#OneOfUs:  C.J. Ham, Adam Thielen and Defending Your Roots

There’s a joke among native Minnesotans that work in the sports business: whether it’s in the Twin Cities or elsewhere, any time a big-name athlete has a local connection to Minnesota, they’re #OneOfUs.

Yes, like everything nowadays, ‘one of us’ has become a hashtag. Any remote, obscure or otherwise little-known fact that can be brought into the mainstream to showcase a link to Minnesota is blown up and talked about seemingly ad nauseam.

I can think of no better example of this than this past February, when the New England Patriots won the AFC Championship to advance to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. It was mentioned that quarterback Tom Brady’s mom used to grow up on a dairy farm in the small rural town of Browerville, MN, and that Tom himself spent some summers vacationing there as a kid.

I mean, this is TOM BRADY! One of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time spent time in Minnesota!?! He’s… he’s... #OneOfUs?

Of course, Tom Brady grew up and spent most of his childhood in California. But hey, those few random days during those few random summers mean he’s as Minnesotan as a “You betcha!” after someone says “Ope, excuse me,” at the Minnesota State Fair trying to get the best view of the butter carving of Princess Kay of the Milky Way.

The roots of the joke are obviously intended to show how ridiculous it is that Minnesotans can claim a connection to anyone or anything. Some of the harsher critics say it’s a desperate attempt for Minnesotans to latch on to athletic success in any shape or form. But I, as a native Minnesotan, am going to attempt to defend it… slightly.

I get the joke. (Or, at least, I think I do. Perhaps I’m too engrained in the #OneOfUs culture. We’ll see.) But here’s why I think the mantra can at least be a point of real, true pride.

There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld joke about what he considers the ridiculousness of being a sports fan. I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist of the joke is “You’re rooting for laundry.” No team is the same year after year, players and coaches come and go, but in the end, you’re cheering for the team in the correctly colored clothing.

At its base level, it’s obviously true. Take the Minnesota Vikings for instance, the “laundry” I root for. Like all NFL rosters, the Vikings consist of 53 players from more than 30 different colleges all over the country. But they all wear purple, so they’re the “good guys.”

There are five “good guys,” though, that do have Minnesotan roots:

  • C.J. Ham (Duluth, MN native – Augustana (SD) college alum)
  • Adam Thielen (Detroit Lakes, MN native – Minnesota State alum)
  • Brandon Zylstra (Spicer, MN native – Concordia-Moorhead alum)
  • Tom Compton (Rosemount, MN native – University of South Dakota alum)
  • Marcus Sherels (Rochester, MN native – University of Minnesota alum)

These men consist of less than 10% of the roster. Their impacts on the team differ significantly, but they play for their “hometown team.” So why does that matter? We don’t always hear about native Floridians playing for the Dolphins, the Bucs or the Jaguars. What about those North Carolinians suiting up for the Panthers? Or Washingtonians playing for the Seahawks?

Again, I may be too engrained in the #OneOfUs culture, but I believe it’s a reflection of the migration of native Minnesotans to other walks of life. Obviously, I’m not too far away, working in Sioux Falls, SD, but I have high school friends all over the country and – quite honestly – the world.

Very few people I grew up with actually still live in Minnesota. When you’re younger, you look for something different, something adventurous, something away from the norm. And let’s be honest, for as beautiful as it is, Minnesota’s really cold… and no one likes being cold.

Minnesota just isn’t as glamorous as other states. I’ve accepted that. But I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that, no matter where I am or where my friends are, they’re doing something to prove they were raised the right way.

The pride we take in our upbringing is a reflection of Minnesotan values: hard work, energy, friendliness. We want the world to reciprocate in the form of personal and professional success, no matter where we may be. And if we can take the lessons learned as a child and then apply them in the same place we learned them as an adult, that seems even better! It’s a validation of everything we’ve done in our lives and it’s a way for us to pay it forward.

For most people in non-athletic professions, the road home involves a choice to come back. But for those five Vikings I listed above, all of them ALSO chose to come back. CJ Ham, Adam Thielen, Marcus Sherels and Brandon Zylstra were all undrafted free agents that decided to sign with the purple. Tom Compton decided to sign with the Vikings this past summer after playing for three other teams.

They wanted to go back. They wanted to play for the hometown team. They wanted to wear the right laundry.

That’s not to say the other 48 players who were either drafted or signed from other parts of the country did NOT want to be Vikings, but those five represent what all native Minnesotans want to be: a source of pride and inspiration back home and a symbol of what’s possible. It’s not only the fact they can come back and achieve success, but in our typically passive-aggressive Minnesotan way, they wanted to come back.

So, yes, this all boils down to wanting people to like Minnesota – whether it’s Tom Brady or the collection of Minnesotans who play for the Vikings. Sure, it’s a bit of an insecurity, but it comes from a sincere place. As a fan of the Vikes, I don’t root harder for Ham or Thielen or Sherels – but when they make a big play, I can’t help but admit I think about how cool it is that a native Minnesotan is helping Minnesota’s team. For them, it’s more than laundry. They are #OneOfUs.

Also, how cool is it Tom Brady spent some summers in Minnesota?!

Filed Under Football | Augustana University