SIOUX CITY | A new NFL season kicks off this weekend, and football fans across the nation will pull out team jerseys and other paraphernalia, displaying their passion for their favorite teams.
Jacque Yaneff is one of those passionate fans, and few people might match her devotion to the Minnesota Vikings.
She's also passionate about teaching literature to seventh- and eighth-graders at Holy Cross School. By filling out a quick online application months ago, Yaneff, who's also the school's athletic director, was able to combine her passion for teaching with a dream trip any Vikings fan would die for.
On Aug. 2, Yaneff was the honorary general manager for a day, shadowing Vikings general manager Rick Spielman at the team's training camp in Mankato, Minnesota. It wasn't just a trip to satisfy her desires as a fan, she noted when she applied for the experience on the TODAY show's "Summer of Yes" series in which viewers were given the chance to fulfill a dream.
The trip was as much about Yaneff's students. She wanted to pick the minds of NFL players and coaches and use their experiences to bring back stories she could use to motivate and inspire her students.
"I want to make my students better. I see NFL players on a pedestal, especially with the boys. I wanted to get something out of it to spark something with academics," Yaneff said.
That desire led Yaneff, a regular TODAY show viewer, to submit her wish to be the Vikings' coach for a day. Her request was approved on July 10, and less than a month later she was meeting TODAY personalities Al Roker and Megyn Kelly at Vikings training camp, where TV cameras followed her the whole day.
"They wouldn't promise me I could coach. All I knew was I'd be standing on the sidelines. That would have been enough," Yaneff said.
She was in for a surprise. She spent the day with Spielman, getting a tour of the training camp facilities, receiving injury reports and watching practice.
She met with head coach Mike Zimmer, star players such as Teddy Bridgewater, Xavier Rhodes, Kyle Rudolph and Everson Griffen. She asked everyone she could what advice they would give for students in the classroom and on the playing field.
Their advice could be summed up by what Griffen, a star defensive end, told her.
"He said no grades, no play. He said it has to start in the classroom," Yaneff said. "What I took away from everyone is it all starts at home, in the classroom and includes your faith."
It's a similar message Yaneff has always delivered to her students, but when it comes from a professional football player, she said it carries a little more weight, even though her experience showed her that the players and coaches aren't much different from her or her students.
"You realize these people are down-to-earth people like we are," she said. "It's the way they use their gifts that makes them successful."
Though the school year has just started, Yaneff has already shared with her students that professional football players continue to learn and go to classes once they've made the team. There are nutrition classes, courses that teach them how to deal with the media and tests that help players get used to the split-second decisions they must make in a game.
From a teacher's standpoint, the experience was exactly what Yaneff had hoped for.
And for someone who grew up pasting newspaper stories about the team on the basement walls in her Freeman, South Dakota, home and attending Vikings games in the old Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis with her dad, it was a Vikings fan's dream. Yaneff left the team's camp with autographs and a team jersey with her name across the back.
"I don't even know how to describe it. It was way beyond anything I could have ever dreamed about," she said.
Her story aired on the TODAY show on Aug. 21, and she received tickets and sideline passes for the Vikings' preseason game on Aug. 27, her birthday.
So as another season starts, Yaneff will once again resume her ritual of watching Vikings games on TV by herself so others don't have to listen to her yelling at the TV.
She'll also approach the young school year with some new wisdom for her students, courtesy of a dream experience with her favorite team.
"Although my dream was fulfilled, hopefully I brought some motivation back," she said, her voice filled with the passion of not only a die-hard football fan but also a dedicated teacher.