MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota native A.J. Knollmaier stuck out like a sore, midnight-green thumb Sunday afternoon while milling around in a sea of purple. Wearing a LeSean McCoy jersey, the 23-year-old Eagles fan was among the few discernible Birds supporters in this frigid, yet somehow still alive, downtown, the host of Sunday's Super Bowl.
"I haven't had a beer thrown at me yet, but if I do, I hope it's full so I can catch it," Knollmaier said, referring to the sign in an ad agency window this week that invited Eagles fans to "stop in and have a free beer thrown at you."
This city is still awaiting legions of traveling Eagles and Patriots fans, meaning that most of the Super Bowl-related events are, for now, being frequented by locals (read: Vikings fans). Safe to say it's a little tense here.
That happens when the Super Bowl host city has to welcome fans of: 1) the Philadelphia Eagles, who knocked their hometown team out of championship contention, and 2) the Patriots, their golden-boy quarterback, and his five Super Bowl rings.
Despite reports of Uber drivers plotting against Birds fans or indications that Vikings faithful felt mistreated in Philadelphia by unruly fans, most locals are promising that visitors can expect to encounter something known as "Minnesota Nice," the notion that people who live here have a genuine sense of goodwill and generally avoid confrontation.
"The general response here has been, 'Well, that wasn't very classy, but let's do better than that,'" said D.J. Tice, a Twin Cities native and a longtime columnist at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "We're a nice, Midwestern, civilized people here, and we treat everybody like guests."
The Minneapolis-St. Paul region serves as a unique host for the Super Bowl for a couple of reasons: Let's start with the weather — it is absolutely brutal. Sunday's high reached all of 18 degrees while temperatures next Sunday — the day of the big game — aren't expected to climb above 10. This is why the Vikings play under a dome. Actually, the whole city does.
Fifteen metropolitan areas have hosted the Super Bowl since its 1967 kickoff, and most have decidedly better outdoor conditions. Miami has hosted 11 times, New Orleans 10, Los Angeles eight. The last time the Twin Cities hosted the biggest game was in 1992, when the Washington Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills 37–24 and Nick Foles had just turned 3 years old.
This time, the game is taking place at U.S. Bank Stadium, a billion-dollar, 66,000-seat crystal palace (with a roof) that opened last year.
Minneapolis is also relatively small in terms of population, compared to other host cities. Last year's Super Bowl was in Houston, for example, which sprawls Texas-size and boasts more than triple the population of Minneapolis and St. Paul together.
The region known for ice fishing, pond hockey, and the Mall of America is about to be overrun by the glitz and glam associated with the biggest sporting event of the year, with online ticket prices averaging $5,000. You can still buy a ticket on SeatGeek for as much as $175,790, if you've got bank to spare, and entry to some exclusive week-of parties costs north of $700.
This city of 420,000 is extending the icy carpet to celebrities from Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, to Jimmy Fallon, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Jennifer Lopez, Ludacris, and even Philadelphia's hometown comedian Kevin Hart.
Matt Howard, a spokesman for the Super Bowl host committee, said organizers have been planning for three years and are expecting "a million people" to attend official events over the 10 days leading up to the game, although that figure includes Minnesotans. Pennsylvania-based Rockport Analytics estimated the number of visitors at closer to 125,000, according to the Star-Tribune.
While much of the media hype will be concentrated near the Mall of America in Bloomington, a town 10 miles south of downtown, the rest of the sports-oriented region is booming.
The Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis is outfitted with "Super Bowl Live," a week-and-a-half-long public festival that features concerts, ice sculptures, and other fan attractions. In St. Paul, the annual "Winter Carnival" is attracting visitors, particularly at night when a massive, 70-foot-tall "ice palace" lights up.
And Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, named after Franciscan missionary and explorer Father Louis Hennepin, is dotted with hip bars and restaurants and feels a bit like a mix of Broad Street and South Street. There's also the downtown Minneapolis skyway system, a 9.5-mile network of bridge-like structures one story above ground that allows people to walk all around the city without stepping outdoors.
Eric Dayton, the son of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and co-founder of winter apparel brand Askov Finlayson, said he went to school in New England and got a sense of how the East Coast views his home. He's often heard people refer to Minneapolis as "flyover country."
That's a shame, he said, citing Minnesota's 18 Fortune 500 companies (including Target, Best Buy, and 3M), a celebrated restaurant scene, and a robust craft beer and distillery presence. He hopes hosting the Super Bowl can help correct any misconceptions.
"We're ready to make a great first impression," said Dayton, 37. "And if someone has an outdated perception, this is a chance to refresh that."
Minnesota natives being downright kind will help. John Ewing and Susan Omey, both residents of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, walked around downtown Minneapolis on Sunday sporting Eagles caps, and as they were speaking to a reporter, a stranger interrupted them: "Welcome to Minnesota," he said.
"Being able to wear my Eagles colors and be accepted is a nice change," said Ewing, a 50-year-old physician who hails from Northeast Philadelphia and holds season tickets for both the Eagles and the Vikings.
Tice, the columnist, said the city was undoubtedly a little bit deflated after the Vikings came so close and failed to deliver. But people here still appreciate the gravity of hosting the Super Bowl.
"We're not the kind of destination resort city that gets used to this kind of thing," he said, "being the center of the universe for a couple weeks."