By Daniel Trotta
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - New England Patriots fan Jason Baer of Tampa won a sales contest at his job to score two tickets to the Super Bowl and invited his best friend. The magnitude of the moment hit when they entered Minneapolis' U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
"It was pretty magical walking through the gates," said Baer.
The American football championship has turned normally straight-laced office workers euphoric and the city of Minneapolis into a party as the Patriots seek their sixth Super Bowl title and the Philadelphia Eagles their first.
Neither snow nor slush nor sub-zero temperatures kept 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 with fans jamming the streets despite a snow storm on Saturday and temperatures that dipped below zero Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius) over the weekend.
Game day was sunny and clear with temperatures still barely above zero, though the players and some 66,000 spectators were warm inside the indoor U.S. Bank Stadium.
Baer, 44, won a six-month sales contest at his funeral services company and invited a college fraternity brother, Michael Cauger. They both wore Tom Brady Patriots jerseys while enjoying a pre-game beverage.
"This is a good as it comes. Bonding with your brother. Bonding with other fans. It's most little boys' dream to come to a Super Bowl," Cauger said.
Eagles fan Sonny Ankrah's journey to the Super Bowl started when he emigrated from Ghana and landed in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, in 1985.
Now 44 and a tax attorney, he became an American football fan and Eagles supporter within a year of his arrival, a season ticket holder in 2002, and he flew to Minneapolis without a ticket for Sunday's big game.
After finding a broker, he scored two tickets for himself and his wife, Victoria Ankrah.
"We have been so hungry for an Eagles championship. I don't care how we win as long as we win," Ankrah said.
A week long celebration took hold in Minneapolis even though the Minnesota Vikings came up one game short of taking part in the final themselves.
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.
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.
Despite the party, some contemplated weightier matters 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 players from either team 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.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Additional reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Susan Thomas)