About 5½ years ago, the Capital Grille steakhouse in Minneapolis served as the backdrop to quarterback Kirk Cousins' last flirtations with the Vikings before ultimately signing as a coveted free agent in March 2018. Cousins' family wined and dined with team brass and players including Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph before he officially joined the Vikings.
Coincidentally, that's where Joshua Dobbs, the Vikings' current starting quarterback, said he plans to have his Thanksgiving Day meal. It's a tradition since 2017 with his parents, Stephanie and Robert, that will continue to a fourth different NFL city after Dobbs spent Thanksgivings in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Cleveland.
So goes the life of an NFL journeyman, where home is where he lays his head.
"We just go find whatever the Capital Grille is, like the one steakhouse open on Thanksgiving, and they're in every single city in the United States," Dobbs said Wednesday. "So we have a pretty consistent Thanksgiving ritual that we'll be excited to do tomorrow as well."
Thanksgiving traditions vary for NFL players. Some, like safety Harrison Smith, spend 12 seasons in the same place, evolving from a single guy who enjoyed a day off to crafting new traditions as a married man with an 18-month-old daughter.
Most players are transient, forced to connect with relatives and friends from afar. Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, the Omaha native who played for the Buffalo Bills from 2018-2021, said he'll connect with distant relatives and friends on Thursday afternoon after the Vikings' "turkey bowl" practice.
Long snapper Andrew DePaola is now 36 years old with an All-Pro selection to his name. But in a five-year span from 2016 through 2020, he was on five different NFL teams. During those early days, DePaola said he spent holidays with other teammates or enjoyed time to relax on his own. He always connected with family somehow.
"I'd FaceTime them and they'd hold me up on an iPad," DePaola said, "and I'd go around the room and say hi to people."
Head coach Kevin O'Connell said the team's schedule was designed to front the mental load onto players on Wednesday, which they'll follow with a "full speed" practice on Thursday morning. Players will get family time in the afternoon.
"Have a little more classroom time [Wednesday], a little more walkthrough time and then we'll come back and get some full-speed work [Thursday] in our version of our turkey bowl," O'Connell said. "Then we'll make sure it's very important guys get to spend ... at least a good chunk of the day with their families."
Dobbs will have plenty to discuss with his parents over dinner. Stephanie and Robert Dobbs received a decent amount of screen time during the Vikings' loss in Denver and the NBC broadcast of "Sunday Night Football," after which Dobbs' straight-faced parents were the subject of internet laughs. Dobbs joined the fun, sharing one comment on his Instagram account that said, "Josh Dobbs parents still wish he worked for NASA."
"They look kind of mundane," Dobbs said Wednesday. "Like a big play happened and they're just like sitting there no celebrations, a straight face. So, we're working on their excitement level. Yeah, it's a work in progress. I sent them the film, they looked at it, they're figuring it all out."
Coaches get even less holiday time off than players. Defensive coordinator Brian Flores called Thanksgiving his favorite holiday because of how much his mother, Maria, enjoyed getting the family together. The Brooklyn native said his family will host relatives from the East Coast this week.
"As you grow older you realize that that's really what the holiday is about: the many blessings we have," Flores said. "I just feel like I've got so much to be thankful for: my health, my family, this job, being here in Minnesota, the opportunity to work with Kevin O'Connell; thankful to the Wilf family allowing me to be here."
But the 42-year-old football lifer doesn't want anyone's turkey-induced slumber lasting into Monday night when the Bears come to town.
"We're going to have to have a really good week of prep," Flores said. "There's just a lot going on, you know? Everybody's got family coming in. Everybody's got some — you don't want to call them distractions, but they've got things going on in their lives that are important, you know?"
"I'll be sitting, eating turkey, hanging out with my family as well," he added. "But at the same time, we've got to prepare the right way and make sure we're ready to go."