Minneapolis North High School football players filed into the school auditorium Wednesday at the urging of Coach Charles Adams, unaware of what was going on.
“I knew it was going to be good,” junior wide receiver Micheal Harris said. “He’s always got something up his sleeve.”
They were chatty and smiling, as teens are when they get a pass out of class for a bit. Each player was handed a purple Minnesota Vikings T-shirt that read, “Play football.”
They oohed and aahed when they found out Super Bowl planners were in the house, the first hint the announcement was related to the world’s most watched sporting event.
The guys cheered when Super Bowl Host Committee CEO Maureen Bausch told them they would each get two passes to the NFL Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center for high school night.
Then the bombshell: They’d be the first team to run out of the tunnel onto the Super Bowl field at U.S. Bank Stadium, acting out plays two days before the game in a sort of dress rehearsal so NBC can make sure the camera and lighting produce top-notch views from every angle. The kids cheered again but didn’t seem fully aware of what they’d be experiencing.
The North students, some of whom played at the new stadium when the hometown team went undefeated and won the state championship in 2016, won’t wear pads or helmets, but they’ll run routes and formations, kick, pass, punt and block much like the two championship teams will do Feb. 4 in the real game.
The Polars will be the first team on the field after the NFL spends weeks preparing the building for the event. All the players will require special credentials to get in the building, which goes into its highest level lockdown just as the North players take the field Feb. 2.
“You’ll be booked all day. You’ll be the very first people to see that building,” NFL Vice President Natara Holloway told the student athletes. “You’ll get wined and dined like a football player. No. No. Not wined,” she quickly added to laughter.
North High sits in one of the grittiest parts of Minneapolis, and the school was targeted for closure in 2010 because of low test scores, but advocates fought to keep it open.
Adams, a native North Sider, has received widespread recognition for his devotion to helping the players, many from unstable homes, navigate their young lives.
Bausch told the boys this is also an opportunity for them to see future job possibilities in professional football beyond playing.
The news that they’ll set foot on the field, see themselves on the big screens above the end zones and get a tour of the building was sinking in slowly.
“I’m just speechless right now,” senior defensive end Leon Haynes said. “This is something.”
Surrounded by a passel of compact running backs — Cam Anderson, Zaheim Barber, both freshmen, and sophomore Malik Marcus — Haynes took some ribbing for his uncharacteristic reticence before Barber jumped in with a cocky, “You’re gonna see me on the big screen.”
Anderson was wide-eyed and grinning: “This is going to be an amazing experience,” he said.
They weren’t the only ones who got a big surprise. Minnesota Vikings youth football manager E.J. Henderson, a retired linebacker, announced to Adams that he was receiving two tickets to the actual Super Bowl. “You are going to the big game,” Henderson said on stage with Adams off to his far right.
An assistant coach, immediately angled to accompany him with: “Let me know if you need some lunch today.”
The players reacted to Adams’ good fortune with warm cries of, “Ohhhhhhh Ayyyyyy.” That’s “O.A.,” short for Officer Adams because the coach is also a Minneapolis police officer on assignment as the liaison to North High.
Adams repeated his refrain that the team is about the players, not him, but his face lit up with a big gap-toothed smile as he took a side step and bent his knees, did a little shake and said he was going to enjoy this one.
Don’t bother trying to get that second ticket. Adams said he’s taking his 17-year-old son Adrian Adams, a wide receiver for Robbinsdale’s Cooper High School. “Man, I cannot believe it,” the coach said.
NFL executives as well as state Super Bowl planners were in the auditorium for the festive announcement, along with the Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders and Viktor the Viking mascot. Viktor shot confetti out of a small handgun when the announcement came. The team also will receive a $5,000 grant from the NFL Foundation.