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‘That’s my son:’ C.J. Ham’s parents express pride over football career with Vikings

Cortez and Tina Ham of Duluth talk about the thrill of seeing the Vikings' big win Sunday and how happy they are for their son, C.J., who plays on the team. Bob King / Forum News Service1 / 3
C.J. Ham's parents, Tina and Cortez, have customized Viking caps monogrammed with "Mom" and "Dad." Bob King / Forum News Service2 / 3
Tina Ham describes her respectful and hard-working son, C.J. Ham, who plays for the Minnesota Vikings. Bob King / Forum News Service3 / 3

DULUTH, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham told his parents, Cortez and Tina Ham, that they were going to get a Vikings win for their wedding anniversary last weekend.

The Vikings delivered on that anniversary gift for the Duluth couple.

"Twenty-three seconds was kind of unbearable," Cortez said of the dramatic ending.

Cortez and Tina watched the game on Sunday, Jan. 14, from the Vikings players' family section at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis — a 29-24 win over the New Orleans Saints, with Minnesota's Stefon Diggs catching a 61-yard game-winning touchdown pass from Case Keenum on the final play.

During the closing seconds of Sunday's game, Cortez recalled Wednesday, "I think I got up. I took a couple of steps and said a couple of words to God. The next thing I know, everybody started screaming and someone literally grabbed me and squeezed me. I was happy and my wife was being grabbed by a lot of people and being squeezed. There's no feeling in the world like that."

Cortez said that C.J. was in shock, but also "cool and calm," following the game.

"He's always cool and calm," Tina said, to which Cortez added, "He's humble."

"He had a bigger smile on his face than usual," Tina said.

On Wednesday at Essentia Health in Duluth, where they work transporting patients, Cortez and Tina were sporting purple No. 30 jerseys for their son and Vikings hats with "Mom" and "Dad" stitched onto them. It's still a surreal experience, they said. Tina said she enjoys talking to patients about her son, and gets a kick out of people's excitement about C.J.

"He is well-loved in Duluth," Tina said.

Cortez said it was "a treat" to attend a NFL playoff game for the first time on Sunday. When asked if they're going to Philadelphia for this Sunday's Vikings game against the Eagles — with a Super Bowl berth on the line — Tina replied, "No, too nervous."

Cortez and Tina don't have any pre-game rituals or superstitions, but Cortez said he prays for C.J. before games.

"We pray for the whole team," Tina said. Cortez added, "I pray nobody gets hurt. That's No. 1."

If the Vikings make it to the Super Bowl, the Ham family will take it in stride.

"We'll just be the same old family. We get excited like everybody else, so it would be something amazing, but we're pretty calm people," Tina said with a laugh.

Cortez added, "I mean, Super Bowl? It's enough that he plays for the NFL. I get to look at the TV and say, 'Man, that's my son.' But it's a dream come true to go to the Super Bowl. For everybody. Somebody told me, 'He's not just your son, he's our son.'"

Dream come true

When C.J. was born, the Hams sent a photo of him to his great-grandmother; she predicted that he was going to be "a great football player," Tina said. C.J.'s mother didn't think anything of that prediction until her son began playing football in sixth grade.

"That dream did come true," she said.

C.J. was 11 months old when the Ham family moved from Chicago to Duluth, and he grew up as a Vikings fan. Cortez said he still has a photo of C.J. visiting with Vikings players when they came to Duluth during his childhood.

Tina and Cortez had been Chicago Bears fans, but their allegiance changed to the Vikings over the years. Once C.J. began playing for the Vikings, Cortez said he couldn't wear jerseys for any other players.

After graduating from high school, C.J. played Division II football for Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It was during the "Key to the City" game between Augustana and the University of Sioux Falls that Cortez realized his son was destined for the NFL.

"They could not stop him. They were just slipping right off of him like butter. He made three touchdowns and in the last 23 seconds, he ran for a touchdown," Cortez said.

Once C.J. was on the Vikings' roster, Cortez said, "I'm like, 'OK, they see his ability. He's a hard worker.'"

Cortez and Tina were in Chicago visiting family when C.J. scored his first touchdown for the Vikings. Cortez admitted that during the moment when C.J. scored his first TD, he and Tina were taking a photo with their family at Buffalo Wild Wings and missed seeing it live on TV. But they did catch the replay.

"It was amazing just to see him make that touchdown and all the family was there. They were like, 'Whoa, C.J. is really in the NFL,' Yeah, he is," Tina said.