MINNEAPOLIS — Curious passersby decked out in Minnesota Vikings purple gave Nick Alton's fourth grade class a puzzled look as they did a cheer for their new hero.
"Who dat?" they yelled, followed by a familiar clap and a hearty "skol."
The class from Rossman Elementary School in Detroit Lakes, Minn., now has two favorite teams, the locals and the New Orleans Saints, thanks to Saints punter Thomas Morstead.
Morstead treated the kids to a day at the NFL Experience event at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Friday, Feb. 2, as a reward for the children raising money for his charity, What You Give Will Grow. The kids played with interactive displays and met big-time NFL stars — although the biggest cheer of the day may have been for mascot Viktor the Viking.
"They inspire me," Morstead said. "I thought they were a great example of paying it forward. They were expecting nothing in return, they did it because they felt called to do it."
It all started Jan. 14, when Morstead's Saints lost to the Vikings thanks to a last-second score by Minnesota. Morstead had broken his ribs making a tackle early in the game, but was the first player to return to the field after officials declared the need for an extra-point attempt before the game could end.
Alton shared a newspaper article about Morstead's sportsmanship the next day in class, and his students — along with many other Vikings fans across the country — immediately set about raising money for Morstead's foundation.
Alton tweeted a video of his students thanking Morstead for teaching them good sportsmanship, finished off with the kids chanting the Saints mantra "who dat" and Minnesota's "skol."
"I think (they learned) what a positive approach to using social media can do," Alton said. "We weren't meaning to exploit it or go viral, we just wanted to show respect to a guy we thought was a good sport. It was a good lesson to learn."
Morstead saw the tweet and reached out to the Minnesota Vikings to set up the class's trip to Minneapolis.
"Their teacher is fantastic, Mr. Alton," Morstead said. "And I remember being their age and meeting a professional athlete a few times as a youngster, and those were highlights of my childhood."
Morstead said bringing the kids down to participate in some of the Super Bowl hoopla "would be a great way to positively reinforce" their philanthropic efforts.
In all, Vikings fans raised more than $200,000 for What You Give Will Grow, which Morstead gave to Children's Minnesota. The foundation continues to raise money for children's health causes across the country.