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Friendly Exchange: C.J. Ham welcomes Hotspur legend Ledley King

By Lindsey Young

EAGAN, Minn. – C.J. Ham exchanged a football jersey for a football jersey.

Wait, what?

Things can get a little confusing when you put an NFL fullback and English Premier League legend in the same room, but Ham and former Tottenham Hotspur defender Ledley King had nothing but fun with it Wednesday afternoon.

"My wife played college soccer," Ham told King. "So, I watched a lot of soccer games during that time."

"Well – 'football,' to you," Ham added with a smile.

The Vikings welcomed King to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, where he was hosted by Ham for conversation, lightheaded head-to-head trivia (note: don't ask Ham to list English Premier League teams) and the jersey swap.

Ham autographed a purple, custom-made Vikings jersey for King, who presented the fullback with a white Spurs jersey signed by the team.

The two athletes exchanged experiences in their respective sports, sharing an appreciation for spending much – or all – of one's career with one club.

Ham, a Minnesota native, expressed gratefulness that he's been with the Vikings since 2016 when he was a member of the practice squad – and the significance of learning King had spent 1996 to 2012 playing for the Spurs wasn't lost on him.

"That's crazy," Ham said. "In professional sports, no matter what it is, to be able to play that long with one team is a blessing. It's amazing to see."

King retired in 2012 due to chronic knee injuries but has remained closely involved ever since. He served as an assistant coach for the Spurs in 2020 and 2021 and currently is a club ambassador.

"It's quite rare, not just in the NFL but in soccer, as well, [to be with one organization for an entire career]," he said. "I just built up a fantastic relationship with the fans over a period of time, and the club always meant a lot to me. I've been captain of the club, as well, as I just wanted to see the club go on and achieve great things, and I wanted to be a part of that."

King was born in Bow, England, and shined on the pitch from an early age, playing for Senrab F.C. and the Tower Hamlets district representative team. He joined Tottenham as a trainee in July 1996 and progressed through the club's youth system.

King made his Spurs debut in May 1999 at Anfield, helping Tottenham defeat Liverpool 3-2. He scored his first goal in December 2000, just 10 seconds into a match with Bradford City, which set a new Premier League record for the quickest goal. The benchmark held for nearly two decades before being broken by Shane Long, who in 2019 scored for Southampton after just 7.69 seconds.

In an interview with Vikings Entertainment Network's Gabe Henderson, King was asked about his post-goal celebration, during which he'd raced across the field with his arms raised and outstretched in a sort of airplane fashion.

"I didn't score too many goals, so I never prepared for it, to celebrate," King admitted, laughing. "The attackers, they prepare for it because they know they're going to score. I was surprised, and the reaction was whatever it was.

"I love some of the NFL celebrations," King added with a smile. "I think I'd break into a breakdance or something. I'd be spinning on my back, you know? And finish with my arm behind my head."

King's visit to TCO Performance Center, along with several members of the Tottenham Hotspur organization, occurred in anticipation of the Vikings returning to London this season.

Minnesota will play one of its 2024 "home" games at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as part of the NFL's International Series. And while the opponent and date have yet to be announced, Ham is looking forward to playing in London for a third time – and in the state-of-the-art venue for the second time.

"It's just so different. We travel from city to city here, and I love traveling within the States, but to go over there twice and now three times, it's special," Ham said. "It's obviously a long trip and has different [adjustments] that come with it, but to see the support we get out there … how the people of London show up, how they show out, and really enjoy being in those spaces – it's just a different type of energy that I really enjoy."

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium opened in 2019 and has a capacity of 62,850. The stadium is multi-use, with a retractable grass surface enabling the hosting of major events, including NFL games, in addition to Spurs matches.

King said he's watched the NFL's popularity grow immensely over the past 10 years or so.

"Every year, it seems to get bigger and bigger," he told Henderson. "Obviously, we're delighted to have our fantastic new stadium designed to host NFL games, which has made a big difference. To have people from all over the world travel to our stadium to watch NFL teams is something special for us.

"What's also great is that we have young people growing up in the U.K. now that are seeing the game at a different level and maybe thinking that's something that they could do," King added.

King said he sometimes wishes he would have had the opportunity to give American football a try himself as a youngster.

"I believe there's a position for everyone. You don't necessarily have to be the tallest or the fastest. You can have different attributes – whether it's your throwing, your kicking, whether it's your physicality," he said. "I'm sure every young person can identify with a different position, a different player, and think, 'Maybe that's something I could do.'

"Me? I'd probably be – I've always felt like I've got good hands, good reactions, maybe when I was a bit younger, good lateral movement – maybe I would have liked to be a wide receiver," King added with a smile.

But for now, he'll continue to deepen his appreciation of the sport from a sideline or the stands – and to continue getting to know those like Ham who have made their livelihood in American football.

"It's fantastic for us to be able to come over here, check out your amazing facilities and build on the relationships that we've started to put together," King said.

Editor's Note: Story and photos first published at Reprinted with permission.