They partied anyway. Minnesotans showed up on Nicollet Mall for the free concerts all week, went to the galas and filled up social media with pictures of ice sculptures and Super Bowl cutout signs.
Mostly they treated the week leading up to Sunday’s game the way Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she hoped they would: as a “major supersized distraction from the loss” to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.
For many Vikings fans, though, the arrival of the actual game Sunday was a blast of cold air reminding them that Super Bowl LII will be remembered as the What-If Bowl.
Just one game, 60 minutes, separated the Vikings from being the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium, a distinction that would have changed the course of the past two weeks and particularly Sunday.
Instead, Super Bowl LII stands for Lost It, Instantly.
Three hours before kickoff Sunday, several fans in Vikings jerseys walked the concourses of U.S. Bank Stadium. Each of them I talked to was happy to be there — it is the Super Bowl, after all, a bucket list event regardless of circumstances — but each of them also had a firm grasp of the obvious: It could have been so much more.
Dominic Hanson bought his Super Bowl tickets a week before the Vikings opened the playoffs and brought his son to the “Miracle in Minneapolis” victory over the Saints.
“That was all we talked about,” said Hanson, who lives in Baxter, Minn. “Then the Eagles game came. … We were banking on the Vikings winning, but it didn’t happen and we were still going to come to the game. How many times do you get a chance to go to a home Super Bowl?”
Hanson was wearing a Chad Greenway jersey, even more bittersweet with the number 52 on it. Nearby, I chatted with Sean Pearson, clad in a Stefon Diggs jersey.
“I feel terrible,” he said. “This was the year everything was going right for us. It was destiny, but it didn’t work out. This Super Bowl would have been crazy, absolutely nuts, if the Vikings had made it.”
Some Vikings fans didn’t have the stomach to go to the Super Bowl after the loss. Wild forward Zach Parise, a Minnesota native, said during the week that he ditched his tickets after the Vikings lost.
Klobuchar relished the chance to showcase the state all week, and by all accounts the #BoldNorth was on-brand and welcoming. Still, even she said Friday “I keep thinking it” when asked about how things would have been different with the Vikings were playing.
Twin Cities resident Michele Tafoya, who worked the Super Bowl as a reporter for NBC Sports, said it would have been “fantastic scene” had the Vikings played. “I think this town, this state, this region would have been through the roof,” she said.
Instead … on Sunday, the purple seats at U.S. Bank Stadium were occupied by fans in Eagles and Patriots jerseys — with a few poor souls in Vikings jerseys, happy to be there but knowing they could have been happier. Nick Foles trotted onto the field instead of Case Keenum. Highlights of the Eagles’ 38-7 win over the Vikings played on the giant U.S. Bank Stadium scoreboards.
Maybe it was somehow better or at least easier this way? Maybe, as Klobuchar suggested, too much focus would have been on the Vikings instead of the event had things turned out differently. Maybe Vikings fans would have been too nervous, and that energy — plus, you know, Tom Brady — would have led to a fifth Super Bowl defeat.
We’ll never know, and that’s the hardest part.