MINNEAPOLIS - Kale Griffeth's wish for his seventh birthday was to go to a Minnesota Vikings game with his mom and dad at U.S. Bank Stadium. That was supposed to happen Sunday, as West Fargo graduates Katy, 34, and Randall Griffeth, 35, paid more than $900 for flights from their Hawaii home and about $250 each for a ticket to Minnesota's home opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
But Randall, a Chinook helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army for the last 13 years, was deployed to Afghanistan in June. He was in Korea when he found out he would be deployed on Father's Day and miss the Vikings game. Randall has been deployed for three of Kale's birthdays, including his birth.
"We were caught off guard, we were thrown off," said Katy, who has been with Randall for 18 years and married for 12. "But like we've done for the other four (deployments), we just made it work. It's a short one. It's only a nine-month one. He'll be back in March and next year all three of us will go to a Vikings game together."
Randall left for Afghanistan in June. Despite Kale's wish of having his father at the Vikings' game not coming true, Kathy had no idea the game would end up with Kale saying it was the best day of his life.
"It was above and beyond what we could've imagined," Katy said.
The Griffeths had seen the Vikings in six different stadiums in their moves from Texas to Virginia to Alabama before being stationed in Hawaii about a year ago. Randall promised Kale this would be the year they watched the Vikings together in Minnesota, but a call took him away.
"Kale was beyond devastated that Randy can no longer make it with us on the trip," Katy wrote in a social media post. "He is a tough kid used to the frequent and sudden changes that come with military life, but this news really caught all of us off guard as this will be his fifth deployment."
Katy explained in the social media post what had happened. She wrote that she and Kale were going to the game even though Randall was unable to make it. Kale's friend was going to take the other ticket. She was hoping their story would spread and somehow they could get Randall on the jumbotron at the game to say happy birthday to Kale.
It reached to Minnesota's defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez. He contacted Katy and the marketing department for the Vikings would eventually organize a recording of Randall, but Katy didn't know what else was coming.
The family arrived to U.S. Bank Stadium about 9 a.m. Kale was confused as to why they weren't going to their seats. He was brought down to the field for a tour and a birthday cake was waiting for him. Katy laughed because she felt bad they didn't eat a lot of the cake because it was 9:30 a.m.
Kale got to present the coin for the coin flip to the referees. He has shown that coin to his dad 10 times and anyone else who walks by since. Kale was also given a Vikings jersey with wide receiver Stefon Diggs' number on it and Griffeth on the back.
As for what Kale wore to the game, he couldn't decide if he wanted a jersey of Diggs or Minnesota safety Harrison Smith. He didn't want to hurt the feelings of either player, so he went with No. 47 because his dad flies a Boeing CH-47.
However, there is a No. 47 on the Vikings and that is long snapper Kevin McDermott. McDermott was more than happy to sign a football for Kale and take a picture. He's been carrying around that football every day since.
"He was so great with him," Katy said. "He signed anything he wanted. He's probably not the type of player people come and ask for his signature, so he was excited. He was so nice."
Kale was able to stay on the field throughout warmups, but he got one final surprise when he was told to look up at the jumbotron and wave when he was on it. His dad came on the giant screen. For that moment, his dad, the reason he was a Vikings fan, was with him at a Minnesota home game.
"I want to give a special shoutout to my son Kale for his birthday," Randall said on the jumbotron. "Happy belated birthday, buddy. I miss you. I also want to say thank you to my wife Katy. I don't think people understand the sacrifices that families have to make for a deploy to Afghanistan. So thank you, and I love you, Katy."
Katy had tears in her eyes, as Kale looked at her. For a second, he thought his dad was actually at the game, but he understood why he wasn't.
At the end of the day, Kale told his mom it was the best day of his life. He was asleep in the car before Katy even pulled out of the parking garage for the drive back to West Fargo.
"He was in awe," Katy said. "Everyone was so nice. Any worker said 'happy birthday' to Kale if they saw him. It was definitely that Midwest feeling of feeling welcome."