The opening of the 10-day Super Bowl LII extravaganza filled downtown Minneapolis with purple and blue sights Friday, from the theater shaped like a football at 11th Street and Nicollet Mall to zipliners flying across the Mississippi River.
Singer Idina Menzel marked the official start of the event from the Verizon stage at 8th and Nicollet Mall an hour behind schedule and with one song only: her signature “Let It Go” from “Frozen.”
Unfortunately for planners and ice sculptures, though, it was not a frozen day, forcing them to wrap the massive ice sculptures lined up along Nicollet Mall in silver insulation to keep them from melting as temperatures climbed into the mid-40s.
Several thousand people crammed the intersection dominated by the stage. Many joined in as Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey led a countdown followed by the singing of the national anthem.
By about 6 p.m., the area was nearly impassable. Blue-clad volunteers tried valiantly to clear a narrow lane on the sidewalk for pedestrians to squeeze through.
When Menzel finally took the stage, the crowd swelled forward in anticipation. The crowd sang along enthusiastically as her voice belted from the speakers placed around the intersection. But after her song, she was done.
For some people, the announced musical lineup was the main draw, football just an afterthought. Greg Nesbitt, a local illustrator, said that he didn’t care about the game, but planned to be in the audience when The Revolution takes the stage Monday night. Yet, he said that he could see the appeal for football fans.
“I’m sure it’s like going to a Star Trek convention” for them, he said.
Across the street, Amanda Stefanik and Sue Reger had ducked into the U.S. Bancorp Center to catch their breath.
The two Minneapolitans stayed after work to watch the performance, with plans to meet up later with a colleague from their downtown consulting firm, who was volunteering. But as the evening went on, the novelty wore off.
“After tonight, I’m not coming back,” Reger admitted.
Stefanik said the celebration would have held greater allure if the Vikings were playing in the Super Bowl. Still, she added, she was excited by the city’s energy.
Throughout the afternoon, people strolled Nicollet Mall, checking out the “Bold North” themed setup. The American Birkebeiner International Bridge, covered in icy snow, was a hit with skiers skating up the hill and swooshing down alongside fat tire bikes and tubes.
Up and down the mall, networks fired up their broadcasts, food stands sold everything from hamburgers out of a replica of a Delta Air Lines jet to “bold-fashioneds,” the Super Bowl-themed version of an old-fashioned.
The many corporate sponsors had installed exhibits along the mall, some of which featured virtual reality games and warming houses. Others sold food or showed television anchors broadcasting live. ESPN will go live from the IDS Crystal Court beginning at 7 a.m. Wednesday, but KARE 11 was already front and center.
Inside the former Dayton’s department store, a massive NFL store stood alongside a Prince exhibit featuring displays of his high-heeled shoes, shiny “Purple Rain” jacket and, of course, his music videos.
This is also the site of a surefire draw: Hallmark’s Kitten Bowl. Bring the kids at your peril. The display contains numerous cats available for adoption.
Relaxed after three full years of planning, Super Bowl Host Committee leaders strolled the mall as they offered reporters a preview. They even rode the zipline.
Super Bowl Live is the biggest responsibility of the Host Committee. Privately funded, the committee had raised $52 million by opening day, Chairman Richard Davis said.
“We wanted to be relaxed at this stage as much as possible,” committee COO Dave Haselman said, even as he occasionally checked his cellphone as he strolled. “There’s going to be issues and things we have to deal with, but not many we haven’t thought of.”
The Super Bowl Crew 52 volunteer headquarters in City Center was rocking and hopping as volunteers arrived and then departed en masse for assignments, whooping and smiling on the way.
A few blocks away, at the Convention Center, the Super Bowl Experience was polished and ready for its Saturday opening. The interactive football theme park includes games, displays and entertainment. Visitors can test their football skills — measuring their vertical jumps or 40-yard dash times compared to NFL players. They can play video games and get autographs from past NFL stars. A cavernous store selling official merchandise, from T-shirts and socks to a Super Bowl-themed letterman’s jacket retailing at $249.99, is open to the public.
A pop-up dome next to Orchestra Hall offered purple-cushioned recliners to look up at a four-minute NFL video that gives the feel — both physically and visually — of being on the field. The league created the theater in place of the massive wraps they usually install on buildings that feature players and logos. Those wraps don’t work in the Minnesota cold.
Down at the river, the zipline proved a hit; its 10,000 slots sold out weeks ago and takers were enjoying the rare chance to fly above the Mississippi.
“The sunset behind downtown, that was cool,” said Naomi Baso, as she exited. “It was beautiful.”
John Bungert has been afraid of heights his entire adult life, but saw the zipline as a challenge.
“When I saw this come about, I thought, you know, ‘How often do you get to do this?’ ” Bungert said. “I just retired. I thought, ‘I’m taking risks.’ ”
He nearly backed out Friday morning, but ultimately took the plunge and said the ride was “thrilling and terrifying.”
“I’m totally covered with sweat but I’m really glad I did it,” Bungert said. “It was really fun.”
Staff Writer Eric Roper contributed to this report.