James Perovich walked through Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul proudly wearing a Philadelphia Eagles shirt.
When you are a Philadelphia native living in south Minneapolis, you grab every opportunity to bask that you can. “Fly, Eagles, fly!” Perovich said with gusto.
The event was billed as Super Bowl LII Opening Night, and it gave fans of the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles a chance to see and hear their heroes for $32, instead of the thousands a Super Bowl ticket would set them back.
It is fans’ first and perhaps only opportunity to see players and coaches from the two Super Bowl teams in person. Perovich, who said he proudly represents all the Philly teams when they’re in town, acknowledged it was about as close as he would get to the big game itself.
He has Philadelphia friends coming to town to attend the game. He cannot. But meeting Eagles players Monday night will come close.
“The Eagles could go to the next 10 Super Bowls,” he said. “It could never top this, with them playing right here.”
The Patriots were the first to arrive, the Eagles later.
Of the two teams, the Patriots were the crowd favorite — perhaps unsurprisingly, given last week’s game and the much-publicized abuse Vikings fans received in Philadelphia. The Patriots drew polite applause. A shout-out to Eagles fans was met with boos.
Such sustained purple anger prompted Perovich, the Eagles die-hard, to make a point. Yeah, some Eagles fans get boisterous. But, he said, no true fan would have pitched a full beer at a Vikings supporter, a scene captured on several videos before and after the Vikings-Eagles game in Philadelphia last week.
The question of whether any Vikings fans were in the house was met with roaring applause from the few thousand people gathered to watch players be interviewed.
The crowd listened in on purple headphones as hordes of media from across the country and world interviewed players on the floor in front of them.
Later, after the Patriots interviews ended and the Eagles headed out to talk with media, a cluster of Eagles supporters started a “Foles” chant for quarterback Nick Foles. Vikings fans booed them down.
Chad Moren of Blaine snagged last-minute tickets to take his son, Wyatt, to the event. They sat near the front row and waited excitedly to spot players.
It’s a school night, Moren said, “but when the opportunity comes, you got to take it.”
Outside the X, Derek Magle of River Falls, Wis., and his four young daughters waved excitedly as a line of buses with players pulled up for the event. “One waved to us!” MaKenna Magle said.
They had been exploring the ice palace in Rice Park and learned about the Xcel event by happenstance. They didn’t buy tickets. If the Vikings were playing Sunday, “we would have,” Derek Magle said.
Another south Minneapolis resident, Patriots fan Colin Murphy, not only had a ticket for Xcel, he also bit the bullet this weekend and bought a Super Bowl ticket — for $4,000. Why?
“Brady,” he said of New England’s seemingly ageless quarterback, Tom Brady.
He’s been a New England fan since 2001. Why?
“Brady,” he said.
That was the season a young and unheralded Brady led the Patriots to their first title.
The team and the quarterback won him as a fan and have continued to excel over the years.
“What Brady continues to do is what Tiger Woods does, what Michael Jordan did — continue to reinvent himself, improve himself,” said Murphy, 39, a Minnesota native.
Vikings fans Jim McQuillan of St. Louis Park and Mary Wood of Eagan were vacillating on whether to stay. Watching several players and coaches from teams they don’t care about sit on a stage and talk about their expectations for the game was looking less appealing all the time, McQuillan said.
“We might head to Pazzaluna,” he said, referring to the nearby Italian restaurant. “Flip a coin.”
One of several planned protests took place at the event. Black Lives Matter said it dropped two protest banners in the arena and staged a protest outside. The group said it wants to hold the city of Minneapolis and the NFL accountable for “fueling conditions” that promote the destruction of black, brown and poor communities. More protests are planned this week.
The enthusiasm of Kevin Bell and his boys never wavered. The Massachusetts native scooped up some tickets.
His sons play football and Brady Bell, 8, wearing a Tom Brady jersey, was hoping to see the quarterback and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“This is a great way to be a part of the Super Bowl” without paying thousands for a game ticket, Kevin Bell said.
Sam Johnson, 19, of Plymouth, is an unabashed Patriots fan. His folks? They’re Vikings fans but were wearing Patriots gear Monday night. After last weekend, Sam’s dad, Alan Johnson said, the family didn’t have it in them to cheer for the Eagles.
“We support him,” Alan Johnson said, pointing to Sam. “We couldn’t support them.”
“I was rooting for the Vikings to make it, too,” Sam Johnson said. “But, even if they had, I wouldn’t have cheered for them this week.”