GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
The Super Bowl might be the ultimate sports event, but it’s so much more than a game
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
A GRIPPING, AWEINDUCING FOUR-HOUR ROLLERCOASTER OF A GAME, ALIVE UNTIL THE LAST SECONDS