The Su­per Bowl might be the ul­ti­mate sports event, but it’s so much more than a game

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION UNITED STATES - JON RALPH

It is mid­night in Min­neapo­lis and pop star Pink has granted me a per­sonal au­di­ence. It feels like that, any­way, af­ter 30 hours of travel, a touch of jet lag and an Uber straight from the air­port. The venue is Min­neapo­lis’s re­fur­bished con­cert venue, the Ar­mory, and two nights be­fore Su­per Bowl LII, Pink is belt­ing out her megahits. Then, as an en­core, she is buck­led into a high­wire suit that sees her back­flip­ping down the length of the venue while still in full voice. Soon she is hit­ting those high notes just me­tres from our VIP perch, as one ques­tion spins around my jet-lagged brain.

What the hell am I do­ing here? This crazy jour­ney started only a fort­night be­fore, a phone call from the boss with a Trump-sized visa prob­lem and an of­fer I can’t refuse. He can’t get into the United States at short no­tice, so would I like to pop over and have a gan­der at Amer­ica’s great­est sport­ing event? Would an art lover like a per­sonal view­ing of the Mona Lisa? Damned straight, be­cause in the sports world Amer­ica’s Su­per Bowl, their NFL cham­pi­onship game, is the ul­ti­mate bucket list event.

Nearly two decades in jour­nal­ism has blessed me with a list of “pinchme” sport­ing high­lights, yet few have the mythol­ogy or cache of the Su­per Bowl. A four-hour cock­tail of py­rotech­nics, entertainment and show­man­ship which also in­cludes an epic foot­ball game.

So back to my per­sonal au­di­ence with Pink, which in truth is shared by 8000 fel­low fans.

If you take the plunge and tick this event off your bucket list, what soon be­comes ap­par­ent is that your trip is about so much more than the game it­self. As it turns out, Su­per Bowl LII doesn’t just live up to the hype, it might be the great­est Su­per Bowl ever – but more about that later.

What ev­ery Amer­i­can city knows is that if you are host­ing the Su­per Bowl, you are also tasked with pro­vid­ing the great­est party on earth.

As Aus­tralians used to the build-up of an NRL or AFL grand fi­nal know, no one is in any doubt the main course is the game it­self. Yet the mil­lion or so Amer­i­cans that con­verge upon a Su­per Bowl city WITH­OUT a ticket are proof of this coun­try’s abil­ity to put on some kind of show.

Wall-to-wall con­certs (Jen­nifer Lopez, Kelly Clark­son), an im­mer­sive NFL-themed site, ex­clu­sive par­ties hosted by Play­boy and Rolling Stone.

A down­town Su­per Bowl party cov­er­ing five city blocks re­plete with stunt­men pulling off back­flips on Snow­mo­biles in the driv­ing snow. In other words, the chance to shine for Min­neapo­lis, a city beloved by its cit­i­zens yet aware as a tourist des­ti­na­tion it can’t match New York or the sex­ier US des­ti­na­tions.

The venue for this year’s Fe­bru­ary 4 Su­per Bowl – New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots ver­sus the Philadel­phia Ea­gles – is Min­neapo­lis-Saint Paul, twin cities of 300,000 pop­u­la­tion split by the Mis­sis­sippi River in Amer­ica’s mid­west. It em­braces the slo­gan “The Bold North”, which in Fe­bru­ary means it is foot-numb­ingly cold.

The state’s Min­nesota Vik­ings have only just been dumped from play­off con­tention in the pre­vi­ous game, end­ing hopes they would be the first team to play in a home Su­per Bowl. Yet any churl­ish­ness at that heart­break is over­come by a des­per­a­tion to show off their town to the na­tion.

No won­der, given the spec­tac­u­lar sta­dium they have built, part of an im­plicit agree­ment from the NFL to fix­ture a Su­per Bowl at cities build­ing new venues for their NFL clubs. U.S. Bank Sta­dium is an ar­chi­tec­tural marvel, with a translu­cent-pan­elled roof, an an­gu­lar eye-catch­ing de­sign and sight lines that make ev­ery one of the 66,000 seats a wor­thy in­vest­ment. Which it should be at the price of $US1.1 bil­lion (about $1.43 bil­lion).

In pre­vi­ous years any Aus­tralian want­ing a Su­per Bowl ticket had a hand­ful of op­tions, none of them en­vi­able. Either find an Amer­i­can travel com­pany and pay ex­or­bi­tant, in­flated prices for a ticket or head to the in­ter­net and cross your fin­gers that your ticket is ac­tu­ally gen­uine.

This year Aus­tralian com­pany In­sider Ex­pe­ri­ence Sports has be­come the NFL’s only of­fi­cial au­tho­rised agent for Su­per Bowl tick­ets to Aus­tralia and New Zealand. It means peace of mind and lo­cal knowl­edge given for­ward scout­ing mis­sions to Su­per Bowl venues.

If frigid Min­nesota doesn’t float your boat, the next four Su­per Bowl venues of At­lanta, Florida, Tampa Bay and Los An­ge­les will get the pulse rac­ing.

It also means they act as a per­sonal concierge ser­vice, al­low­ing trav­ellers to hand-pick their own add-on events.

The cost is about $US6500, in­clud­ing the Su­per Bowl, ex­clu­sive tail­gate party and four nights’ ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Min­nesota-Saint Paul is the small­est Amer­i­can city to have the full suite of ma­jor sport­ing codes – the NFL, NBA, NHL and ma­jor league base­ball. So on Fri­day night there is the choice of Pink or the Min­nesota Wild host­ing an NHL game in down­town Saint Paul. The mo­ment we slip into the Ar­mory we are handed wrist­bands and ush­ered into that VIP sec­tion sep­a­rated from Pink’s own fam­ily and en­tourage by only a par­ti­tion and a burly bouncer.

On Sat­ur­day if you aren’t at Jen­nifer Lopez or the Maxim, Play­boy or Rolling Stone par­ties you could watch the Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves at their re­fur­bished NBA home court beat the New Or­leans Pel­i­cans.

An NBA game is a bucket-list item in it­self ... and yet as we sit watch­ing NBA star Jimmy But­ler strut­ting his stuff ev­ery­one knows this is only the amuse-bouche for to­mor­row’s sport­ing feast.

To com­plete the sur­real no­tion that this is truly a once-in-a-life­time event, those Su­per Bowl tick­ets are handed out with se­cu­rity guards watch­ing on, such is their value in a foot­ball-mad city.

Yet be­fore the main course we are handed a mashed-up ver­sion of Amer­i­can lux­ury and ole’ fash­ioned US tra­di­tion. We are back to the Ar­mory for a three-hour ex­clu­sive tail­gate party, an­other perk of In­sider Ex­pe­ri­ence’s NFL links. Tail­gat­ing nor­mally takes place in the vast carparks sur­round­ing NFL venues, as good old boys chug beer and feast on bar­be­cues be­fore stum­bling well­lu­bri­cated into the game it­self.

The Su­per Bowl ex­pe­ri­ence is an­other world away. Amer­i­can Idol alum Kelly Clark­son belt­ing out her


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