Inside the Super Bubble
Humvees, zip lines, sports stars, and the view from the Super Bowl’s ‘Radio Row’
The National Football League apparently has an obscure bylaw (Article XXIII, section 23.2, subsection A) dictating that the Super Bowl shall be played in the Twin Cities every 26 years. Super Bowl XXVI – the 26th edition, for those not good with Roman numerals – was at the Metrodome. Another 26 years on, and we find ourselves at Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium, constructed on the site of the ’Dome.
Most of us have never been to Super Bowl festivities, much less the actual game: This year’s cheapest tickets sold for nearly $4,000.
Most of us have never been to Super Bowl festivities, much less the actual game: This year’s cheapest tickets sold for nearly $4,000. Less common is an Upper Midwestern Super Bowl: Ideally, the NFL wants to hold its biggest event in a warm, sunny locale. Therefore, on the quarter-century occasion that this mammoth happening descends to a place near us wintry Wisconsinites, you take advantage of the situation.
Fortunately, my day job at a sports-talk radio station melds well with one of the hot spots of activity during the week leading to the game: “Radio Row,” the headquarters of sports-talk stations from around the country doing their on-location Super Bowl coverage. My morning show co-host at Sports Talk 105.1 – Dan Kasper – worked the week at Radio Row, and he got me a day pass for Monday of Super Bowl week.
Radio Row has often been situated in a drab conference center room with a bunch of tables and chairs and broadcasting equipment cabling; in reality, many aspects of professional sports, from the media settings to game day logistics, are far from fancy. The Twin Cities did it differently: Radio Row was at the third floor food court at the Mall of America. Banners of each Super Bowl game program hung from the skylights above us. Fox Sports and CBS Sports had large sets within throwing distance. This actually felt alive.
With modern-day security concerns, part of being near a Super Bowl is staying alive, and arriving at the MOA frontage roads around 7 o’clock Monday morning, we saw a couple of military Humvees and a soldier in full garb carrying an assault rifle. This is not what you expect on your way to Macy’s, and it’s chilling, but simultaneously reassuring that your radio remote will not be someone else’s soft target.
The regular NFL security folks do their check – just like attending a game – then you get your pass, and you’re in. As the day progresses, more and more media folks set up their tables and start their shows. You begin to see famous names a few feet away: national talk show hosts, former football stars, the Vikings play-by-play announcer, and legendary sportswriters, including Sports Illustrated’s top NFL scribe and one of the biggest names in sports media, Peter King.
King is one of my top-two favorite sports writers, and we nearly had the opportunity to interview him during my day on Radio Row. However, when you are as good at your job as King is with his, everyone else also wants part of his time, and his booking assistant – you really do need one to navigate the media requests during the week – told us the schedule was slipping and our interview would have to be postponed to another day. Alas.
Handlers and producers walk table-to-table, picking up steam in the middle of the day. Many of the somewhat lesser-known figures – with tentative connections to the Super Bowl, but all having made their mark in sports – actively want you to interview them. Most are promoting a product, but all love to chat, and a good interview is most desirable. At our table, one booking assistant arranged four appointments for our station: a former Packer, a former Viking, a national sports media figure, and an Olympic silver medal swimmer. This is heaven for a sports fan.
Eventually, my day in Super Bowl World was done, but the circus was surely coming to town. The Patriots’ custom plane landed minutes after we left. The crazy media interview sessions kicked off that evening. As the week progressed, concerts continued throughout the metropolitan area featuring national and locally-notable acts, while folks rode a special zip line across the Mississippi River. Why not? When the Super Bowl comes once in a generation, you do everything, including flying across a river in sub-zero wind chill – with the Army looking out for you.