MINNEAPOLIS — Everything here is purple. The signs that greeted me at the airport when I got off the plane, the key card to my hotel room, the wall-hangings splashed with SUPER BOWL LII at the Mall of America. The commemorative pennants you can buy at local CVSes with the Eagles and Patriots logos on them are also purple, and if sounds could be a color, the sigh the CVS employee lets out when asked how he feels about the Vikings would be, too.
The temporary tents that make up the gimmicky maze of downtown Minneapolis’ Super Bowl Experience are — you guessed it — purple, and so are the strobe lights that beam up into the sky above U.S. Bank Stadium. The new, domed structure, which cost Minnesota taxpayers millions, is the reason the Super Bowl is here.
The only things that aren’t a shade of purple are the two teams who’ve come to play in the NFL’s biggest football game on Sunday. But one almost was. After Stefon Diggs’ miraculous, 61-yard, game-winning touchdown sent the Vikings to the NFC Championship, some fans dared to let themselves hope that their beloved team would beat the Eagles and give Minneapolis the league’s first-ever home Super Bowl.
Narrator: They wouldn’t. The Vikings’ defense seemed to forget to show up last week, and the Eagles ended up aerating the turf in Philadelphia with Case Keenum and the rest of Minnesota, 38-7.
Even though their team won’t be playing, it hasn’t stopped locals from coming to check out the festivities. A tiny cross-country track has been plunked in the middle of the street, and bundled-up people resembling Michelin Men struggle to ski around it. A gospel choir performs on a purple stage. The sound echoes off the glass-enclosed, elevated walkways that connect buildings and save you from having to go outside more than is absolutely necessary.
Inside one of the skyways, Scott Ament, Rochelle Ament, and their two children are taking a break from the cold. They’ve driven the 50 miles from their home in a suburb of Minneapolis to be here. Scott matches his surroundings: He’s wearing a bright purple Vikings jersey over a purple sweatshirt, with a purple Vikings hat (his outfit doesn’t seem warm enough for the 15-degree night, but maybe these people are made of heartier stock than I).
“I’ve been a Vikings fan for a long time,” Scott says, sighing. “I’ve had this emotional guard up about getting too excited for the season.”
Scott was at the game against the Saints, and shows me the selfie he took as the stadium erupted after Diggs’ miraculous catch. His mouth is open in disbelief, and in the background, you can see people embracing. It was then that he let himself begin to believe that maybe this was the year the Vikings could finally win their first Super Bowl.
“It was this emotional high, and you couldn’t help but get pumped for the next week,” he says. “But then, watching that championship game on TV, was just ... I was just flat. I had to lay on the couch and watch Comedy Central after that.”
Scott isn’t the only Vikings fan talking about his team as though it were an unreliable significant other. On the street below him, season ticket-holder Dave Tonseth is also decked out in Vikings gear. His lips are a shade of violet, too, as he jumps up and down and claps his gloved hands together to stay warm. He’s here with his brother and his niece.
“I mean, it’s fine,” Tonseth says. “We’ve been through it before, with losses and stuff like that. You just roll with it. You don’t get your hopes up too high, or your heart will be broken.”
I ask him what it feels like to have to host the team that beat his team in his own city.
“Oh, it’s great,” Tonseth says. “We welcome them here. Even though, after watching the game and seeing all the videos that came out after about how Vikings fans were treated, and harassed, and all the vulgarity, it was very disheartening. Just to see how classless they were, and rude, and crude.”
Tonseth says he isn’t about to stoop to their level. He wants to present a different image.
“But ... we might give ’em a little fib,” he says, smiling. “If they ask, maybe I’ll tell them the bathrooms are far away when they really aren’t. All in good humor. Nothing malicious.”
I ask Tonseth who he’s rooting for. He’s pulling for the Patriots.
“It would’ve been Philly, but they’re a bunch of jerks,” his brother says.
A man in an Eagles hat and Starter jacket walks by me. I stop him to ask if he’s experienced any retaliation in Minneapolis. Last week, Eagles fans in Philly flung beer bottles and insults at Vikings fans after the NFC Championship game, and there were recently reports that Vikings fans were refusing to rent Airbnbs to Eagles fans.
The man — who is named Eric and is here with his family from Philly for the weekend — says everyone’s been very welcoming. Although a Vikings fan did just yell at him, “I hope we’re being nicer to you than you were to us!”
Not everyone in the city is sad that the Vikings flamed out. Lenny, the cab driver who took me from the airport to the hotel a few hours ago, grew up in Washington, D.C. and is a Patriots fan (he’s not sure why). He couldn’t care less that the Vikings aren’t playing on Sunday, but that hasn’t stopped him from thinking it was a conspiracy by the NFL to keep the home city’s team out of it.
“They weren’t gonna win,” he’d told me. “Politically, they weren’t gonna win. They were gonna find a way for them not to win.”
“So you think the NFL rigged it?” I ask.
“Of course they did!” Lenny had said. “Are you kidding? Do you know how many millions and millions of dollars would’ve been lost if the Viking would’ve won? It wasn’t gonna happen!”
Like Tonseth, Lenny’s rooting for the Patriots. But the Aments are trying to take the high road.
“I’m rooting for the Eagles,” Scott says. “I’m going to represent the NFC. I’m OK. I’m not going to hold a grudge.”
“I think we should roll out the red carpet for Eagles fans,” says his wife Rochelle, with just the right amount of passive aggression in her voice.
“Show them how you should treat people,” she continues. “We’re known for being nice in Minnesota, and we’re going to maintain that reputation.”