AP NEWS

Super Bowl Experience opens to lines, families

January 28, 2018 GMT

For children, the NFL’s Super Bowl Experience offered a glimpse of gridiron greatness. But for some adults, the interactive theme park was a chance to relive their glory days.

Middle-aged men relished the opportunity to test their spirals, run routes and kick field goals alongside their kids during the park’s grand opening at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

“It’s the Six Flags of sports entertainment,” said Hunter Frantz, an 18-year-old employee from Burnsville. “Even though the fathers want to bring their kids, they secretly want to be here, too.”

Thousands of purple-clad fans descended upon downtown Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII events Saturday, including a free festival on Nicollet Mall. The ticketed Super Bowl Experience lured visitors itching to take a selfie with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, collect autographs from Vikings legends and show off their football skills — measuring their vertical jumps or 40-yard dash times compared to NFL players.

If drills aren’t your thing, simply walk on stage, select your favorite team jersey and pose for a photo op as you play out your Draft Day fantasy. In this alternate reality, every jersey is No. 1.

Those brave enough to don New England Patriots memorabilia earned playful jeers from passersby who love to hate on the NFL dynasty, which will face the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4.

Sports fanatics from across the region made the trek to create some new family memories. Andy Engstrom drove 400 miles from Marquette, Mich., with his wife and four young children to attend. Engstrom, a Detroit Lions fan, recalled the excitement of meeting Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders when he was about 10. He wants his children to feel the same giddiness.

“They get to burn off some energy, so that in itself is worth it,” Engstrom said of the $35 admission ($25 for kids 12 and under). The festivities run through Feb. 3.

A demoralizing 38-7 Vikings defeat in the NFC Championship Game that deflated Super Bowl dreams didn’t keep locals from enjoying themselves — or repping their purple pride.

“When you’re a lifelong fan, you come to expect it, unfortunately,” said Tony Peterson, of Sioux Falls, S.D. He bought Super Bowl Experience tickets while in town on a business trip in hopes of getting former Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway’s autograph.

Wilson Sporting Goods, the NFL’s official ball maker, flew in workers from its Ohio factory to provide live demonstrations on how a pigskin is made. Fans looking for a personalized keepsake can watch their customized football be stitched, laced and inflated before their eyes.

But it comes at a cost. Standard footballs retail for $150, plus an additional $30 for each customized element — like a team logo or personal signature. “People love to put their names on a ball,” said Molly Wallace, director of experiential marketing at Wilson.

Anna Justmann, of Madison, Wis., planned a weekend getaway around the NFL celebrations. She waited at the finish line of the 40-yard dash, where her husband and 8-year-old daughter were getting ready to race.

“She’s not a princess,” Justmann said, beaming with pride. “I would’ve loved to do something like this with my dad.”

Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648