MINNEAPOLIS — During one home game per season, the NFL allows players to use their cleats to send a message as part of its My Cause My Cleats campaign.
For Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham, his message of choice during Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions was heartfelt.
The Duluth Denfeld graduate had a picture of his mother, Tina, drawn onto his right cleat, with the phrase “I Love You Mom!” written on the other for the game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Inscribed next to her picture was another phrase, capturing what this campaign is all about. In white lettering on the black shoe it said, “You Are The Strongest Person in the World!”
That’s a reference to the battle Tina Ham has endured since March when she was diagnosed with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer. Surgery soon after to remove part of her pancreas and spleen revealed the cancer actually was Stage 4.
“She’s doing well, she’s a fighter,” Ham said of his mom, who was in attendance with her husband of about 30 years, Cortez, for the 20-7 victory. “Obviously, Stage 4 pancreatic cancer doesn’t sound promising, but she’s defying the odds. It’s been almost a year and they told her from the get-go that she had a couple months to a year to live. We’re to that point now, and she’s doing great.”
The Ham family contacted the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network soon after the diagnosis and learned as much as they could about the usually fatal disease. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, or PanCan, is dedicated to fighting “the world’s toughest cancer” through research, clinical initiatives, patient services and advocacy.
C.J., who is listed as 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, says there’s no question who the biggest fighter is in the family.
“I definitely get my strength from her,” he said.
C.J. says the family has fallen back on its strong faith to try to beat the odds.
“It’s all possible because the Lord Jesus Christ has his hand in this,” C.J. said in the locker room after the game. “That’s what we are leaning on and that’s what’s keeping us going forward.”
Though his parents were watching from the stands and were honored at halftime as part of the promotional campaign, C.J. says his mom usually can’t stand watching games.
“She hates watching us play, especially if it gets close,” he said. “She closes her eyes and sometimes she’ll leave and go to the bathroom and pray.”
There was no need to fear the inept Lions on Sunday. Detroit lost its sixth straight game, while the Vikings (9-4) continued their quest for either an NFC North title or a wild-card berth.
Minnesota dominated statistically, outgaining the Lions by more than 100 yards, and built a 20-point lead before allowing a garbage-time touchdown on a fourth-down pass.
Statistics are not why Ham, a third-year veteran, is on the squad. He is there as a true fullback, one who serves as a lead blocker for Dalvin Cook, picks up blitzing opponents and occasionally flares out of the backfield to catch a screen pass, as he did Sunday for 25 yards.
He has run the ball only three times this season, including getting stuffed for no gain near the goal line Sunday, and has caught seven passes for 68 yards.
“Not every team has a fullback but those teams that do have one who helps out the offense,” Ham said. “I’m just fortunate enough and blessed enough to be part of a team that helps me prolong my career.”
Ham also plays extensively on special teams. He’s moved on from the late fumble on a kickoff return during last week’s game at Seattle that deprived the Vikings of any last-second magic in a 37-30 loss.
“That’s in the past; I wish I could have given our offense a chance at a Hail Mary,” he said. “But that’s in the past, and all that matters is we got the win today and we hold our own destiny and have to keep winning.”
Ham has been considered, along with San Francisco’s Kyle Juszczyk, as a favorite to earn the NFC’s Pro Bowl fullback spot.
That got Ham to thinking if his mother would be healthy enough to travel to Orlando, Fla., for the late-January game.
“That would definitely be a blessing,” he said.