THE FINAL WORD: Sunday’s best: A football experience for the ages

Photo by Sam Thiel The view from my seat at Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

MARSHALL – The story to the best Sunday I’ve had didn’t start four days ago; it actually happened about three or four years ago. When the news broke out that Minneapolis and U.S. Bank stadium were going to be hosting Super Bowl LII, I thought, “How cool would it be if I were lucky enough in my journalism career to go cover the Super Bowl?” Back then it was just a dream.

Flash forward to last November. I came into work at my job at the Marshall Independent just like any other normal day. When I opened my email, I saw I had received one from NFL Communications about media members being able to apply for credentials for Super Bowl LII. I didn’t think much of it, so I put it off to the side. But after a little time and a discussion with my boss, we decided to go for it. After all, the worst they could say is no, right?

So I filed an application to get a media credential and the wait began. Then just before Thanksgiving, I heard a reply from the NFL. I opened it and saw the words “Marshall Independent. Status: Approved.” I just sat there, frozen like a statue, unable to form any sense of communication. I was going to the Super Bowl. This was actually happening.

I then filled out my credential information and excitingly circled Feb. 4 on my calendar. A few weeks later, and after covering a full slate of games on Saturday, I tried my best to get a good night’s rest before leaving for the cities on Sunday morning. But like a kid on Christmas Eve, I was just way too excited to sleep.

Sunday’s game also was a milestone for me: It was not only of course my first Super Bowl, but also my first NFL game.

Upon my arrival at the Mall of America, I went and picked up my media credential from the Super Bowl Media Center. After getting my pass, I had a couple of hours before I could leave for the stadium. I decided to walk around the mall, take in the sights and soak in the atmosphere of what the fans were experiencing.

The mall, just like the Twin Cities has been for the last couple of weeks, was flooded with football fans from Philadelphia and Foxborough. I have been to MOA on multiple occasions, but I have never seen it like this. Every store had their shelves fully equipped with Eagles and Patriots gear as well as Super Bowl LII merchandise, and of course, security and police lining nearly every square inch of the mall.

But perhaps the most common thing I saw was the pure awe from the out-of-town fans in sight of the features in the mall, in particular Nickelodeon Universe, the massive amusement park in the middle of MOA. It’s not many times that people get to see fully operational roller coasters in the center of a shopping mall, so they were definitely taking full advantage of the rides.

I then went down to the first level of the mall and walked back to the Media Center and decided to take some photos and videos of fans for the Independent Facebook page in addition to my primary job of writing a game story. At the Media Center, the mall had stations where fans could put on actual pads, jerseys and helmets of the Eagles, Patriots and Vikings as well as an opportunity to take a photo with a couple members of the Minnesota cheerleaders.

A few minutes before I left for the stadium, the Vikings Skol Line band came marching in, and did a mini performance in front of the media center, complete with a Skol chant to remind Philly and New England fans what state and who’s home they were in.

Finally, it was time for me to board the media bus to the stadium. As I was heading towards the buses, one of the media members starting walking alongside me. I struck up a conversation with him and introduced myself. Little did I know I was talking with Mike Grimm, the voice of the University of Minnesota Gophers radio. We sat next to each other on the ride up to the stadium, talking shop the entire way. Reporters from all over the world were packed on these buses, which for someone who’s only been in the journalism “real world” for about a year and a half, was both exciting and a little intimidating.

As we pulled up to the stadium, I noticed a sign on the street; a parking area for the Bethlehem Baptist Church. Typical costs to park for a Vikings game can range anywhere from $10-$50, but on this particular Sunday, it would cost you $100 just to park two blocks away from the stadium.

After a lengthy and freezing wait to get through the security check-in, we walked into the stadium and went up to our section. While walking upstairs to our seats, there was a giant wall that had every high school football helmet from Minnesota on display, which of course made me stop and try and pick out all 11 high schools in our coverage area.

I finally made my way up to my seat and got settled in. My view was from the Eagles logo end zone way up near the top of the stadium, but in my opinion there’s really not a bad seat in the house at U.S. Bank Stadium. We still had quite a few hours until kickoff, so I interacted with a couple of the other media members around me while we took in the pregame festivities.

The warmup clock finally started to tick down as we hit an hour and a half until kickoff, and I could feel my excitement slowly start to rise even higher than when I started the day. A few minutes before all the craziness would ensue, I looked around again at where I was and took a moment to myself to appreciate all the sacrifices and hard work I had made/done to get to this point so far in my career.

Finally, it was time for kickoff. The atmosphere was electrifying as the game got underway, and both teams were ready to put on a show. And they sure made it was worth every penny.

The Eagles’ start was a little unexpected and it looked like they weren’t showing any signs of slowing down. Philadelphia took a 15-3 lead with 8:48 left in the opening half, but after what we all witnessed at last year’s Super Bowl with the 28-3 Patriots comeback, everyone in that stadium knew it wasn’t over by any means.

I don’t think I’ve heard more spelling lessons before Sunday night since I was in elementary school, but if I needed a reminder, I had Philadelphia fans to thank. It will take me a while to get E-A-G-L-E-S out of my head, especially after Philly quarterback Nick Foles caught a touchdown near the end of the first half and the entire crowd in green and white clothing screaming those six letters at the top of their lungs in unison.

The halftime show was in a different class by itself. I’ve only seen a couple of concerts before Sunday, but none of them were at the magnitude of Justin Timberlake. I’m a big fan of Timberlake (even though many of us last week found out he’s a Packer fan, I’ll let it slide), and I’m an even bigger fan of his music. He started the show with a song from his newest album “Man of the Woods”, but mainly stuck with his classic hits, sprinkling in an array of dance moves to boot.

Of course, the biggest reveal came when he did a tribute to the late son of Minnesota, Prince. A giant sheet ascended and footage from Prince’s movie “Purple Rain” fit to his song “I Would Die 4 You” while Timberlake sang a duet on piano. The stadium didn’t show us it, but the way that the area around the stadium outside was lit up in purple with the Prince symbol on it was pretty cool. It was a unique tribute to one of the greatest musicians of all time.

Then as if the first half wasn’t exciting enough, the second half, as it should in sports, outdid the opening half. The Patriots came out on fire offensively and it suddenly looked like we were watching a heavyweight boxing match instead of a football game, with the two teams trading touchdowns like they were right hooks.

The final few minutes went down to the wire, and even though I wasn’t playing or even cared who won the game, my heart was leaping out of my chest. The game finally ended, the Eagles players and fans were going crazy in celebration, and confetti cannons were doing the same. It’s always a cool sight to watch a team celebrate a championship, especially when it’s the first one in franchise history like Philadelphia’s was.

After the confetti settled, I went down to the postgame press conferences. It was a madhouse in the hallways, with reporters trying to cram their way into the press rooms, Eagles players running around celebrating and security trying to keep everything under control. I made my way into the Philadelphia press conference and listened to coach Doug Pederson and Super Bowl MVP Foles give their interviews. I wanted to try and ask them a question, but with so many people in the room all throwing out their questions at the same time, I decided to just sit and watch how a real press conference is conducted.

I then sent in my game story and headed back to the media bus to go back to my car. One cool thing I should note on my way out is that I walked past this guy in a suit, and I looked up and it was Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals. He looks even taller in person than on TV, and I was going to try and see if I could talk to him, but I couldn’t interupt his ongoing conversation.

When I finally got to my car at 11:30 that night, I couldn’t believe it was already over. Yes, there were times where I was incredibly busy doing my job, but the fact that I was covering one of the biggest sporting events was the only fuel I needed. I now have a lifetime of memories, a pair of stories that will cement my experience and I got to turn what once was only a possibility into a whirlwind of a reality.

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