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Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph has a nose for end zone and good works

Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) runs after the catch in the third quarter against Miami Dolphins at U.S. Bank Stadium in a key victory for the Vikings. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

EAGAN, Minn. -- Kyle Rudolph has heard from a number of well-wishers since his Hail Mary catch Sunday, Dec. 23, at Detroit. One message really stood out.

Rudolph is the Vikings’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, given annually for “excellence on and off the field,” in large part because of his charitable work. The tight end works closely with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, and last year established “Kyle Rudolph’s End Zone,” a special area for patients and their families, with a $250,000 donation.

“I got a video from one of the girls in the hospital just jumping around her room, and how excited she was when I caught the ball,” Rudolph said Thursday.

Rudolph said several other patients have reached out to say how thrilled they were to see the 44-yard Hail Mary pass from Kirk Cousins on the final play of the first half in a 27-9 win over the Lions.

“Obviously, with my last name and it being around Christmas time, there’s I feel like a little bit of added attention brought to the situation, and it’s been good,’’ Rudolph said.

So was Rudolph’s performance against the Lions. He caught a season-high nine passes for a career-high 122 yards.

He hopes to play a key role Sunday, Dec. 30, when the Vikings (8-6-1) face the Chicago Bears (11-4) at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota needs to win to clinch a playoff berth; otherwise they need to hope the Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) lose at Washington.

Rudolph had just two catches for 13 yards in a 25-20 loss Nov. 18 at Chicago. After that game, Rudolph met with Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to lobby for a bigger role in the offense. The next game, he caught seven passes for 63 yards in a victory over Green Bay.

He had eight catches in the next three games before breaking loose against the Lions, who were paying extra attention to star wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

“We have a lot of players on offense, and you can’t guard everybody,” Rudolph said.

Rudolph made the Pro Bowl in 2012 and 2017, when he caught 57 passes for 532 yards. His numbers are better this year — with 60 catches for 615 yards — but Pro Bowl selections were announced last week before Rudolph’s big game against the Lions and he isn’t even an alternate.

“You’re always disappointed because that’s one of your goals going into every season,” Rudolph said. “But the two guys that are representing the NFC (Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz and San Francisco’s George Kittle) are very deserving. … I don’t think I should be in there before either one of them.”

Rudolph is still eligible for Man of the Year Award. Each team nominates one player, and the Vikings have been actively promoting Rudolph. Three finalists will be named in January, and the winner announced Feb. 2, the night before Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.

“He is always trying to get guys to help him out and come to the hospital and do things like that,’’ Thielen said. “He’s such a great leader for this locker room, not only on the field but off the field, as well.’’

Rudolph and his wife, Jordan, annually host holiday parties for hospital patients around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and make unscheduled visits to check on patients and their families year round.

Interestingly, Rudolph’s showing against the Packers came three days after Thanksgiving and his one against the Lions two days before Christmas.

“I tend to draw inspiration from them,” Rudolph said of visiting patients at the hospital. “They’re significantly stronger than I am a person and a player. … It’s pretty cool when you see the patients, and I always hear from them that they’re watching every week, so it’s good that we can shine a little light — and they’re always more happy when we win. So, we’re going to try to do that this week.”