Four days before the Super Bowl, Jacob Frey stands before hundreds of cheering teenagers at North High School. Wearing a gray suit, slight stubble and gelled hair with a single out-of-place curl, the always-smiling young mayor of Minneapolis already has that polished politician look, totally comfortable as the face of the city when the nation’s eyes are on it.
Frey reads a decree naming the day in the honor of the two men next to him: R&B producers Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis — the latter a North alumnus — who, besides a career writing hits for Janet Jackson and many others, curated the Super Bowl Live events on Nicollet Mall.
“This is cool, huh?” he says. “Living legends, right?”
Moments later his staff whooshes him to a radio studio down the hall, where students interview him for class, and he’s shaking hands on the way. “Hey man, thanks for coming!” he says.
Then he is off to his next appointment in a packed schedule that includes touring affordable housing units in north Minneapolis, racing children on an obstacle course at Target Center and drinking beers with Eric Dayton at Surly Brewery.
Just shy of two months since his inauguration, the 36-year-old marathon runner has inherited responsibility for the biggest event to hit Minneapolis in years. About 125,000 people, from Justin Timberlake to pole-climbing Eagles fans, will come to frozen Minneapolis for the game and preceding events. Tens of millions more will be watching around the world. There will be protests, cops from all over the state and helicopters circling above. The bars will stay open two hours later than normal, and the locals will complain about overpriced guacamole and the light rail being commandeered by the NFL.
It will happen on Frey’s watch.
“Everybody has a different reason to want the Super Bowl in their town,” he says later that afternoon, sitting in his office. “For me personally, it’s to show off a spectacular city. It’s to show off our community and our rich culture for the whole world to see.”
On his way out of North High, a TV reporter wants him to comment on a promotional Sports Illustrated video that came out the day prior, which ends with an outtake of Frey asking if they’re “seriously welcoming the [bleeping] Eagles fans?”
And what did he say in the bleep?
“The ‘F’ word!” Frey proclaims proudly.
Moments later, in the car, Frey explains that the outtake was a “half joke.” He’s heard from some Philadelphia fans who didn’t find it so funny. “I was just saying what everyone else is thinking.”
Later that afternoon, Frey’s bodyguard pulls the black SUV into a garage in Target Center for a tailgating party for families who benefited from grants from the Super Bowl Host Committee.
“So what am I supposed to do?” asks Frey. “I’m saying something?”
His aide, Mychal Vlatkovich, answers in the affirmative and hands him talking points.
Soon he’s inside shaking every empty hand he can find.
Frey’s energy seems to have no end. He takes off his sport coat and runs around with the hundreds of kids storming the stadium. His bodyguard and aides lose track a few times. “Holy Hennepin,” groans Vlatkovich, who admittedly doesn’t always share his boss’ endurance.
Frey challenges a group of kids to a race on a Nickelodeon obstacle course and they dive into the inflatable labyrinth.
“One of those kids beat me on that thing,” he tells Vlatkovich afterward. “I’ve got to get better shoes.”
He bumps into Gov. Mark Dayton and celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern and they remark upon how great it all is.
Next stop is Surly Brewery, where the Great Northern — a host of winter sports and events run by Eric Dayton, proprietor of the Bachelor Farmer restaurant and the governor’s son — is throwing a barbecue.
The sun is going down, but Frey does not look remotely tired. The Great Northern staff hands him a microphone.
“Well how you guys doing today!” he says. “We really are showing what the bold North is all about!”
The crowd claps and hoots. Then the mayor gets another beer and walks around looking for hands to shake.