Minnesota, that was one smooth party on the rocks.
With its Bold North theme, Super Bowl LII’s 10-day celebration of all things winter — including ice sculptures, ice skating and even ice in cocktails carried down Nicollet Mall — culminated Sunday with record-setting cold temperatures outside as a warm U.S. Bank Stadium cradled a hotly contested, nail-biter of a game inside.
“It was fun, wasn’t it?” said Maureen Bausch, CEO of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee. “It just all worked.”
After four years of planning, collecting some $53 million in private donations and marshaling 10,000 eager volunteers, organizers exhaled as the confetti fell inside the stadium, with the Philadelphia Eagles winning their first Super Bowl, defeating the New England Patriots 41-33.
After the game, several thousand fans soaked in the scene, snapping selfies, hugging, crying and joining in occasional renditions of “Fly Eagles Fly.”
“I’ve waited a long time for this! It’s such a relief,” said Gene Snitsky, a WWE wrestler from Nesquehoning, Pa., who drove 24 hours in an RV with his buddy to make the game. He sat with his hands behind his head in shock for several minutes. “They’ve been underdogs all year. No one gave them a chance. It’s very fitting to have this finish.”
The championship game was surrounded with Minnesota-themed hoopla. Singer Justin Timberlake’s halftime show featured the University of Minnesota Marching Band, high school dancers from across the metro area and music from Minneapolis’ Prince. An image of the late singer appeared on a flowing backdrop before a purple-hued, computer-generated aerial shot of the city showed his glyph surrounding the stadium to television viewers around the world.
Before Sunday’s start, figure skaters performed on an ice rink outside the tightly secured stadium as temperatures hovered in the single digits, setting a record for the coldest Super Bowl in 52 years.
“It’s a little cold but I can get over it. It’s winter; it’s supposed to be cold,” said Paul Helmuth, who drove from Cape Cod with his brother. “It’s a beautiful city.”
Friendly, too, visitors said over and over again.
Stella Workman’s eyes went wide at the mention of the weather. Originally from Philadelphia but living in Florida, she said she’d had a pleasant, if chilly, visit.
“I guess you guys are used to it,” she said. “Everyone’s been really nice … Minnesota nice.”
Nigel Spill, who runs a sports memorabilia business in Los Angeles, pronounced it among the smoothest of the 36 Super Bowls he has attended.
“Getting in here was an absolute piece of cake,” said Spill, who rode to the stadium on a ticketholders-only train from the Mall of America, ample volunteers shepherding crowds along the way.
Eagles’ heavy attendance
In and around the stadium, Eagles fans seemed to outnumber Patriots fans, chanting loudly in the concourses, waving handkerchiefs and offering hugs and high-fives. After the game’s trophy ceremony, jubilant Eagles fans spilled out to the streets and jammed skyways.
From the start of the festivities through the final rush of fans out of the stadium, most Minnesotans welcomed the two teams, rallying themselves to smile even as Eagles fans descended on their state after a tough Vikings’ loss in Philadelphia two weeks earlier. Poor sportsmanship by some fans in Philadelphia left Minnesotans with a sour taste, but many vowed to treat the visitors well.
Tom Mongillo, an Eagles fan from Rutledge, Tenn., had high praise for his team, and for Minnesota.
“Always the underdog. Now we are the top dog. It’s a wonderful feeling,” Mongillo said. With the Twin Cities and its army of Crew 52 volunteers going out of their way to welcome visitors, even after some Eagles fans mistreated Minnesotans, he said, “I can’t have been in a more hospitable city in my whole life.”
There were plenty of fans wearing Viking purple, too. For some, the Eagles victory dulled the sting from the end of the Vikings season.
“Actually, I’m pleased that the champions of our league, our division, actually won the Super Bowl,” said Luke Morris, of Hopkins, who exited the game wearing Vikings garb. “We lost to the winners.”
‘We’ll show them’
While the Vikings narrowly missed a historic home Super Bowl, Minnesota still had a little something to prove as one of only a handful of cold-weather Super Bowl destinations. Planners knew the frigid February weather would count against them.
After the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston, there was trash talk among media about journalists not wanting to travel to Minnesota in 2018.
Asked about that slam, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf responded: “We’ll show them.”
Shortly after NFL owners awarded the game to the Twin Cities in the summer of 2014, hosts came up with a plan to “show them our bold,” making the state’s extreme winter a defining asset.
Over the 10 days of festivities, Mother Nature dished a full range of weather, with temperatures so high at the beginning that ice sculptures had to be insulated. Then the mercury dove and the wind blew, bringing the kind of deep freezes that Minnesotans brag about enduring. Intermittent, moderate snowfalls turned the Twin Cities into a giant snow globe, with flakes glistening in spotlights shining purple, blue and green across the dark sky above Nicollet Mall.
Visitors and residents embraced outdoor and indoor activities.
A zipline across the Mississippi River, soaring from Nicollet Island to the West Bank, was a hit before anyone arrived to town. The 10,000 available rides, each $30, sold out in hours.
Fans packed the audience for free concerts at Super Bowl Live on Nicollet Mall, from Idina Menzel’s opening of her hit “Frozen” through Sheila E. and Morris Day and the Time on Monday’s Prince Night to Dessa, the Suburbs, Soul Asylum and finally, 13 Crowns. Grousing about acoustics, which caught some tough bounces off buildings in spots, and concerns about crowd movement didn’t keep fans away.
Even throughout the day Saturday, as snow continued falling, parking was scarce and traffic was heavy with fans flocking to the event.
Skiers and fat-tire bicyclists rode the giant slope along the street. Crowds gathered to watch snowmobilers soar off ramps across the roadway.
“This is amazing! It’s beautiful. The snow makes it look magical,” said Chris Korus, who stood on Nicollet Mall assessing the scene late Saturday. “This is what Minnesota represents. This is perfect.”
Inside, the NFL’s interactive Super Bowl Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center buzzed throughout the week with giggly kids and adults testing their throwing, kicking, jumping, running and video game skills. Fans flocked to see their favorite players and sports celebrities interviewed on radio row inside the Mall of America.
After the big game, Timberlake opened Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show,” broadcast live from the Orpheum Theatre. Wearing mittens, Fallon joked that he was going to move the show to Minneapolis.
Logistics work succeeds
Game day logistics gave Minnesota planners a special challenge, with U.S. Bank Stadium tucked into a now-developed part of downtown, surrounded by corporate offices, condos, apartments, a major hospital, churches and a family homeless shelter.
Setting up a secure perimeter for the Level 1 national security event meant gerrymandering boundary lines and negotiating with numerous property owners. The Viking ship-shaped building was surrounded by trucks and white tents carrying and covering broadcasting equipment. Traffic around the building was tightly restricted so most of the vehicles were security or shuttle buses for fans, media and staff.
Getting fans to the game necessitated another new trick: Remote security checkpoints followed by direct passage on light-rail trains into the building’s secure zone.
Most heeded the advice to arrive early, leaving the building buzzing with excitement a good three hours before kickoff.
There were glitches
Of course, there were snags. A firm providing security on Nicollet Mall was fired for shoddy background checks. Traffic backed up and buses ran behind schedule near Nicollet Mall.
Protesters briefly blocked light rail traffic and a stadium entrance, but didn’t delay fans from making it into the game on time.
There were natural crowd bottlenecks in and around the stadium, too, with some fans waiting 45 minutes to enter.
Jon and Cathy Duane, Patriots fans from San Francisco who have been to previous Super Bowls, praised the logistics overall but said getting inside the stadium was arduous.
“Everything was perfect until we got to the stadium,” Jon Duane said. “People were shoving trying to get in and it was dangerous.”
Security was much more organized at the games he’d been to in Phoenix and San Francisco, he said. Likely because of the cold, people were trying to get in faster.
Cathy Duane, who had previously attended last year’s Super Bowl in Houston, put it more bluntly.
“It was scary; it felt very unsafe,” she said.
Once inside, concourse floors were slippery, causing at least one fan to take a fall. Many men were frustrated by the long lines for bathrooms.
Once in a generation
The opportunity of a lifetime came Sunday evening for a number of metro-area high school dance teams as they shimmied along with Timberlake during the Super Bowl halftime show.
The dancers kept their participation a secret, despite rigorous after-school practice sessions and building excitement.
“There was huge secrecy,” said John Millea, Minnesota State High School League spokesman. “Everybody kept a lid on it very nicely.”
Teams from Prior Lake, Burnsville, St. Louis Park, Eastview, Farmington, Wayzata, Lakeville South and Maple Grove were among those included. Farmington Superintendent Jay Haugen said he discovered Sunday that the Tiger Dance Team was performing as high school administrators and coaches started tweeting about it.
“I think it’s not necessarily once in a lifetime, but once in a generation,” Haugen said. “To get this chance, how special is that?”
Star Tribune staff writers Erin Adler, Adam Belz, Hannah Covington, Tim Harlow, Libor Jany, Pat Pheifer, Shannon Prather, Beena Raghavendran, John Reinan, Eric Roper, Liz Sawyer, Kelly Smith, Mary Lynn Smith, Jessie Van Berkel, James Walsh and Paul Walsh contributed to this report.