Four days before the Super Bowl, Jacob Frey stands before hundreds of cheering teenagers at North High School, and he couldn’t be happier. Wearing a gray suit, slight stubble and gelled hair with a single out-of-place curl, the always-smiling young mayor of Minneapolis already has that polished politician look, totally comfortable as the face of the city when the nation’s eyes are on it.
Frey reads a decree naming the day in the honor of the two men next to him: R&B producers Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis — the latter a North alumnus — who, besides a career writing hits for Janet Jackson and many others, curated the Super Bowl Live events on Nicollet Mall.
“This is cool, huh?” he says. “Living legends, right?”
Moments later his staff whooshes him to a radio studio down the hall, where students interview him for class, and he’s shaking hands and greeting passersby on the way. “Hey man, thanks for coming!” he says.
Then he is off to his next appointment in a packed schedule that includes touring affordable housing units in north Minneapolis, racing children on an inflatable obstacle course at the Target Center and drinking beers with Eric Dayton at Surly Brewery.
Frey doesn’t get much down time these days. In the month since his inauguration, the 36-year-old marathon runner has inherited responsibility for the biggest event to hit Minneapolis in years. About 125,000 people, from Justin Timberlake to pole-climbing Eagles fans, will come to frozen Minneapolis for the game and preceding events. Tens of millions more will be watching around the world. There will be protests, cops from all over the state and helicopters circling above. The bars will stay open two hours later than normal, and the locals will complain about overpriced guacamole and the light rail being commandeered by the NFL.
It will happen on Frey’s watch.
“Everybody has a different reason to want the Super Bowl in their town,” he says later that afternoon, sitting in his office overlooking the downtown. “For me personally, it’s to show off a spectacular city. It’s to show off our community and our rich culture for the whole world to see.”
Meanwhile, he still has to figure out how to run the city.
The bleeping Eagles
On his way out of North High, a TV reporter wants him to comment on a promotional Sports Illustrated video that came out the day prior, which ends with an outtake of Frey asking if they’re “seriously welcoming the [bleeping] Eagles fans?”
And what did he say in the bleep?
“The ‘F’ word!” Frey proclaims proudly and the reporter unleashes a roaring giggle.
And what team is the mayor rooting for?
Moments later, in the car, Frey explains that the outtake was a “half joke.” He’s heard from some Philadelphia fans who didn’t find it so funny. “I was just saying what everyone else is thinking. I mean, welcoming the Eagles?”
Later that afternoon, Frey’s bodyguard pulls the black SUV into a garage in Target Center for a children’s tailgating party attended by families who benefited from grants doled out by the Super Bowl Host Committee.
“So what am I supposed to do?” asks Frey. “I’m saying something?”
His aide, Mychal Vlatkovich, who used to be Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s spokesman, answers in the affirmative and hands him some talking points. Frey studies them for a moment, and reads a few out loud: “Breaking Bread. Bolder Options. Wellness Hub.”
Soon he’s inside shaking every empty hand he can find. Many are excited to meet him and pose for a picture with him — “That’s the mayor!” one shouts — but others don’t recognize him. Throughout the day he’s addressed as “Mark Frey,” “Who are you?” and “Are you the governor?”
Frey’s energy seems to have no end. He takes off his sport coat and runs around with the hundreds of kids storming the stadium. His bodyguard and aides lose track a few times, only to find him learning to strut from a 10-year-old or giving out high-fives.
“Holy Hennepin,” groans Vlatkovich, who admittedly doesn’t always share his boss’s endurance, as his boss runs around the room.
Frey challenges a group of kids to a race on a Nickelodeon obstacle course and they dive into the neon inflatable labyrinth.
“One of those kids beat me on that thing,” he tells Vlatkovich afterward. “I’ve got to get better shoes.”
He bumps into Gov. Mark Dayton and celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern and they remark upon how great it all is.
After being introduced as “Jacob Fray,” he jumps on the stage.“ All right, how you guys doing?” he shouts. “You all having some fun out there?”
A few cheer.
He praises the community grants and talks about how he did Zumba at the Wellness Hub in Cedar Riverside.
“How many people do Zumba?” he asks, and one kid squeals.
Another quick race on the obstacle course — this time a victory against Minneapolis schools Superintendent Ed Graff — and he’s back in the car.
Keeping up until the after the sun goes down
The mayor’s next stop is Surly Brewery, where the Great Northern — a host of winter sports and events run by Eric Dayton, proprietor of the Bachelor Farmer restaurant and the governor’s son — is throwing a barbecue.
“This is beautiful!” he says, pointing to slabs of meat resting on a grill.
“You’re doing such a good job,” he tells the staff.
Eric Dayton approaches and Frey gives him a big hug. “Hey man!” he says.
They pose for pictures in matching North hats, the specialty of Eric Dayton’s high-end clothing store, Askov Finlayson.
Frey buys a beer blended with Horchata -- the sweet Mexican beverage -- which he declares “one of the best beers ever!”
The sun is going down, but Frey does not look remotely tired. He talks about going to a party at a bar downtown later hosted by singer and former Vikings defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo.
The Great Northern staff introduces him and hands him a microphone.
“Well how you guys doing today!” he says. “We really are showing what the bold North is all about!”
The crowd claps and hoots. Then the mayor gets another beer and walks around looking for hands to shake.
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036