As Minnesota prepares to host Super Bowl LII in two years, reporter Rochelle Olson heads to San Francisco to see how it’s done. She’ll offer frequent Top 10 musings from the city by the bay as the follows Minnesota Vikings officials and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee around town.
Thursday was my first full day of reporting at Super Bowl events and the activity going on downtown is head-spinning and all but overwhelming. Super Bowl City is a huge event space at the Ferry Building on the bay and the area surrounding it is a maze of traffic detours and heavy security, including metal detectors at everything and men in black combat-style uniforms holding high-powered rifles (and then most likely unseen snipers atop buildings poised for action). The NFL doesn’t reveal security information, but it’s regarded as the best operation in the business. At all these events whether they’re smaller parties in restaurants or the massive NFL Fan City, security is evident. At the Houston Media Party, an armed officer stood alertly in the center of the room during the event. It’s both comforting and sobering to be amid the security. Now for the fun stuff:
1. The schedules of the Minnesota Host Committee members are no joke. CEO Maureen Bausch and Marketing chief Wendy Williams Blackshaw spent an hour at Houston’s Media Party at the Press Club bar and restaurant, then left with a contingent to go to see the workings of another event. Super Bowls are parties, but these folks are so busy they’ve got to remember to eat and hydrate.
2. The committee’s Friday started at 7:45 a.m. with a shuttle bus collecting them at their hotels. They went to Santa Clara for a daylong (!) behind-the-scenes tour of the operations at Levi’s Stadium. The new stadium is more than an hour from downtown San Francisco — a haul on the bay area’s busy freeways. I’ve not been on one yet, but I’m told some media buses get police escorts so they don’t deal with the vicissitudes of traffic flow. Is that not the ultimate in special treatment?
3. I had a couple brushes with real celebrities. When I entered the media center Thursday morning, there was Joe Montana waiting to go on the air with Jim Rome. Montana, wearing all black, stood in a roped off area staring at his cellphone like the rest of the world. It was no small amusement to see Montana haltingly poking at his phone with an index finger to type a message. He looked friendly and easygoing with a fast smile. He’s also still got the Montana magic and cool. He’s the man in any room. But I recalled reading years ago how his teammates at Notre Dame gave him the nickname Montanalow because of his resemblance to Barry Manilow. They were’t wrong.
4. I tagged along with Vikings staffers and host committee members Tanya Dreesen and Amy Anthony to the news conference for halftime act Coldplay. Lead guy Chris Martin told reporters the crew was more nervous about the news conference — with hundreds of media — than performing at the game viewed by millions. “We don’t do many press conferences,” Martin said. The fawning questions started with an entertainment reporter asking Martin if his children Apple and Moses grasped the magnitude of the performance and whether they would watch him. Martin made a joke of the ridiculous question saying that whether his kids watched depended on what else was on TV Sunday night. He was utterly charming and funny. Noticing the photographers seated on the floor in front of the first row of chairs, Martin joked that they looked like kindergartners down there. “Does anyone have to go to the bathroom?” he asked.
5. Former WCCO morning show anchor Jamie Yuccas, now working for CBS in New York, asked the weirdest most awkward question I’ve ever seen in 20-plus years of reporting. She asked Martin for a hug. Yes. A hug. Let me tell you: No one ever does this. The entire room silently squirmed. Martin declined, saying he had a “phobia” about touching people. Yuccas, however, didn’t get the message. Apparently she did get the hug — as she posted a photo on Facebook of her wrapping her arms around Martin’s shoulders. He returned a minimal one-armed effort.
6. The Houston Super Bowl Host Committee party at the Press Club restaurant on Yerba Buena Lane was by all accounts a highlight and better than the San Francisco 49ers event the night before. Those Houstonians are great hosts, but the only other media I saw there was a pair of wide-eyed youngsters from The Denver Post. Food highlights: Miniature beef Wellingtons, tiny croque monsieurs bites, petite twice-baked ruby red potatoes and skewers with avocado, cucumber, grapefruit and — was that arugula? Yum. And the wine for every taste from nearby Napa Valley: Pinot to chardonnay and sparkling white. Two favorites: Faust Cabernet and Flowers chardonnay.
7. Next stop was the NFL House, an exclusive hospitality venue for team executives and big sponsors. Again, the vibe was fun and relaxed. The food and wine sublime. Highlights here: fresh oysters, roast chicory salad and the best cheese I’ve ever tasted: a truffle Brie that was some sort of magical mix of creamy nutty fabulousness kissed with sweetness. Wish I’d written down the name. Argh.
8. The weather here is getting progressively better. The sun is bright this morning. Game day is supposed to be 70. One definitely ponders the contrast with the snow back home. The actual date of the Super Bowl in Minneapolis hasn’t been voted on by the NFL, but the tentative expectation is it will be Feb. 4, 2018.
9. The Puppy Bowl is filming down by the Ferry Building through Sunday. I’ve not been yet, but that’s in my game plan for the day. Word is the event is drawing some of the biggest crowds. All those doggies are rescues and need good homes.
10. On the way out of Houston’s party, the hosts handed out swag bags — black briefcase computer totes with the city’s Super Bowl logo stitched to the front. Inside: mini Houston helmets, insulated coffee tumblers, leather notebooks and a glossy magazine about the event. Houston’s theme for the 51st game: Looking ahead to the next 50 games.
— Rochelle Olson