BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News sent 24 journalists to Minneapolis to cover the Super Bowl and the week of events leading up to it. A high percentage of those 24 are really looking forward to 6:30 p.m. Sunday when the glitz slows and it's finally just about football.
You see, Super Bowl Week is a massively coordinated spectacle. I did not know this before I attended one. I'm a news reporter who's never covered professional football, and certainly never before been to a Super Bowl. To top it off, I'd really never been anywhere close to Minneapolis (and am a big baby when it comes to being cold).
But I was lucky enough to travel 1,200 miles with some of the best writers and photographers in the country to take in the fan experience, chronicle the city's preparation and deliver it to fans back home, largely via social media.
It's been a helluva week, one that started with ice sculptures and will end with a star-studded football game, featuring an inordinate amount of time spent in the Mall of America and plenty of conversations with rabid fans and kind locals. To give you a sense of what it was like here covering the lead-up to sports' biggest moment — one that could be the Eagles' first Super Bowl win ever — I kept track of what it was like this week experiencing it all. Welcome to my diary.
Noon — I arrived at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport via an easy direct flight (thanks to Delta, for once) and hopped on a shuttle bus to the media hotel where I'm staying, which happens to be in Bloomington, Minn., just a few miles from the airport. Most of the thousands of reporters in town to cover the Super Bowl were stationed here due to its proximity to the Mall of America, where the NFL designated workspace for press.
3 p.m. — I needed to get downtown. I was desperately in search of some fans and locals to chat with for a story expected to run Monday, so I left my hotel that's 10 miles south of downtown Minneapolis, hopped on a shuttle to the Mall of America, walked through the mall, got on the light rail (which felt like a really nice Market-Frankford line) and rode it 35 minutes or so to get downtown.
That's where I found the Super Bowl Live setup, a massive, mostly outdoor, free festival created and maintained by the NFL. It featured concerts, ice sculptures, food and a whole lot of corporate influence with sponsors setting up all throughout the city's Nicollet Mall, the main artery where the experience was located. I met this man.
8:30 p.m. — I got my first taste of the weirdness that was the Mall of America. Most of us reporters are embarrassed to admit the amount of time we spent in a mall this week. I walked around a bit, saw a man broadcasting live from beside a Chick-fil-A, and headed back to the hotel for the evening. Monday would be a long day.
9 a.m. — For some reason, my bosses trusted me enough to give me access to the Philly.com Instagram account for the day Monday so I could bring our followers through Minneapolis with me. It was only appropriate that I start at the Mall of America. But there's only so much you can say about a mall that's along the lines of King of Prussia. So I headed downtown, where I knew I was bound to run into fans.
Noon — I once again traversed Nicollet (pronounced nick-a-lit) Mall, and then found a way to make it indoors to walk around downtown via the city's skyway system, a 9.5-mile network of bridges that connect its buildings to one another. This is a fantastic thing, because it means you don't have to actually walk outside.
This is also a horrible thing because it's difficult to navigate a story above the ground if you don't actually know anything about where you are. Oh, and I stumbled across this:
Meanwhile, I talked to a handful of kind Minnesota folks who told me all about their efforts to "lean in" to winter, meaning they want to stop apologizing for the temperature and start seeing it as an asset.
2 p.m. — I consumed a Jucy Lucy, Minneapolis' signature sandwich. It's a burger stuffed with melted cheese. I immediately regretted this decision.
4 p.m. — I made my way to St. Paul, the Twin City that's not Minneapolis, as Monday night's media night was taking place in the city's Xcel Energy Center. Before going to media night, I wanted to check out the "winter carnival," an outdoor event of sorts that gives "leaning into winter" new meaning.
8 p.m. — Media night, also known as the "Super Bowl Opening Night," began Monday night and was truly remarkable. I'd only ever covered college football, so I didn't realize the pageantry associated with Super Bowl's media night. Essentially, the NFL allows fans to come in and watch thousands of reporters walk around and interview every member and coach of both teams, who are all made available. The word "chaos" does not even begin to cover it.
I was there specifically to interview soccer star Julie Ertz, who was in town to support her husband Zach, but I also milled around the floor and chatted with a couple of Eagles for other stories my colleagues are working on. I saw everything from grown men knocking each other over to get a shot of Tom Brady to literal children interviewing Eagle Chris Maragos.
There was also the Eagles getting booed and Jeff Lurie looking decidedly over it.
7 a.m. — I exercised for the first time since arriving, because I had consumed a Jucy Lucy the day before and still somehow felt like garbage. If there was a recurring theme of the week besides spending too much time at the mall, it was junk food.
Noon — The Mall of America was filled with fans and I needed to chat with people for a forthcoming story, so I spent the majority of the day in the mall. I know. It's embarrassing and I wish it weren't that way but there were many words to be written.
Among my favorite sources all week was Chandler Santell, who I met along what was called Radio Row in the mall. A die-hard Eagles fan, Santell's fandom was deeper than most. He loved the Birds because his mother, who passed away in 2015, was born in Philadelphia and loved the Eagles, too. We talked all about how he felt like she was watching down on him and smiling.
6 p.m. — I took a Lyft about a half an hour to Tattersall Distillery, a trendy spot in Northeast Minneapolis where I was set to have drinks with the former mayor R.T. Rybak, whom I'd heard was quite the character. I heard right. For about an hour, we had a wide-ranging conversation, discussing everything from his bid to bring the Super Bowl to Minneapolis to his 90-year-old mother riding a zip line across the Mississippi River.
8 p.m. — Exhaustion set in around this time. But I had to stay awake: Tuesday night was the media party put on by the NFL. It was held, of course, in the Mall of America. But instead of being in the food court like everything else was, the event was in the center of the mall where there's an actual theme park. It was among the most bizarre events I've ever been to, and that's saying a lot. I've covered Groundhog Day twice.
Just picture a couple thousand people, mostly men, walking around in sweaters and sipping Bud Light while standing among oversize cartoon characters and a full-size roller-coaster. I'm glad I didn't miss it.
9 a.m. — I headed to the media workspace in the mall to get some writing done, and I realized shortly thereafter I was the only person in the room who really cared that Rep. Bob Brady announced he wasn't running for reelection 30 minutes after the feds said they were dropping a corruption case against Sen. Bob Menendez. Everyone else was much more focused on the players' availability. Fair enough.
Noon — A conference call with Airbnb officials began, in which we learned that, yes, there were a lot of people planning on coming to town for the Super Bowl.
3 p.m. — I decided I had to chronicle how bizarre the Mall of America is while it's filled with thousands of reporters desperate for a quote from a fan. Oh, and that the King of Prussia mall is bigger, in one way or another.
11 a.m. — I took a Lyft to Prospect Park, a neighborhood near the University of Minnesota, to visit Surly Brewing Co., because I somehow convinced my editor that spending an afternoon drinking beer and eating barbecue would be a good story for our news organization.
Surely, it was. I'd had the Surly Furious IPA before and enjoyed it, so spending the afternoon talking with head brewer Ben Smith about how they do what they do was enlightening. We even talked a little bit about football.
5 p.m. — After writing my story about beer, I made my way downtown because I was going a little stir crazy in the Mall of America and was hoping Eagles fans from the Philadelphia area would be starting to arrive in town. I walked around the Nicollet Mall area for about an hour, froze my tush off and then got a text: All my coworkers were getting ready to eat at the mall. Of course.
8 p.m. — We ate at Crave, a restaurant inside the Mall of America where if you drink a couple beers and really squint your eyes, you might actually forget you're in the Mall of America for a fleeting moment.
7 a.m. — I stared for about 20 minutes at The Inquirer's special section front. You should, too.
9 a.m. — I had some writing to do, so I took a Lyft up to a coffee shop in the North Loop, a hip neighborhood in Minneapolis I was told I had to check out. It felt a little bit like Philadelphia's Northern Liberties section, and had a young, lively vibe.
2 p.m. — Stop me if you've heard this before: I went to the Mall of America to write, so I could bring you — our dedicated readers — this step-by-step breakdown of my week covering the lead-up to the biggest event in sports.
In the end, I wish I'd spent more time in downtown Minneapolis, but I still have the weekend ahead of me. And on Sunday after we bring you coverage straight from the big game, I have a red-eye back to Philadelphia. I can't say I'll be sad to go home.