Let’s have the Super Bowl in Minneapolis, they said. In February, they said.
Well, Saturday’s almost-constant snow and Sunday’s expected frigid cold certainly gave an estimated 125,000 out-of-town visitors to downtown Minneapolis a fully immersive Bold North experience as officials and fans prepared for the Big Game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Needless to say, while a steady snowfall and near-zero temperatures really didn’t surprise anybody, it certainly made Super Bowl LII “different,” to borrow a Minnesota colloquialism.
And a little bit magical, said one fan.
“If it’s going to be cold, it might as well be snowing,” said Frank Heaney, 20, of Minneapolis.
From the ice palace in St. Paul to the zipline crossing the icy Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Saturday served up the kind of snow-shrouded wonderland Minnesota’s Super Bowl hosts had been hoping for — with temperatures cold enough to keep ice sculptures from sweating, yet warm enough to keep visitors to outdoor concerts and parties frostbite-free.
Football players past and present were meeting and greeting fans all day, from Adrian Peterson and Adam Thielen at Mall of America to Brett Favre at Ridgedale and a long list throughout the day at the NFL Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
At the beginning of the NFL season, Tony Hall, of Abington, Mass., made his two sons a deal: If Jessie’s Patriots and Tony Jr.’s Eagles both made it to the Super Bowl, he’d take them to the game.
“And here it is,” Tony Sr. laughed on Saturday, wandering the Mall of America with his jersey-clad sons. “We’re having a good time.”
Nicollet Mall was awash in an energy all its own Saturday, as football fans and locals converged to sample food, snap photos and check out ice skating, skiing, free hot cocoa and other “northern” Super Bowl offerings. Oh, and a snowmobile backflipping and landing 100 feet away. And a night of some of Minnesota’s beloved rock bands, including the Suburbs, Jayhawks and Soul Asylum.
Taite Raasch, 10, and Austin Jentsch, 11, disembarked from a light rail train with a small group from Zumbrota on their way to the NFL Experience at the Convention Center. Their jaunt through Nicollet Mall left them in wonder.
“Look at that!” both boys yelled, pointing at ice sculptures. The pair said they’ll have real bragging rights at school Monday.
“Most of them won’t believe me,” Taite said. “I’ll say, ‘Oh yeah? Talk to my dad. He’s got photos.”
Darin Raasch, Taite’s dad and a football coach and social studies teacher in Zumbrota, remembers a much less flashy Super Bowl the last time it came to town, in 1992. “It certainly wasn’t all this,” he said, waving his hand at the hubbub up and down Nicollet. “It’s not a game anymore. It’s really more of an adventure.”
In St. Paul, the smell of mini doughnuts wafted through the air as hundreds of people turned out to see the 70-foot ice palace in Rice Park, go ice skating and watch a flash mob of Super Bowl volunteers dance to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.”
While it seemed most visitors were locals, a few sported Eagles and Patriots gear. Jason Ragazzo of Philadelphia clutched souvenirs from Surly Brewing as he checked out the ice palace on his first visit to Minnesota.
“It’s a cool atmosphere,” Ragazzo said. “It feels like Christmas — it’s snowing and everyone is polite.”
There may have been no South Beach sunshine or French Quarter steam, but visitors said they encountered plenty of warmth. Eagles fan Justin White said he has been impressed with the kindness of “Minneapolites.”
“Everybody has been very hospitable,” said White, of Vineland, N.J.
“Not like in New Jersey,” said his friend, Jon Seibert of Cherry Hill, N.J.
An Eagles rally on Nicollet Mall at noon drew a crowd awash with green jerseys, coats and caps. As fans waited to get into the rally, grinning volunteers shouted greetings and offered them luck for Sunday’s game. While Thomas Mongillo and his son Martin stood in line, at least three Minnesotans wished them well, gave them high-fives and said hello.
“You don’t find hospitality like this anywhere,” Mongillo said.
Snow and cold were no deterrent to native Philadelphian Greg Davis and his son Brian, who drove 11 hours from Oklahoma to catch the Super Bowl. One problem: They didn’t have tickets.
“We’ve been watching StubHub,” Greg Davis said, noting that the asking price on Saturday was about $2,800 “for nosebleed seats.”
It’s a lot of money, he said. “But how often do you get a chance to take your son to the Super Bowl?”
If they don’t get tickets, they hope to find a bar where they can watch the game with other Eagles fans. “We’ll party if we win,” Davis said. “And we’ll get out of town like a scalded dog if we lose.”
Apparently, heading to Minneapolis ticketless wasn’t all that unusual.
David Namoff, of Bloomington, Ill., drew attention as he walked around wearing a hot pink hat with an urgent plea: “We need tix!”
Namoff, a Chicago Bears fan, said this will be his 23rd Super Bowl; he has traveled ticketless to 16 of those games, looking for a last-minute deal.
“The hat gets regular people rather than scalpers,” he said.
Does Minneapolis stack up to the other cities he’s been to? Truth be told, Namoff said, he dreaded the cold and would rather have been in Florida. Still, he said, “I think they’ve done a great job here.”
Complications moving people
A good chunk of that work involved ensuring there were enough planes, trains and automobiles to move the expected throngs of fans to and fro.
“Phones are ringing off the hook,” said Nick Friese, a dispatcher with the limousine company Total Transportation. “It’s a battle keeping the inbox empty.”
The company has 70 limousines in-house and rented 80 extra SUVs and 80 vans in anticipation of the Super Bowl, he said.
“We were pretty prepared for it, but all in all, words can’t describe the craziness and insanity that we’re going through,” Friese said.
The snow proved problematic for Metro Transit, with more than half its buses and trains delayed midday.
Friday was the busiest arrival day at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. By Saturday, things were quieter, Metropolitan Airports Commission spokeswoman Melissa Scovronski said.
However, smaller airports that will host many private jets, like St. Paul Downtown Airport and Eden Prairie’s Flying Cloud Airport, will be busiest Sunday morning, she said. “A lot of people just come in for the day then they leave,” Scovronski said.
MSP will be particularly hectic Monday, with 60,000 to 70,000 people trying to fly out of the Twin Cities — nearly twice as many departures as a typical Monday.
Airport officials, warned that visitors to past Super Bowls have headed to the airport after the game instead of springing for another night at a hotel, said they already have 700 sleeping mats for stranded travelers and will bump up the inventory, dim the lights and turn down the sound for the overnighters. Transportation Security Administration has increased its staff, and travelers should arrive about three hours before their departure, Scovronski said.
Scovronski asked locals leaving from Terminal 1 Monday and Tuesday to park or get dropped off at Terminal 2 and take the light rail over to help with the expected flood of rental car returns.
“We’re hoping things go smoothly,” she said. “It’s definitely something that’s different from anything we’ve ever seen.”
John Reinan, Jessie Van Berkel, Kelly Smith and Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.