By Daniel Trotta
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Neither snow nor slush nor sub-zero temperatures kept American football fans from celebrating the virtual holiday that is Super Bowl Sunday as massive crowds descended on downtown Minneapolis ahead of the big game.
The town has been gripped by a carnival atmosphere for the National Football League championship game, drawing out-of-town fans of the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles plus plenty of Minnesota natives who jammed the streets despite a snow storm on Saturday and temperatures that occasionally dipped below zero Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius) over the weekend.
Temperatures during the game are forecast at 1 Fahrenheit, though the players and some 66,000 spectators will be warmer inside the indoor U.S. Bank Stadium.
The entertainment included a temporary ski run, a snowmobile stunt show in which daredevils soared into the air, warming fires and a concert stage where one musician had to stop the show to warm up because of freezing hands.
“I love the cold. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so there’s no reason not to come out,” said Devan Hunt, a 19-year-old University of Minnesota student who was waiting in line to have his picture taken inside a giant, transparent football.
There were occasional celebrity sightings, such as television’s Jimmy Fallon popping up periodically, followed by gaggles of fans, their cellphone cameras raised.
Other fans took turns posing beside a statue of Mary Tyler Moore, the late actress whose eponymous show in the 1970s took place in Minneapolis.
“Why would I waste the opportunity? It could be 100 degrees and I’d still be out here,” said high school student Stephen Zapata, 17.
Those who wanted their fun indoors paid $35 for the Super Bowl Experience inside the convention center, where fans could test their football skills by running through obstacle courses with the ball, kicking field goals or passing the ball deep into baskets.
Despite the party, some contemplated weightier matters concerning the NFL, such as the health of players suffering brain injuries or protests by players who have kneeled during the national anthem over racial inequality.
Farah Atto, 35, a day trader and Minnesota Vikings fan, said he was troubled that he enjoyed watching the game even though it may cause premature death for players.
“It’s not as much fun anymore,” Atto said. “Before, you were not aware of it. Now you know you’re watching a dangerous game.”
Some fans waited to see whether any players from the Eagles or Patriots would kneel during the national anthem, a practice criticized by President Donald Trump.
“The stage doesn’t get much bigger than this,” said Olivia House, 20, a college student in Minneapolis who said she hoped player protests would spark more dialogue about social justice issues.
Also missing from the festivities were the city’s homeless, whose routines were disrupted by the influx of out-of-town visitors and a security operation that established a perimeter around U.S. Bank Stadium.
Homeless advocates worked with local Super Bowl organizers to mitigate the impact on the homeless and educate them on the changes to come, said Gail Dorfman, an advocate for the homeless an executive director of St. Stephen’s Human Services.
Dan Sherman, a 60-year-old homeless man, who was riding the train to stay warm, said he was concerned about where to go when the train would be closed on game day.
Still, Sherman said he was enjoying the Super Bowl festivities.
“The people are in a good mood,” he said. “I’m in a good mood and I think that’s because of the people of Minnesota.”
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Additional reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)