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Bringing it on home: Minnesota hoping to be center of everything for historic Super Bowl

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MINNEAPOLIS – Hours after a most glorious victory, as Sunday night drew short and Monday morning drew closer, they kept slamming through the front door of Bar Zia, where the motto speaks to a football mindset rooted in cheery failure: “Win or lose, we still booze.” Such resignation is understandable sitting just a few blocks from U.S. Bank Stadium, home to the forlorn Minnesota Vikings. Bartenders don’t wear such shirts in Foxborough.

One after another, people came in. Some to seek a cold one, some simply to get out of the cold. A steady snow rained down outside. The thermometer hovered at frightful numbers. Reasonable people might just go to bed. None of them existed here.

Instead, they shouted “Skol!” at random times, chanted “Bring it home!” and shared stories about where they were when Stefon Diggs delivered Minnesota past New Orleans, into Sunday’s NFC championship game in Philadelphia and on the verge of the biggest party the Upper Midwest had ever seen.

Minnesota is ready to go crazy – again – if the Vikings pull off another playoff victory, one that punches their ticket to Super Bowl LII. (AP)
Minnesota is ready to go crazy – again – if the Vikings pull off another playoff victory, one that punches their ticket to Super Bowl LII. (AP)

The Super Bowl is coming to Minnesota in a couple weeks. Could Minnesota, now seemingly touched by fate, be coming (or staying) too?

Whether it was here at the long wooden bar, or at Erik the Red’s “Nordic BBQ” joint gashing into a giant turkey leg, or earlier on the concourses of the stadium — which was already surrounded by preliminary construction of NFL hospitality tents — Vikings fans were daring to dream while imaging the mayhem. They were drunk on the possibilities, if not other things.

“If the Vikings play a home Super Bowl, the town will be torn up, pretty much,” said fan Shawn Mattison of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. “There’s a lot of pent-up emotion.”

“Everybody should take off the whole week of work and just party,” said Stacey McNelson of Lind Lakes, Minnesota. “Crazy. It’ll just be crazy.”

No team has ever played a Super Bowl in its home stadium. Just twice has a city hosted the game with an area team involved. The 1979 game in the Rose Bowl featured the Rams. In 1984, the 49ers played on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Both of those came well before this event became a weeklong, all-encompassing event that it has – with zip lines dangling over city streets, outdoor concerts and nightly fireworks.

It also didn’t take place in a city like this, where just hosting the Super Bowl is a historic, prideful event. It took the construction of the glorious $1.12 billion U.S. Bank Stadium to just earn the privilege. The Super Bowl came just once before, in 1992, so everyone here knows that, mainly due to the weather, it isn’t likely to return anytime soon. This is probably it for a generation.

To host the event is a chance to enjoy the fun that surrounds a big event while showing off the Twin Cities. As such, when game organizers put out a call for volunteers, they were hoping 10,000 would respond. They got 30,000.

And then there is the football. This isn’t California, with its multitude of teams and entertainment options. The populace is so Vikings-obsessed, it’s perfectly normal to scurry down the street clad in purple shouting “Skol!” at strangers. Might be rude if you didn’t, actually.

“It’s not just the city, it’s the whole state,” said Bud Grant, the Vikings’ legendary coach from 1967-85, who led the team to four Super Bowls only to lose them all. Much of the Vikings’ passion stems from that time frame, and the connection beyond via barnstorming promotions and staging training camp for 52 years at Mankato State University, about 80 miles southwest of here.

Grant, though, points to the University of Minnesota even before that.

“Minnesota had great success in the 1940s and 1930s, winning national championships and Big Ten championships,” Grant said. “That love of the game transferred to pro football. There is a lot of enthusiasm for the sport.”

In short, this is football country, even if it’s Green Bay or Chicago that has the more storied history of professional success.

Now though, the long-cursed Vikings are one victory from not just reaching the Super Bowl, but doing so in their own stadium, even if they will technically be the visiting team.

The idea that in the one year Minneapolis gets to host the game in the same year the Vikings get their act together seems improbable. No more improbable, however, than Diggs scoring on a 61-yard touchdown pass as time expired. And, as the conversations agreed, when you have the mauling defense of Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr, what isn’t possible?

“Skol!” will ring through the streets of Minneapolis if the Vikings win the NFC crown in Philadelphia. (AP)
“Skol!” will ring through the streets of Minneapolis if the Vikings win the NFC crown in Philadelphia. (AP)

“Imagine Tom Brady coming in here for the Super Bowl, packed with Vikings fans?” said Jerry Butler of Minneapolis.

It won’t be a home game, of course. The NFL will strive, as best it can, for neutrality. Thousands of seats are reserved for the NFL’s corporate partners. The AFC representative will get an equal allotment of tickets as the NFC, although how many fans want to travel to Minnesota in February may open up the secondary market for Vikings fans to pounce. And without the expense of travel, locals may be free to pay higher prices.

Really, no matter what the NFL does, if the Vikings are in the game, purple is going to get into the place.

The stadium will not be draped in team colors and logos though, and the Viking horn will not sound to signify touchdowns and big plays. That won’t stop fans, though, from doing the rhythmic clapping of the “Skol Chant” whenever possible, a new practice co-opted from the Icelandic national soccer team. It’s become so big at games that even some players participate.

“It’s a good tradition,” said defensive lineman Linval Joseph, who does the clap while on the field.

That’s just the game though. The Super Bowl is far more than that. Minneapolis, like other host sites before it, has scheduled events for the entire week downtown, mainly for locals who aren’t going to the game to soak up the atmosphere. What if there is now a purpose behind the buildup? Everything will be ramped up. More will come out than otherwise. And people are already hearing from friends and family that moved away who are vowing to fly back to just to be here, tickets or not.

There couldn’t be anything bigger for Minnesota than the Vikings playing in a Super Bowl in Minneapolis.

“It’ll be dynamic,” said Greg White, one of those transplants who moved recently to Phoenix but returned to attend Sunday’s playoff game with his sons. “The people here have been waiting 40 years for something. There is just a new buzz in town.”

Sixty minutes from the impossible, the convergence of schedule and fortune, of football and logistics, of the self-proclaimed “Bold North” becoming the center of everything. It’s almost too much to fathom.

Late on Sunday night, the snow kept coming, stronger and stronger, but people stayed and shouted and toasted and hugged and shared YouTube clips of the wonder of Stefon Diggs.

No one wanted to leave. Minnesota was already home.

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