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Kyle Rudolph on the Blue Balloon Challenge, Life After Football, and His Thoughts on the 2023 Minnesota Vikings

2x Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph reveals what he’s been up to as of late, and gives his thoughts on the 2023 Minnesota Vikings.

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to get the chance to talk with former Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. We talked a little bit about the Blue Balloon Challenge and why that’s important to him, along with some Vikings-related topics that I’ll list below.

  • His decision to retire as a member of the Minnesota Vikings
  • His new role as a game analyst for NBC Sports
  • His analysis of T.J. Hockenson and Josh Oliver
  • His respect for Kirk Cousins as a player and person
  • His thoughts on Josh Dobbs
  • His predictions for the rest of the season
  • What he’s been up to aside from broadcasting

You can watch the full 27-minute video below, but if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, I provided a transcription of the interview that is neatly organized into different chapters so you can easily skim through it. So without further ado, here is the Kyle Rudolph interview!

Kyle Rudolph on the #BlueBalloonChallenge

Tyler Ireland: Hey Vikings fans! Today I am joined by 2-time Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph. Kyle, how’s it going, man?

Kyle Rudolph: I’m doing well, how are you?

Tyler Ireland: I’m doing well! There’s a lot to dissect from Sunday’s game and the season as a whole. But first I want to talk about your recent partnership with Medtronic and the Blue Balloon Challenge. So what’s the mission of the Blue Balloon Challenge?

Kyle Rudolph: Medtronic’s Mission throughout the month of November because of it being National Diabetes Awareness Month is that those who are living with diabetes face incredible challenges in their daily life, and they’re constantly balancing having diabetes and also trying to live that normal life. So the Blue Balloon Challenge, allows us to spread awareness by bouncing a blue balloon while we’re doing regular daily activities to simulate what it’s like to have to constantly battle the challenges of diabetes and your regular life. Personally, I have diabetes in my family, my godmother, who is also my aunt grew up as a type 1 diabetic. For me, hearing stories from her on how challenging it was especially at that time because technology and medicine weren’t as good as they are now. Certainly, I know she speaks to a lot of children that have type 1 diabetes now, and the things that they have that she didn’t have; but ultimately through this, it’s about giving that access to everyone and people in underserved communities that don’t have the means to the incredible medicine and technology that we do have for diabetes at this point today in the world. So it’s an extremely exciting initiative that I’m happy to be a part of, simply because again, I think everyone knows someone that’s been affected by diabetes. And for me, it’s my godmother who’s lived almost her whole life with type 1 diabetes.

Tyler Ireland: So you talked a little bit about bouncing a blue balloon. What is that supposed to represent?

Kyle Rudolph: Well, if you try it, Tyler, it’s really tough to balance that balloon. And for me, I was talking and bouncing and telling everyone “Hey, you should give this a try in your daily life.” So I think it just represents how difficult it is, and how challenging it is to bounce that balloon and keep it going as you’re doing, whatever the activity may be. You know, for me it was being on camera and telling everyone to go out and participate in the blue balloon challenge. So again, I think it just simulates the difficulties that those living with diabetes go through on a daily basis.

Tyler Ireland: How can people like myself participate in the Blue Balloon Challenge?

Kyle Rudolph: So the easiest way is on social media using the hashtag #BlueBalloonChallenge. Show us your skills, you know. Show us that you can go out there and do things in your daily life while bouncing the blue balloon, and in doing so, Medtronic will donate proceeds for every social media post that uses the hashtag #BlueBalloonChallenge.

Tyler Ireland: Awesome! Well, y’all heard Kyle. From now until the end of November, you can help spread awareness and make an impact in the community by posting a video of yourself, keeping a blue balloon in the air while going about your normal everyday activities. For every social post that tags @MedtronicDiabetes and uses the hashtag #BlueBalloonChallenge, Medtronic will donate $5 to Life for a Child, an organization that provides insulin and diabetes supplies for children in underserved communities.

Kyle Rudolph on Retiring as a Member of the Minnesota Vikings

Photo by Andy Kenutis/Minnesota Vikings

Tyler Ireland: Alright, let’s switch gears here and sort of talk about the Vikings. First and foremost, how important was it for you to come back to Minnesota and sign that one-day contract to retire as a member of the Vikings?

Kyle Rudolph: It was extremely important to me. It was extremely important for my family. I had an incredible 10-year career with the Minnesota Vikings and the organization means so much to me. You know, it just felt like that was the only way to do it. The organization was also incredible, not only extending the invite but also encouraging me to come back and do it. Quite honestly, there are thousands of football players who retire every year, and I didn’t really didn’t see myself any differently from a lot of the other guys who are no longer playing football this year who may have played football last year. But in talking to the organization, the Wilf family, and Tom West, who’s in charge of the Vikings Legends, and a lot of the former players. You know, they really just stated that I deserve to go back and put a bow on everything that we did there and celebrate my time there, and I’m certainly glad that I did it. It was just an incredible weekend for myself and my family to be back in Minnesota, around Twin Cities Performance Center, and at US Bank Stadium for the game.

Tyler Ireland: Yeah, it’s nice to sort of make everything come full circle, right? You’re a lot of people’s favorite player so to see you come back to Minnesota and retire as a Viking, I’m sure means a lot to a lot of fans.

Kyle Rudolph: And the fans are a big part of it for me, too. You know, having the opportunity again to be back. Not only in the community, but in the stadium to be there on Sunday for the game, and get to see all the fans. You know for me personally, that’s what it was always about for me. It was the fanbase there that had suffered through years and years and decades and decades of tough losses. And you know, just coming up a little bit short a few different times. That’s why throughout the course of my career I never really entertained the thought of free agency. It was always important to me to bring the first championship to Minnesota. And really, when I sit back and look back at my career, that’s the only shortcoming that I had. My only regret was that I wasn’t able to accomplish that, because for 10 years that’s all I really cared about, and I know what a championship would mean to the state, and to the fanbase. And for me, it was every single day. That’s that’s what I worked for.

Tyler Ireland: Absolutely, man. And it’s a team game. You don’t wanna stress yourself out about it too much. I’m sure everyone out there knows that you put your all into everything you did here for the Vikings, and they’re very appreciative of that.

Kyle Rudolph on His New Role as a Game Analyst

Photo by NBC Sports Group

Tyler Ireland: A few months ago it was announced that you recently landed a gig as a game analyst. So what’s that adjustment been like as a former player who’s now all of a sudden working in the broadcast booth?

Kyle Rudolph: I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve played football since I was 5 years old, and to think that just because I’m no longer playing, football wouldn’t be a part of my life, didn’t seem realistic, and having the opportunity to still be around the game in that capacity. But also, again I mentioned, I played football since I was 5 years old. I like to say I have a Ph.D. in football. I’ve done it for a really long time. So you know to me, it’s no different than we were sitting on the couch at the house watching a game or out at a bar watching the game. I want to be able to relay what I see and what I think to the fans and allow them to have the opportunity to kind of see the game through my eyes and through the experiences that I’ve had in football.

Now in doing so, I’ve got a lot of practice to do. Being in the booth is completely different than you know, watching tape or watching a game on TV. So I’m still learning and still getting comfortable. I feel like at this point, if you just put a headset on me and let me sit on the couch and watch the game on TV, I could broadcast the game better than being in the booth just by seeing all the different camera angles and kind of watching it in real-time. I’m still learning, you know, when I’m watching the game from the booth, sort of: “What am I watching?” You’re 6 stories up. You can’t really see everything. And then you have your monitors in the booth that you go to during replays. So there’s a lot more learning that goes into it than I anticipated. I feel like the more I do it, the more I’ll get comfortable. Personally, once it feels like I’m sitting on the couch and talking about football, but I’m actually in the booth, that’s when I’ll be able to call my best games.

Tyler Ireland: Now, I’m kinda curious. Have you ever asked Paul Allen for advice? You know he’s got those binoculars where he’s just like looking out onto the field from high up in the booth. Have you asked anyone within the Vikings organization, or just tried to get a better understanding of how to do your new job to the best of your ability?

Kyle Rudolph: Yeah. And I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of people who have been extremely helpful through this transition and Paul Allen’s been one of them. I also host a Fox Sports radio show on Sunday night, and you know PA’s been incredible for me. He’s done it forever, and he has so much experience and expertise whether it be in the booth or you know, on the radio. He’s just been really, really incredible to me, along with many others who, you know, are doing it for a living. They’ve got way more experience than I do, and it’s really been no different than anything else I’ve tried to tackle in life, and that’s, you know, sports, business, all the other things. I’ve just always tried to surround myself with people that are significantly more experienced than I am, and way better at than I am. So you know I try to act like a sponge and absorb as much as I possibly can, and learn from them. But in the booth, the only way to get better is to call more games. Calling a simulated game, or watching a game on a TV and acting like you’re calling it. Again, there’s nothing like live-action watching it from a booth, seeing replays, and being able to deliver meaningful information that the viewers can digest and understand.

Kyle Rudolph on T.J. Hockenson and Josh Oliver

San Francisco 49ers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Tyler Ireland: As a former tight end turned game analyst, what’s your honest evaluation of T.J. Hockenson and Josh Oliver?

Kyle Rudolph: It’s been fun to watch those guys. You know, they brought Josh over this year in free agency, made the trade for T.J. last year, and then got him signed to the long-term contract extension. They complement one another so well, and it’s a room that’s really complete. T.J. is a guy that’s at a record-setting pace in terms of catching the football right now, and then you watch Josh, and he reminds me of some of the guys that I used to play with. You know, Rhett Ellison is a guy that comes to mind. He does all the dirty work and is incredible in the run game, but also as you saw on Sunday night, he can go out and make plays in the passing game when the opportunity presents itself. So you can’t just pigeonhole him as a guy that’s only out there to block and pass protect. So it’s a ton of fun to watch those guys. I got to spend a little bit of time in the meeting room with them when I was back over at TCO Performance Center during the Chargers weekend for my retirement celebration, and I think it’s it’s one of the best rooms in the NFL.

Tyler Ireland: Even like the third tight end and the fourth tight end. You’re talking about guys like Johnny Mundt and Nick Muse. Johnny Mundt was great last year, too. It wasn’t even a situation where it was like: “Oh, we’ve got to upgrade at TE2.” Mundt was awesome. He might be like Kevin O’Connell said, the best third tight end in the league. As for Josh Oliver, I thought he had his best game as a Viking last Sunday. You know, people like to pigeonhole Oliver as sort of like a blocking tight end. But do you think there’s more to it than that? You know, could they expand Oliver’s role a little bit?

Kyle Rudolph: Well, so one of the best coaches I ever had was Pat Shurmur call plays for us in 2017 when we had a really good offense, and he ultimately got the head coaching job with the New York Giants. Pat Shurmur always had us saying that we were all put on this earth to do something. Basically, that’s a different way of saying we all do something really well, especially at that point in your career in the NFL. You’re in the NFL for a reason. You know, Josh Oliver is in the NFL because he’s a really good blocker. That doesn’t mean that you can’t see him make plays like he did on Sunday.

And again, that’s why I compare him to Rhett Ellison. Rhett was a guy who came into the Minnesota Vikings wearing #40. He was number 40 for a reason. It was to go out there and block people. Ultimately, Norv Turner came in and made him change the 85, so at least defenses would respect him enough to cover him in the passing game just based on his number. But Rhett was always a guy we could go to whether we had to throw him a stick route, a seam, or throw him a contested catch in the red zone. Rhett even had a rushing touchdown. At one point we gave him the ball on the goal line on an end-around at U.S. Bank Stadium and he scored.

You look across the league and the level of play is so high. And you know, when guys are given the opportunity to make plays, you know, most of them are going to make them, and Josh is no different. So if you load up the box because you see, the blocking tight end is in the game, and you know you drop out and play zone like they did on the seam that he caught, you know he’s capable of that. He can run right down the seam and catch the ball. There are also a lot of things that you can do in the pass game when teams key on a blocking tight end off of the run game. And you know ultimately, those are the guys that will get lost in coverage.

So it was awesome to see him get going, but ultimately there’s one football, and you know on average 65 plays. I think that’s one of the things that’s always so difficult as a play-caller when you start looking at it, especially as they get Justin Jefferson healthy and get him back. You have Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, T.J.’s gotta get his targets. I haven’t even mentioned running the football, which as we all know, you gotta be able to run the football in this league to have success. I think they would like to run it more and at a little bit more efficiency. So it’s always hard. But when you have the opportunities like he had on Sunday, he’s gonna make the most of them.

Kyle Rudolph on Kirk Cousins

Washington Redskins v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Tyler Ireland: I want to pivot to Kirk here because I don’t wanna ignore him, even though he’s out for the year. You’ve played with a lot of different quarterbacks, and I think Kirk is the most prominent among those. I was just wondering if you’re able to share one fun, maybe unknown personal anecdote involving Kirk, that even looking back on it now still stands out to you to this day?

Kyle Rudolph: Honestly, I think the biggest thing that stands out for me is that in my first 7 years, I had a new starting quarterback every year, 7 for 7. Then Kirk came in in year 8, and I had Kirk in years 8, 9, and 10. So for 3 years we finally had some consistency at the starting quarterback position, and it was a guy who was playing at a really high level. I think back to you know, some big, meaningful games that we won over the course of those 3 years. Playoff games, primetime games, division games, all that kind of stuff.

But honestly, for me, it really goes back to the very first time I met Kirk when he came for his free agency visit. You know, we went out to dinner in downtown Minneapolis and got to spend a lot of time together talking about the organization, what it’s like living in Minnesota, and being a professional athlete in a sports market with every major sports team represented. And you know, for someone who had never played a game in Minnesota, and had never really spent a lot of time in Minnesota, I feel like Kirk understood very quickly what it means to be the starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings.

As I mentioned before, the biggest regret of my career is not giving that fanbase a championship, and I think that’s something that when he came to Minnesota we talked about it the very first night, and from the outside, he could see just how important it would be to be that first starting quarterback to hoist the Lombardi trophy in a Minnesota Vikings uniform. So for the two of us, we kind of had that commonality as to why we were doing things, and why we put the extra work in. I had played 7 years with the Minnesota Vikings, and you know it was really our life. For him, he had been there for 3 hours. Obviously the injury this year is tough. You see the ups and downs that he’s gone through throughout his time as the starting quarterback. But you certainly hope that he has the opportunity to finish his career there and ultimately accomplish that goal one day.

Tyler Ireland: Yeah, and Kirk was playing at a borderline MVP level before he got hurt. What I’m really happy about in regards to Kirk is how that Quarterback documentary sort of confirmed what everyone in the organization already knew about Kirk. Just the kind of person he is, and for him to get his flowers this season. Because it felt like in previous years, especially when Kirk first signed, he was always scrutinized. While he still is often criticized, it’s to a lesser degree. So it’s just refreshing to see that people are starting to realize how great of a person he is, how great of a player he is, and it’s something you really love to see. I hope he gets us a Super Bowl man, I really do.

Kyle Rudolph on Josh Dobbs

New Orleans Saints v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Tyler Ireland: Another person worth mentioning too, is Josh Dobbs. You know he’s had to come in, learn the entire offense on the fly after being traded by the Arizona Cardinals, and now all of a sudden he’s the starting quarterback. What’s your assessment of the job he’s done so far these past three games?

Kyle Rudolph: Well, I think you can even go back to the games that he started in Arizona. I felt like he’s played really, really good football, and you go back even to the end of last year the start in week 18 against the Jacksonville Jaguars to put Tennessee in the playoffs. It’s as crunch time as crunch time gets, and he played extremely well. He gave the Titans a chance to win that football game. The commonality for him is, that he doesn’t have to be in a place long to figure things out and go out and give his team a chance to win. He did the same thing when he was in Arizona. Then he came here, and after 5 days of being in the building, he came in unexpectedly and ultimately led them to the victory in Atlanta, beat New Orleans at home, and I felt like he played well enough for them to win on Sunday night.

You have to limit the turnovers. Certainly, turnovers were a huge reason why this team started 1-4. You know, they got away from protecting the football, and I think when you look at the 5-game win streak one of the things that they did well is protect the football. We did not protect the football on Sunday, there were a couple of huge turnovers that took points away from us but also gave them points. And you know, that’s the difference in the game. That’s the difference between getting your 6th win in a row, and you’re feeling really good coming back from Denver on Sunday night, as opposed to feeling like you let one slip away that you should have won.

Tyler Ireland:

Yeah, it’s those turnovers. I don’t think at any point during the season I’ve felt like this team didn’t have enough talent or wasn’t good enough to beat their opponent. It always felt like we were competitive in every game we’ve played. Which is why those turnovers really hurt because you feel like you probably could’ve won some of those close games.

Kyle Rudolph’s Predictions for the Rest of the Season

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson... Photo by Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Tyler Ireland: But I’m curious, what’s your record prediction for the rest of the season, and do you think the Vikings make the playoffs this year?

Kyle Rudolph: Yeah, I mean, ultimately, when you look at the NFC, 7 teams have to make the playoffs. They’ve expanded it from 6 to 7. So you have the 4 division winners and 3 wildcard teams, and I don’t know that there are 7 good teams in the NFC. So ultimately you look at the Vikings' schedule coming down the stretch, you would assume that they’re favored in probably every game except for the Detroit ones. You know they get to play Detroit in two out of the last three games. Assuming we get back to taking care of the football, you look through that last stretch of games, they should put themselves in a great situation to be at the very worst, the 7th seed. I was looking at it during Sunday Night Football, and you can make a great argument that this team has a legitimate chance of finishing the year 12-5. You know, losing to Denver makes it a little more difficult, but you know, I think even finishing 11-6 gets you in the playoffs, gets you a chance, and that’s all you need. You just need a chance to get in and give you the opportunity to try to win one at a time.

Tyler Ireland: We saw it with Keenum in 2017, right? All it takes is just a few good games, and you’re in the playoffs. When you’re in the playoffs you always have a chance. So I kinda look at Dobbs the same way where it doesn’t always have to look the prettiest, but if he’s getting the job done that’s all you can ask for.

Kyle Rudolph: And I think that’s Josh’s style. You watch him play, and you know it might not look the prettiest, and there are times when he’s running for his life, getting out of the pocket, and making things happen. He’s shown an incredible ability with his legs to not only extend plays and throw the ball downfield but to take off and run and make plays that weren’t there to begin with. So I’m excited to continue to watch him as he gets more and more comfortable in this offense and gets more and more comfortable with his teammates. I hope he adds one of his teammates here soon and has another weapon out there on offense with him, and I think this is a Vikings team that we’re watching in the playoffs come January.

Kyle Rudolph on Life After Football

Photo by Andy Kenutis/Minnesota Vikings

Tyler Ireland: Last question for you here. What else are you looking forward to in life after football?

Kyle Rudolph: The biggest thing for me is that I pretty much spend almost all of my time outside of the preparation that I’m doing for broadcasting and calling the games on Peacock for NBC, Is a platform that I started with former Minnesota Wild hockey player. Jason Zucker called Alltroo. Jason and I both did a lot of stuff together in the community while we were there. We understood the struggles and shortcomings that come along with raising money for charity. We understood the challenges, we understood how much time. treasure, and energy it takes, and we wanted to come up with something that made it a little easier to raise money. But then we also wanted to come up with something that, while making it easier for our partners to raise money for charity, it also engages the best fans in the world and your fans, and allows them to have the chance to win a once-in-a-lifetime sports experience. So basically, we partner with individuals and teams, and we have a partnership with the Minnesota Vikings.

So right now you can go on and donate to the Minnesota Vikings Foundation for a chance to win a trip to see the Vikings play in Vegas against the Raiders. So airfare included, hotel included, tickets to the game included, sideline passes included. And we’re also going to give you $1,000 to spend and have some fun while you’re out in Vegas. So things like that, like, you know, being able to provide sports fans with experiences that are once-in-a-lifetime, but then on the other side of it, our ultimate goal is raising money for charity. So it’s been a ton of fun. Again it’s another thing that keeps me involved in sports. But it also allows me to broaden my reach in terms of making an impact in a lot of different communities and helping a lot of guys do the same thing.

Tyler Ireland: Yeah, absolutely love the impact you’ve had on all the different communities within the Twin Cities and the state of Minnesota over the years, and I’m happy that you’re still involved and making a positive impact.

Well, that about wraps it up for the interview. And remember, from now until the end of November, you can help spread awareness and make an impact in the community by participating in the Blue Balloon Challenge. Thanks Kyle!

Kyle Rudolph: Thanks, Tyler. And just saying Blue Balloon Challenge is almost as tough as bouncing the blue balloon in your daily life. So It’s an incredible initiative and work that’s really needed throughout our country.