NFL: Pancakes go better with Ham

Duluth Lions Club member Daryl Harper thought having Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham at the Lions' annual Pancake Day would be a great idea, so he enlisted his next-door neighbor, Brad Havron, to help out.

Youngsters with the Northwood Children's Services mob Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham of Duluth at an autograph signing at Pioneer Hall during the Lions Club Pancake feed Thursday. Ayden Johnson, 8 (right, in green) gifts Ham with an origami boat.
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Duluth Lions Club member Daryl Harper thought having Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham at the Lions' annual Pancake Day would be a great idea, so he enlisted his next-door neighbor, Brad Havron, to help out.

Havron, an assistant coach at Duluth Denfeld when Ham played for the Hunters, gave Ham's email to Harper.

"I coached at Denfeld back in the '70s," Harper said, "and I put that in my email to him."

Ham wanted to make Pancake Day last year but had rookie minicamp. That wasn't the case this year as Ham showed up at the DECC about 4:30 p.m. Thursday and began signing autographs and taking photos with fans who eagerly lined up to meet him. The line got so long the table he was sitting at had to be moved back because of all the congestion.

"I'm just so delighted he's here," one fan said. "I just wanted to say thank you again. Enjoy your pancakes."


Ham said the feeling was mutual.

"I'm glad to be back," Ham said. "It's a lot of fun. Obviously I love being back in Duluth, just hanging out."

Ham made small talk with fans as "Build Me Up Buttercup" and "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" played in the background.

Ham said he loves pancakes but is on a gluten-free diet, so for Pancake Day, his father, Cortez, wearing a No. 30 Vikings jersey, was carrying the team at a nearby table.

"Yeah, he's over there, stuffing his face," C.J. said, laughing. "He's doing just fine."

Cortez Ham, sitting next to his grandson, was up to five cakes and thinking about more.

C.J. has been busy the past two weeks with OTAs - organized team activities - and planned on heading back to the Twin Cities today. It's quite the luxury playing professional football just over two hours from where you grew up.

Ham graduated from Denfeld in 2011 and was picked up by the Vikings as a free agent in 2016 after a stellar four-year career at Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D.


"I knew the Vikings would invite him to camp," Cortez Ham said of that first year. "You know Minnesota, you have to give him a chance. You're not going to let anybody else go get him. That would be hard on me (if C.J. was playing somewhere else)."

C.J. said the team has had a great offseason, with "everyone on the same page."

Minnesota has a new offensive coordinator in John DeFilippo, and Cortez Ham was asked if fullback will be a big part of DeFilippo's offense.

"When you've got a fullback like him, it should be," he said.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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