GopherSports: Brad, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. We heard you work for the Minnesota Vikings. Can you tell us about your role there?
Brad Madson: I am the executive director of community relations for the Vikings so my main focus is to get our players involved in the community, and in turn, for the community to get to know our players. Many of our players are involved with charities that are close to their heart, and I think it is important for them to have that personal connection with those they are helping. We have great ownership, staff and players. The Wilf family and coach Childress are very supportive and encourage our players to get involved, so it makes my job easy.
It is important for any professional team to provide the necessary tools for their athletes to get involved in the local community. Our players are so busy playing football and trying to get better every day that we want to try and provide a support system for them. We work hard behind-the-scenes to help them get involved. They know when I ask them to do a charity event that it will be organized and a positive experience for them.
GS: Can you give us an example of player getting involved in the community that you are especially proud of?
BM: Last year E.J. Henderson was the Minnesota Vikings Community Man of the Year. When E.J. came into the league eight years ago he was a quiet leader and very observant. He was involved in a few things at the beginning of his career, but once he got more acclimated to Minnesota he wanted to get more involved. He then started the E.J. Henderson Youth Foundation in 2007 to help inner-city youngsters with academic and athletic support. I certainly cannot take credit for E.J. growing in the community, but I would like to think that we did provide a mechanism for him to get involved. I have been with the Vikings for 18 years, and E.J. is one of the best guys to be around. He is just a wonderful man.
GS: Do you join the Vikings right after college?
BM: I wanted to be a TV sportscaster. I graduated from the journalism and then got an internship with Mark Rosen at WCCO. Mark was a tremendous mentor. I was fortunate enough to work at the ABC affiliate in Eau Claire, Wis., as the weekend anchor and sports reporter. However, I quickly found out that my talents didn't translate to getting back to a major market-in other words, I stunk! I am a person who has always enjoyed the personality of sports more than the wins and losses, so I tried to get my foot in the door with a team back in the Twin Cities.
GS: Was your first job with the Vikings in community relations?
BM: No, I started as a season-ticket sales representative. It was basically a telemarketing position, and I thought if I worked hard and applied the lessons I learned at the University of Minnesota that things would work out. A few years after selling tickets, I was lucky enough to sell suites and Dennis Green - another mentor of mine - saw that when I rubbed elbows with the various players, whether it was Cris Carter or a third-string quarterback, I treated them all the same. I thought anybody that was getting a paycheck to play professional football was a pretty special individual. I think Dennis was looking to get more players involved in the community and from that the opportunity arose for me to get into community relations. Dennis helped and encouraged me, and I ran with it.
GS: We know a lot of people think working in sports is glamorous, but in your mind, what is the best part of your job?
BM: I literally have the best seat in the house to witness how our players can impact youngsters facing life challenges. Brett Favre has granted more than 200 Make-A-Wish Foundation requests in his career and when he came here he continued that tradition. We have a wonderful relationship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota and we were able to grant several wishes last year for children who wanted to meet Brett. Through coach Childress, we host kids for the Saturday practice and then Brett meets with them afterward. The kids bring a long list of questions for Brett and he answers every single one of them. He really cherishes the time he spends with the children. I consider myself so blessed that I am able to witness that.
GS: You were recently in Canton, Ohio for John Randle's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Can you tell us about that experience?
BM: Let's put it this way. I have been afraid to fly for nine years but when John invited me to go to his enshrinement I thought it was time to get back on an airplane. John is a fabulous individual. We do our outreach on Tuesdays. One time when John was playing we had a game on Sunday, followed by a light workout on Monday with Tuesday off. On Monday I went to his locker because we were going to visit the Shriner's Hospital for Children the next day. I was in the locker room to confirm with John and I saw an itinerary in his locker for him to go shoot a commercial in Chicago instead. When I saw John I told him I saw the itinerary and we could visit the hospital another time. He said, "No, no, we are doing the hospital visit. I committed to that and I told the other people that we had to move the commercial to a different week." He valued his commitment to the hospital and to me and that is what I will always remember.
GS: Let's talk about Minnesota tennis. When you look back on your career here, is there a singular moment that you think of?
BM: It comes down to this, playing tennis at the University of Minnesota changed my life. I was a walk-on and coach Jerry Noyce took a chance on me. My brother Bob was a junior on the team when I was a freshman. Coach Noyce was a great mentor and helped shape me and I am blessed that he is still in my life today. I will say that I proudly hang my 1984 Big Ten championship photo in my office.
Of all the athletes at Minnesota only a select few will make it big professionally. But my experience at Minnesota helped me get an internship with Mark Rosen at WCCO. It also helped me get an interview with a Fortune 500 company. Bob Stein, who was an All-American with the Gophers, got me the interview. I did not get the job and I never sent a thank you note to Bob. Subsequently, I have become friends with Bob through the Vikings and I told him that for years I always felt ashamed that I never sent him a thank you note. He is classy and just laughed it off, but it was important to me to make amends and thank him for his efforts. The moral of the story is that is important to thank individuals that help you on your journey throughout life.
The University of Minnesota is a big place and it was very exciting to be able to wear maroon and gold and know that you were a Gopher. It was an experience that I cherish each day. Oh, and for my moment it was playing doubles with Louie McKee and beating Michigan State in a third-set tie-breaker after facing several match points. I will never forget the thrill of that match, and thank coach Noyce for the chance to play in it.
GS: Are you still active in tennis? We read where you played a few events with reality TV star Ryan Hoag.
BM: I played several tournaments last year with Ryan who played for the Vikings-he's a great guy. I also play socially with Greg Wicklund, who was a 1981 Big Ten champion and is now the head pro at Edina Country Club. Greg is another individual who helped shape my life-without him and his playing with me the summer leading into my freshman year, I never would have made the team. I want to get more involved in tennis, but it is so difficult in my position with the Vikings to find the time. I have turned to running and have done a couple half marathons. In running, you only have to count on yourself. I feel badly having to cancel appointments to play tennis because something with work has come up. Hopefully down the road I will be able to play more.
GS: You mentioned your brother Bob earlier. When you two played growing up was it a friendly or competitive rivalry?
BM: Bob is the lynchpin to my whole tennis experience. Growing up, he was the leader and I was the tag-along. We would ride our bikes to the public courts and play every day during the summer. My brother would usually thump me, but we pushed each other. On the rare occasion that I would beat him, we would go home for dinner and mom and dad would ask who won and Bob would say, "Well, Brad won today, but I played really bad." We laugh about that today. He lives in Philadelphia now and is doing great. We are planning to re-unite as a doubles team in a few years, and I can't wait for that.
GS: How closely do you follow the men's program today?
BM: Last year, I had a better chance to get to know coach Geoff Young and am really impressed by his organizational skills and enthusiasm. I had a chance to talk to him at the welcome luncheon at Jax Café and he is really making alumni feel welcome. I also thought his players were very poised, and that's a tribute to coach Young as well. At the luncheon, we (the Vikings) made a donation, through our Community Quarterback Awards, to the Baseline Tennis Center in recognition of the great Bob McNamara and his volunteerism to help the tennis teams. In addition, when I go to home Gopher tennis matches, I am always impressed to see athletic director Joel Maturi in attendance. It is really special when an athletic director at one of the largest universities in the country takes time to support and attend events of all the sports and not just the main revenue ones. I'm looking forward to attending more matches this year.