Yorkshire has won 33 championships, described as equivalent to Super Bowls, the most by any club in history. On the NFL side of things, Minnesota is taking part in the league's international series with the September game, the first for the team in London since a 1983 exhibition contest.
Besides the international series there will be two games played in London next season NFL games are broadcast in the United Kingdom each week and have developed a faithful following.
"It's certainly a sport over here that's starting to get noticed and certainly with the international series where you've got two of the bigger names coming over to play in the UK," Reuben said. "You just wonder if in the next four or five years, or maybe longer, if there could be a full-time franchise over here, which would be phenomenal. It would really broaden the appeal of the sport over here.
"Certainly on the team, there's a few players who watch it religiously every week. They support the teams, and I think now that they've met players from an NFL team, their support will probably change to the Vikings and they'll be rooting for the Vikings all of next season."
Yorkshire is hoping the relationship with Minnesota can continue. Brooks said several members of the cricket club are planning to come to Minnesota to see the Vikings play. With Yorkshire wrapping up its season the day before the Vikings play the Steelers, Brooks said Rudolph, Sullivan and Smith might try to make it to a cricket game as well.
Regardless of the new friendships, England will support both teams when they arrive.
"Wembley's packed out," Brooks said of the NFL games at the stadium. "They really enjoy when they come over to play. They're well-supported. It really doesn't matter who comes over, certain people over here will support the teams. Wembley packed out is a fantastic stadium, and I know the atmosphere will be incredible."
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