The teams behind the Super Bowl teams
The Super Bowl is an event that needs no introduction. Millions around the world watch the game and all of its spectacle. Sunday night, every one of US Bank Stadium's 70,000 seats held a loud and raucous voice. How do I know? Because I was there.
Huddled in the vast concrete loading dock area, I was one of over 400 field team members tasked with moving Justin Timberlake's staging into place for his halftime performance. Running onto the field with an oversized ramp, I felt the roar and rumble only a crowd that size can make.
Behind all the hype of Tom Brady's legacy, the parties, celebrity sightings and high-priced commercials, the world's attention turned to Minneapolis simply because of teamwork — the embattled teamwork of the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles to be the last teams standing for a chance at the Lombardi Trophy. Catching a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes work of the biggest event on television, I learned that the teamwork goes well beyond the field.
When the news first broke that Super Bowl LII would land in Minnesota, I knew, in some way, I would be involved. Little did I know that fate would land me three feet from Justin Timberlake during his halftime performance.
In the early weeks of fall, some internet searches landed me on an application page for the Super Bowl halftime show field team. I was skeptical. The website did not look very official and asked for Social Security numbers among other identification information. Throwing my skepticism to the wind, I submitted the application. Several months passed as the application wandered from my mind until an email came through the day before Thanksgiving. I was accepted as part of the field team. Needless to say, my family got an excited earful from me as we watched the Vikings game Thanksgiving Day.
The work schedule for field team members began 10 days before the big game. No detailed explanation of the work, just when and where to show up. As I checked in for the first rehearsal, nerves started to cloud my excitement. I didn't know any one of the hundreds of people around me as we sat in a compound adjacent to the stadium. A megaphone-wielding organizer called for taller people to gather, so I gingerly answered, hoping my height might land me a cool job. It did. I was labeled with a No.13 name tag with nine other long-legged people. From that moment on, we were a team. Herded into the stadium, then onto the field with strict instructions to steer clear of any painted markings, we met our cart 13 leader and our cart. It now clicked why we needed to be tall. In front of us was a monstrous ramp weighing over 1 ton, one of the biggest structures on the field. Our cart leader taught us the terminology and techniques we needed to know to move this behemoth. We learned, very quickly, that this was a team effort. Rehearsal after rehearsal, under US Bank Stadium's bright lights, we gained confidence, skill and speed moving our ramp.
Rehearsals grew in intensity each day. The number of people on the field grew each day with field cast and the University of Minnesota marching band. Timberlake and his entourage of choreographers, dancers and producers would arrive and a nervous energy bubbled up as the star of the show studied his stage, testing his choreography. As Timberlake descended down the ramp for the first time, he let us know his thoughts on the ramp. It was (expletive) steep.
At any given point, we were one of thousands of people working around the stadium. It was organized chaos with a soundtrack mix of Timberlake's show and megaphones and PA systems giving directions. Audio and production professionals from around the country, contracted to work the Super Bowl, swiftly gave out orders and executed their specific duties. At times, I felt as though we could be a social experiment of teamwork. We were people of all different walks of life thrown into this unique and exciting situation. As long as cart 13 could tune out the multitude of distractions around us, listen to our leader and each other, we'd deliver our ramp perfectly in place for Timberlake. And we did, every time.
As the third quarter began on Super Bowl Sunday, my cart mates and I lugged our beloved ramp through the blistering cold back towards the compound. We parked it in place and did a final team chant — "Delirious" in honor of Prince. I felt a heartache set in — I didn't want to leave my team. Over the past 10 days, my cart 13 buddies and I had been blessed with an incredible experience. This had been exhilarating and, at times, emotional. The nerves and tension we felt in that loading dock as time expired signaling halftime was met with a huge wave of accomplishment after a successful show. I will always remember the "SKOL" chant we started as our job was about to begin. Led by our blind ambition to have a hand in the Super Bowl action, here we were. We came from careers in finance, management, engineering, tech and journalism. We were strangers, but now friends who share a powerful bond.
This camaraderie surrounding Super Bowl halftime shows is evident in its retention rates. There are dozens of veteran halftime show field members that have grown into cherished friends scattered around the country. These people follow the big game to work the halftime show year after year, although, I was told a handful of them took this year off due to our bold north being a little too bold. Who would have thought the halftime show builds teams as strong as the Super Bowl teams themselves? You'll have to try it for yourself.