BLAINE, Minn. (AP) The first-graders at Northpoint Elementary obediently sat cross-legged on the floor, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their newfound friend.
Their eyes widened as Blair Walsh walked in, the Minnesota Vikings kicker to whom the kids sent letters and drawings this week to lift his spirits. The field goal he missed over the weekend kept the Vikings from advancing in the playoffs.
''I'm sorry that they cursed you,'' one boy said during the question-and-answer session, alluding to social media comments targeting Walsh after his 27-yard try went wide left with 22 seconds remaining Sunday in Minnesota's 10-9 loss to Seattle.
''It's OK. It happens. Trust me,'' Walsh said. ''Thank you for saying that.''
The package of hand-written pick-me-ups the kids sent to the Vikings for Walsh touched him enough to pay them a visit at the school in Blaine, a suburb north of Minneapolis.
He shared some biographical information about his upbringing and career, and some philosophical advice about perseverance and positivity, before roaming from room to room to sign autographs. Vikings staff passed out stickers and trading cards.
Walsh was quizzed by the kids about subjects ranging from his age (25) to whether he has a guinea pig (no, but his family has a pet poodle named Murphy) to what he thought about receiving the letters and drawings.
''I was shocked, honestly. They were really, really cool, and I didn't think you guys were going to do that for me,'' Walsh said, all smiles.
The messages were initiated by teacher Judie Offerdahl, who watched the game and was moved by Walsh's stand-up attitude in speaking with reporters afterward. She happens to be a Seahawks fan.
''I thought, `What a great opportunity for us to talk about different perspectives and how others are feeling,''' Offerdahl said, as her students buzzed around the room comparing trading cards and stickers following the autograph session.
The letters were poignant and priceless in tone:
- ''Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. One time I made a mistake when I was doing a cartwheel. I felt embarrassed. You can still help the Vikings win the Super Bowl next year.''
- ''Best kicker in the universe.''
- ''Don't worry. It's just a game.''
Walsh's father, Joe, pointed out the project to him once it was picked up by Minnesota media. Two days later, Walsh was talking to his impromptu pen pals in person.
''These kids don't know me. They don't know anything about me. They just know that I'm a Vikings player,'' Walsh said. ''So for them to show that kindness and to show that empathy toward me, it's remarkable.''
The majority of the messages sent Walsh's way this week, he said, have been positive.
''The fan base that's not kind, I'm not worried about. There have been so many more kind responses that I've received than negative, and that shows a lot about Minnesota Vikings fans,'' Walsh said. ''There's a lot of true great Minnesotans when it comes to being Vikings fans, and they showed their true colors with the way they've treated me in a positive way. I'm not worried about the negative ones. I think they're far outnumbered right now.''
Starting with the first-graders at Northpoint Elementary.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL coverage on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL