‘I love football’

Marshall residents work as Crew 52 volunteers

Submitted photos Marshall resident Elizabeth Sullivan is part of the Crew 52 that is assisting football fans visiting Minneapolis for the Super Bowl LII festivities and game on Sunday.

MARSHALL — As visitors from around the world flocked to the Minneapolis area in the 10 days leading up to Super Bowl LII, they were met by friendly Crew 52 members dressed in purple and blue..

The Crew 52 members are basically volunteers on the front lines, welcoming people to the state, to the metro area and to the various activities taking place. More than 1 million are expected to be in attendance throughout the 10-day festival.

“I love football, so that was a primary reason for volunteering,” said Elizabeth Sullivan, who works at Southwest West Central Service Cooperative in Marshall. “I figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I can’t really afford to go to the game, but I wanted to be part of the experience.”

The last time Minnesota hosted a Super Bowl game was in 1992, for Super Bowl XXVI.

“It might be another 26 years before we host it again,” Sullivan said. “That’s not always the case. Some cities get to host it more often. It’s a long bid process for cities.”

More than 30,000 people applied for the volunteer positions, and after roughly half of them were interviewed, 10,000 were selected, including Sullivan and a number of other area residents, including Darci and Jeff Love, Jamie Branstner, Marsha Rose and Chris Ulrich.

“Basically, what we do is help visitors with anything they need to make their stay a good one,” Sullivan said. “It helps with the tourism in our state. It’s good for our economy if we can keep visitors coming back to Minnesota.”

Darci Love said it was an honor to be selected as a Crew 52 Super Bowl host committee.

“It was a great experience and I enjoyed welcoming people from all over to the great state of Minnesota,” she said.

Crew 52 members aren’t allowed to help inside U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Super Bowl Sunday, but they do get in on some of the fun ahead of time. After working two of her three required shifts this past weekend, Sullivan took time to explore the many pre-Super Bowl activities taking place in a six-block radius.

“Zip lining was fun,” she said. “You go all the way across the Mississippi River. It was great. I thought I’d be a lot more nervous, but I think adrenaline kicked in.”

Sullivan said the line for the Kitten Bowl was long and that the crowd for the free concerts at Super Bowl Live was pretty big. Many of the family-friendly activities were offered free or at low cost.

“It was pretty entertaining,” Sullivan said. “They tried getting all local bands to perform. It’s all in the street.”

Sullivan said that everywhere a person turned, there were Crew 52 members ready to help out — ready to help make a person’s experience as memorable as possible.

“I never realized before that they need so many volunteers at these kinds of events,” she said. “They need volunteers at the Final Four games, the X Games and at Ryder Games. You never think of all the things that go into it, but it makes sense after you’ve been part of it.”

The Minnesota Super Bowl Committee organize the activities and takes care of coordinating all the volunteers. The organization acknowledges that the volunteers are a vital part of the equation.

“I’m extremely excited and looking forward to it,” Branstner said. “I’m excited to start my shifts and also to see everything up there.”

Branstner was scheduled to volunteer Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“I’ll be a hotel host,” she said. “There are three main cities where we do that: Bloomington, St. Paul and Minneapolis. I went online to choose my shift and picked Minneapolis because I wanted to be in the heart of where things were going on.”

Branstner said she doesn’t know what hotel she’ll be volunteering at yet. Organizers will let her know when she checks in for her shift.

“We just answer any questions the guests might have or might come up,” she said. “They might want to go see something and need to know how to get there. Or they might want to go to the Mall of America and want to know the fastest way to get there. They may ask what restaurants are in the area.”

Sullivan’s volunteer job on Saturday and Sunday was to work at Super Bowl Live, which includes the events that take place at Nicollet Mall.

“The shifts were four hours long,” Sullivan said. “I was actually surprised at how busy it was already. There were a lot of Eagles fans and Patriots fans already. Saturday was the warmer of the two days, but Sunday was busier — fortunately, not so busy you couldn’t move.”

Along with Super Bowl Live jobs and hotel host positions, Crew 52 members also served as volunteer headquarters support, skyway hosts, airport hosts and transit hosts.

“Most of the time, I was handing out maps and pointing people to where they could go for activities,” Sullivan said. “The most fun part was probably taking people’s pictures. They had ‘Bold North’ frames and other photo opportunities.”

Bold North is the Twin Cities’ tagline for Super Bowl LII. Organizers say Bold North reflects the diverse and innovative culture of Minnesota.

“We want people to think of Minnesota as ‘Bold North,’ “ Sullivan said.

Along with the opportunity to be part of the experience, Crew 52 volunteers receive a uniform kit that includes a purple long-sleeved polo, turquoise lightweight puffer jacket, blue shell jacket, scarf, multicolored novelty socks, Crew 52 backpack, purple “Bold North” mittens, beanie and travel mug.

“The uniform we get is just incredible,” Sullivan said. “So is the experience. I had one guy come up to me and say I had a million dollar smile. That made my day right there.”

The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee started reaching out to find volunteers about a year ago.

“I started seeing all the emails in March of last year and thought that it would be a cool opportunity,” Branstner said. “I figured I would never had the chance to go to Super Bowl events in other states, so it made sense to (volunteer) with it being in Minnesota. It could be another 26 years before it come back here.”

After applying, Branstner said she got a call back to set up an interview time.

“On August 29, I made a trip up to the cities for a half-hour interview,” she said. “It took about a month and a half to find out I was part of the crew. It was really a waiting game. Once I heard, I was so excited.”

Sullivan said she went through the interview process — which included background checks for everyone — in September. She was notified that she was a Crew 52 member in October. Orientation took place in November.

“They selected 10,000 volunteers and almost everybody made it to orientation,” Branstner said. “It was at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. It was a really fun event.”

Sullivan added that there were a few Crew 52 members who had also volunteered for Super Bowl XXVI.

“That was kind of cool,” she said. “They had special reserved seating for them at orientation.”

In December, volunteers signed up for shifts. In January, Branstner and Sullivan attended the job-specific training.

Friday served as opening night for the festival over events. Singer Idina Menzel marked the official start by singing her signature song — “Let It Go” from “Frozen” — from the Verizon stage.

“There is so much to the Super Bowl experience,” Sullivan said. “There are events going on all week — all the way up to 5 o’clock on Sunday. There are ticketed events at the Convention Center, a Prince exhibit, a store for Super Bowl merchandise and lots of photo opportunities.”

Sullivan said people can have their photos taken by the ice sculptures, with the Vince Lombardi trophy, by the autograph stage, in front of green screens and so many more locations. During her off-time, Sullivan had the opportunity to meet one of her favorite former Vikings players.

“They had media night, where they were interviewing players,” she said. “You could also pick between meeting John Randle and Randall McDaniel. I chose John Randle because he’s one of my favorites. He’s also my mom’s all-time favorite.”

Sullivan also had the chance to see Randle the following day and was impressed that he remembered her.

“I did the drill and caught the ball from John Randle, while wearing my John Randle jersey,” she said. “And he remembered me when I met him on Monday.”

Both Sullivan and Branstner are big Vikings fans. While they were elated that the Vikings went 13-3 during the regular season, they — like so many fans in Minnesota — were disappointed that the team came up one game short of making a Super Bowl appearance.

“I’m a very huge football fan,” Branstner said. “I try to make it to at least one Vikings game a year. I was very disappointed they didn’t make it to the Super Bowl.”

Sullivan said she had been at her Crew 52 training the day the Minnesota Vikings defeated the New Orleans Saints in the final seconds, propelling them into the final four.

“I listened to the first half on the radio on my way home,” she said. “I got home in time to watch the end of it. It was so exciting.”

While it is bittersweet to be part of Super Bowl LII without the Vikings playing on Super Bowl Sunday, there’s no doubt the volunteers will still showcase their “Minnesota nice” when called upon.

“We can just pretend the ‘Minneapolis Miracle’ was our Super Bowl,” Sullivan said.