Tod Leiweke, the chief operating officer of the NFL, was no stranger to Minnesota when he came here for the Super Bowl, having once served as Wild team president.
He had told league officials to expect a world-class, unique event, and he said that looking back on the experience, that was exactly what they got. More than one million people from Minnesota and outside the state visited Super Bowl Live on Nicollet Mall and 1.4 million visited the Mall of America, site of the NFL Fan Gallery, according to estimates by the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee.
“I was the one who said, ‘This could be spectacular.’ We came in a night early to go out and enjoy what we felt was the quintessential Minnesota experience,” Leiweke said. “We took the commissioner [Roger Goodell] out on some Polaris sleds and went around White Bear Lake, and that’s really how we started the week. We said that we were going to embrace all that was great about Minnesota, and it was all there.
“I think people came and had a fantastic week. They felt a unique, warm feeling that I think is so quintessential Minnesota, and then a fantastic football game in a incredible venue.”
Yes, there were high expectations when Minnesota landed the Super Bowl in 2014, and after a terrific game where the Eagles and Patriots put up offensive numbers that had never been seen before in the Super Bowl, there’s no doubt that Minnesota came away with a great reputation for hosting such a large-scale event.
“We just thought it was a terrific success,” Leiweke said. “Doug Baker, Marilyn Carlson and our friend Richard Davis did such a fabulous job of sort of running the host committee. We just couldn’t have been happier. We felt incredibly at home that week. The weather was a little bit cold, but it was part of the charm of the week and we just loved it.”
And Leiweke said it wasn’t just the game that stood out, but that the NFL could tell how well-prepared Minnesota was for the entire Super Bowl experience.
“I would say it wasn’t just the week of, it started a year before where Maureen Bausch and others who led this effort organized 52 events throughout the state and tried to create a legacy and really tried to take it from more than a game to a real legacy,” he said. “That’s how it felt, 52 weeks of giving back. The week of where there were tons of concerts on any night, multiple things to go do, I know Jimmy Jam even had a show after the game outdoors.”
And while the people of Minnesota and the Super Bowl Host Committee clearly were intent on putting on a good show, Leiweke said that the chance for the NFL to host its marquee event in Minnesota had other benefits.
“It was a delivery of a promise that we were going to bring the world to Minnesota and that’s why that host committee worked for three years in advance and raised all the money they did, it’s why all those corporate partners came forward, was in part because we were going to tell the story of Minnesota to the world,” he said.
Attract more events?
While some people might wonder if U.S. Bank Stadium will ever host another Super Bowl, the bigger benefit from such a successful week is that those staging other large-scale events will feel comfortable having Minneapolis as the host city.
“That stadium on that afternoon when the sun came across the seats was almost just epically beautiful,” Leiweke said. “The Wilfs did such a fantastic job working as a partner with the state to get it done. Then the building was finished so fantastic, the amount of art, the building has soul, it just played so well.”
Yes, Minneapolis will get another chance to show off their stadium and their host abilities in a little over a year when the 2019 NCAA Final Four comes to town.
Four Vikings in Top 50
ESPN.com released its list of the Top 50 players with expiring contracts heading into the NFL free agency period, and four Vikings were on it.
Of the five quarterbacks on the list, three were the Vikings’ free agents, with the other two being Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins.
At No. 5 was Case Keenum. ESPN.com wrote that the Vikings will find it hard to let Keenum leave after he was second in the NFL in total QBR and took the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game; the article says the Vikings might choose to give Keenum a franchise tag to keep him for one season and see how he produces.
Sam Bradford came in at No. 18 and ESPN.com wrote that his knee injuries continue to be a big question mark, though his performance in Week 1 against the Saints, when he threw for 346 yards and three scores, will continue to make him an attractive target.
Teddy Bridgewater was at No. 23 and ESPN.com noted his injury history and lack of playing time since 2015 make him a real wild card on the free-agent market.
Lastly, running back Jerick McKinnon came in at No. 41, but he already has said he doesn’t want to return to the Vikings because he doesn’t want to play behind Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray.
• Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, on how close he came to owning the Vikings: “I probably came closer before Red [McCombs] bought it. That time, I thought I had an agreement and an understanding and at the last minute they gave it to Red. I think when the Wilfs came in and they were bidding on it, I was bidding against them. But at one point I met with them and withdrew on my own. They went ahead and purchased it.”
• The Wolves’ 36 victories this season are already the 10th most in franchise history, but anyone who thinks the playoffs are a lock needs to pay close attention to the loss column in the Western Conference. The Wolves are in fourth place at 36-25, but they have five teams behind them with only 26 losses. And the 10th-place team, the Utah Jazz, is 30-28, only 4½ games behind the Wolves.
• If there is one stat that isn’t praised enough when it comes to Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, it’s the Wolves’ young stars’ durability. From 2016-2018, Towns is first in the NBA in games played at 225 of a possible 225, while Wiggins is right behind him in second at 224. And for good measure, in third place is teammate Gorgui Dieng at 222. If you include Wiggins’ 2014-2015 rookie year, Wiggins leads the NBA with 306 games played out of a possible 307.
• The current odds out of Las Vegas have the Timberwolves with the eighth-best shot of winning the NBA Finals at 33-1.
• Former Hill-Murray standout Jake Guentzel had a breakout season last year when he helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup as a rookie. This year Guentzel has 30 points with 18 goals and 12 assists through 58 games.
• There’s no doubt that MIAC football continues to be the best Division III conference in the nation. The conference led the country in football attendance for the seventh consecutive season and 12th time in 13 years.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org