McFeely: New book about Thielen isn't fairy tale, but it could be
FARGO — At the time, it seemed things couldn't get any better in the NFL for Adam Thielen.
In a November 2014 game against Carolina at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the temporary home of the Minnesota Vikings as U.S. Bank Stadium was under construction, Thielen burst through the line of scrimmage on a Panthers' punt, blocked it, picked up the loose football, popped to his feet and ran 30 yards for a touchdown.
It was a fairy tale play, given Thielen's backstory. You know it by now. Everybody does. He didn't draw much interest from colleges after his career at Detroit Lakes, Minn., High School. He went to NCAA Division II Minnesota State Mankato on a $500 scholarship. He went undrafted by the NFL. His backup career plan was to sell dental equipment. He went to rookie camp and made the practice squad of the Vikings. He played special teams.
And there was the capper for a home-state guy like Thielen, right? He blocked a punt and ran it in for the touchdown in his rookie season. A story he could tell his grandchildren for the rest of his life.
Like many others, that's what author Ryan Jacobson thought. He'd been compelled to write a book about Thielen based on the underdog story of the receiver making it to the NFL. But Jacobson needed a hook, a reason to write the book. The Mora, Minn., resident thought the blocked punt was it.
"I was looking for a reason to start writing it and when he blocked that punt I thought, 'OK, there's the grand finale,'" Jacobson said. "I thought that was going to be the highlight of his career and I could write the feel-good book."
"I had no idea," he said.
Nobody did. It turns out the blocked punt will end up as a footnote to Thielen's professional career, as the fifth-year receiver has emerged as one of the best players in the NFL. After making the Pro Bowl in 2017, Thielen set an NFL mark this year by surpassing 100 receiving yards in each of the first eight games of the season. Heading into Minnesota's game Sunday against the Detroit Lions, Thielen led the NFL with 74 receptions and 925 yards. His name is tossed about as a possible candidate for the league's most valuable player.
That makes the timing of the release of Jacobson's book he co-wrote with Thielen's cousin Lindsay VonRuden all the more perfect. "Adam Thielen: From Small Town to Football Star" is already in its second printing after being available for only a month. The 112-page book is full color, filled with photos of Thielen's football career from high school, college and the NFL. It also includes personal photographs and stories, helped by VonRuden's access to Thielen and his wife.
Jacobson says the book is suitable for kids aged 10 and up, but would be enjoyable for any Vikings fan.
Jacobson will be in the Fargo-Moorhead area Monday and Tuesday to talk about the book. He'll be at the Dilworth Elementary School all day Monday with a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Fargo that night. Jacobson will spend Tuesday at the elementary school in Barnesville, Minn.
"It's just such a great story, of course," Jacobson said. "I wanted to do the book ever since 2014 because I'd heard the story about him so many times. Then he blocked that punt and I thought that was going to be the start. But life got in the way with kids and things like that, and everything got put on hold. I started working with Lindsay earlier this year and everything came together."
VonRuden is from Detroit Lakes, but like Jacobson's wife was a teacher in Mora (VonRuden has since moved to Oregon). At a teacher orientation session, VonRuden mentioned that she was a cousin to a Vikings player. Jacobson's wife mentioned that nugget to him and the connection advanced from there.
The result is a book that was originally meant to be black and white, but was bumped up to full color because of the availability of so many photographs.
"My contribution to the book is really Adam's post-college story. Lindsay's is more the childhood through high school time period. The access she had to the family was just great," Jacobson said. "I mean, she was able to text Caitlin (Thielen's wife) and ask for details from their wedding. The next thing you know, Caitlin is sending her a bunch of pictures. You can't beat that."
The book covers Thielen's life from birth through last season's Pro Bowl. In addition to the personal stories, it covers the highlights of Thielen's career that have become popularized in Minnesota. One of Jacobson's favorites is how close Thielen came to attending Concordia College in Moorhead to play basketball before the Minnesota State Mankato football coach offered a partial scholarship at the last moment.
"He was very close to being a Division III baseball player. I just think it's such an inspiring story," Jacobson said. "Here's a guy who worked his way up to be a star player in his home state. It connects with everybody."