EAGAN -- On Saturday night, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo sought out assistant line coach Robert Rodriguez to comfort him. Two days later, Rodriguez was offering the same comfort for Odenigbo.
Rodriguez is a native of El Paso, Texas, where on Saturday afternoon a gunman opened fire, killing 22 at a Walmart that the Vikings coach has been to numerous times. Odenigbo is from just outside Dayton, Ohio, where early Sunday morning a gunman killed nine people at popular night club area where he has been several times.
“Ifeadi was the first one who came up to me and expressed his condolences when we got here to the practice on Saturday night,” said Rodriguez, who said all the other Vikings defensive linemen approached him later at the TCO Performance Center. “Then (Monday after the Vikings were off Sunday), I got to Ifeadi and he was very emotional. He’s feeling a little bit of what I’m feeling right now.”
Odenigbo and his brother Tito, a defensive tackle trying to make the Vikings as an undrafted free agent, are both from Centerville, a Dayton suburb.
“I woke up Sunday morning and I heard the news, and I couldn’t believe it,” said Ifeadi Odenigbo, 25. “I’ve been to the Oregon District (where the shooting occurred) a couple of times. I celebrated my 24th birthday there (in April 2018). What happened to Dayton is very tragic, so we’ve just got to stay strong.”
At the Saturday night practice, Rodriguez wore a Vikings hat with 915, the area code of El Paso, scrawled on it.
“I just had a lot of emotions that day,” said Rodriguez, entering his fifth season with the Vikings. “I still have a lot of emotions about it, and so in my little way I wanted to put a little something on my hat. … I love my city. I’m like everybody else. I was mourning that day.”
Rodriguez, 37, has spent all but about five years of his life in El Paso. He was a star linebacker at the University of Texas-El Paso and later an assistant coach there.
Saturday afternoon was difficult for Rodriguez. After he heard about the shooting, he said there “was a long period of time that I wasn’t sure if my folks were OK.”
Rodriguez eventually learned that no close family members were in the area at the time. However, he said an older man who is related to his sister-in-law was injured in the shooting. He met the man once at a wedding.
“He went through surgery and he’s going to survive,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said had met a young man who was one of the victims. He was a football player at a high school where Rodriguez once recruited for Texas-El Paso.
“I lived several places around within five to 10 miles of that mall (of Cielo Vista where the Walmart is),” Rodriguez said. “The first date I ever took a girl on was to that cinema that is literally on the other side of the parking lot. (Family members) have been in that Walmart a thousand of times.
“I’m fortunate that obviously my immediate family wasn’t affected, but in El Paso, we’re tight knit. It hits home. I can’t imagine how they’re feeling. I can’t imagine what the people are going through.”
Rodriguez, who is Hispanic, was saddened to see police say that the gunman is believed to have put online a racist rant aimed at immigrants and Latinos.
“It’s disheartening because I know the people in that city,” he said. “I know they’re predominately Hispanic, but the strength of El Paso is its people, and it’s hurtful to think that those people would be targeted. Those are my people. They’re my family and friends. … But this isn’t going to break them. They’re strong people.”
Ifeadi Odenigbo said he doesn’t know anyone who was killed or injured in the Dayton shooting. However, he has learned on Facebook of some acquaintances who were in the area at the time.
“There’s evil people out there and when bad things happen you can either point the blame and get mad with everybody else or come closer as a community,” he said. “If I can make it out to Dayton maybe in a bye week or something like that, I would definitely want to do something for the community.”
If Ifeadi Odenigbo makes the Vikings’ 53-man roster, he hopes do something during the NFL’s annual “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign in November to recognize Dayton. That weekend, the league allows players to adorn their cleats with images related to charitable causes.
Rodriguez is looking to do something to help the people of El Paso. He said he has had discussions with Vikings officials, but nothing concrete has been set up.