HOUSTON - Come for the parties, stay for the game.
By Sunday's 5:30 p.m. kickoff time for Super Bowl LI, more than 1 million people will have participated in a week of festivities tied to the event. Wednesday afternoon, the action was already in full roll as the NFL Experience at the George R. Brown Convention Centered opened to the public for the remainder of the week. Tickets are $35 and a similar event will occur in Minneapolis next year.
For those who wonder how the temperatures in Minnesota can compete with the 80 degrees and sunshine in Houston this week, the answer is simple: indoors. Much of the pregame action is indoors. True, there are some space-themed rides on the Avenida Houston, a new civic plaza that opened in front of the convention center just in time for the game.
But many of the plaza spaces aren’t huge and even Houstonians worry about the weather. The meteorologists on TV openly fret and talk about how the caught a break.
For the record, the last two years of Super Bowl weeks in Minnesota including a giant snowstorm (2016) and a sheen of ice on roads and sidewalks (2017). But hey, the game in Minnesota will be indoors so no stress there.
One of the surprising things about attending Super Bowls as a reporter is the diversity of the media here. More often than not, I hear multiple languages. As I type this in one of the cavernous media work rooms, two men at my table are speaking German while a pair at the next table are speaking French.
The media center is a low-key place with rows of tables tricked out with power strips every foot. This is not a chummy space. Reporters, producers and editors come and go, eat a free hamburger, grab a free soda and sit down to work.
But even the media got in on the fancy party action Tuesday night at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Some 5,000 guests attended the event with live music, free food, free-flowing booze and goodie bags on the way out. Shuttle buses carried reporters from the downtown media hotels to the event.
Although the suggested attire was “business casual,” the media showed up in everything from strapless and sparkly dresses with sky-high stilettos to cargo shorts and T-shirts. Or as one guy said to a friend as they walked in, “Dude, you are seriously underdressed.”
The event was impressive. As we entered, rows of servers stood in the hallway holding platters with cans and bottles of beer from Bud Light to local craft brews. There was an open bar with a friendly bartender in dozens of nooks. Food spaces throughout the museum offered a selection of Houston’s flavors from prime rib sandwiches to tamales and quesadillas to prosciutto, cheese and gelato.
The museum is a cool place featuring a planetarium, numerous dinosaur skeletons and a dazzling display of natural gemstones in a darkened series of rooms. In the gem hallway, a jazz duo played as a bartender poured Brut Rosé and guests choose among various treats from chocolate mousse to peppermint brownies and profiteroles.
There was live music in many rooms, including the DJ-electronic strings combo that will be at the Minnesota party Thursday night. I’ve been assured Prince will be in heavy rotation there.
While members of the Minnesota host committee, Minnesota Vikings staff and the handful of Twin Cities media already here attended the event, the general goal was pacing. Everyone has a busy week of work - and parties - ahead.
Note to Minnesotans: Time to cozy up to your media pals so you can be their “plus one” for next year’s media party at the Mall of America. Minnesota Committee crew assured me the party next year will be even better.
One thing that will be hard to top: Houston host committee Chair Ric Campo’s attire. His red-white-and-blue sportcoat was made for the occasion. HTX, LI, Super Bowl, were written on the jacket along with silhouettes of the state and the Lombardi Trophy. Ocampo, who has spent his career in real estate and economic development, said he learned to bring enthusiasm to what he’s selling so the buyers will catch on.
Let’s see if Minnesota Host Committee Chair Richard Davis can match that sartorial game.
Campo will be at the Minnesota event to check. His sister lives on Lake Minnetonka, he said.