Being a Super Bowl volunteer was — like many experiences — a mix of relative inaction, even boredom, when it wasn’t crazy.
After the game Sunday night was chaos. Standing in the Northstar Center with another volunteer, people just called out where they were going. He or I would reply, “Straight ahead, four blocks” or “Turn around, take the skyway on the left and find someone else after two buildings.”
At times, we were so busy we seemed like short-order cooks calling out orders.
There’s no way we got everything right for those folks. There were so many people, so fast, in varied states of extreme emotion, asking where to go and not wishing to slow down. One really tall drunk dude was huggy. Fortunately, he was the only one.
Shortly into my interview to be a volunteer (the application process was surprisingly rigorous) I knew I was heading for the skyway. It would have been fun to be a party host, maybe less fun to be outdoors. But when I told my interviewer that I worked downtown, she lit up and asked, “Do you know how to get around the skyways?”
The huge majority of volunteers were from the suburbs and exurbs and had little familiarity with downtown, let alone the skyway, she explained. I have a good sense of direction, I replied, one of those people who, living in a city with a subway system, chooses the car based on how close it is to the exit when I get off.
That said, my 16 hours of directing people in the skyway during the Super Bowl week taught me two things. First, people glaze over if you tell them more than two turns. Second, it’s easier to get around the subway in New York, Washington, basically anywhere, than our skyways. A guy who works in downtown Minneapolis last year came up with this idea for color-coding the skyways like cities do with their subways.
We should definitely do that.
Some people asked why volunteer for the Super Bowl, why help the NFL, why help the corporations behind it? Thousands of people did it because they’re nice, had time, it’s fun to be around nice people and a big moment for the community.
I did it because I wanted a different experience of the Super Bowl. I’ve been a journalist in very large media events. And I can go back to a friend’s party next year. This was the chance to meet people who go to the Super Bowl as fans, as workers, and see that emotion going in and coming out.
And it turned out to be really fun to talk to them. I feel badly for the derided Eagles fans because each one I encountered was nice, many were very gracious and a few paid great compliments to the Vikings.
In fact so many people were thankful to the volunteers that I started to feel guilty that the work was as easy as it was. The people on the host committee put everyone’s name in Monday’s Star Tribune. More importantly, they hired smart, dedicated staff to coordinate things. And Cub and Target made big contributions, including a colorful uniform that, though I’m not sure why, people who weren’t volunteers seem to want.
About 11:30 Sunday night, I encountered other volunteers heading to a parking garage along Hennepin. Jimmy Fallon was already broadcasting across the street at the Orpheum.
“Well, that’s done,” I said in the garage elevator.
“Yes, it was fun,” one woman replied. “But it was enough.”
Exactly. On to what’s next.