MINNEAPOLIS –It's not often that green is an accepted color within the Vikings organization, but an exception was made Thursday.
The Vikings teamed up with the NFL's Environmental Program, "NFL Green"; the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee; Verizon and Tree Trust for an iconic moment at Currie Park in Minneapolis.
For the past 12 years, a symbolic Super Bowl "golden shovel" has been annually passed from the previous Super Bowl host community to the next. On May 16 in Houston, MSBHC Sustainability Chair Ben Shardlow accepted the Super Bowl shovel from the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee and brought it to Minnesota to kick off Super Bowl LII urban forestry events.
The shovel was ceremoniously passed on Thursday to the MNSBHC as they prepare for Super Bowl LII, which is scheduled to kick off on Feb. 4, 2018 at U.S. Bank Stadium. Following the transfer, a river birch tree was gifted from Houston to Minnesota and was planted along with 13 additional trees.
NFL Environmental Program Director Jack Groh said he was impressed with the amount of team participation by the Vikings.
"The Vikings have really stepped up right from the very beginning to be involved in everything that we're doing on the environmental end, which is nice," Groh said. "We love having the local team involved."
According to Groh, the tradition of the host city's team actively contributing to the Super Bowl preparation really only began 10 to 15 years ago.
"This is still their home, their territory, their fan base," Groh said. "And when people here think 'NFL,' they think 'Vikings.' It just makes perfect sense for the Vikings to be involved in everything that goes on around the Super Bowl. And we're grateful to them for it."
The Vikings teamed up with the NFLâs Environmental Program, âNFL Greenâ; the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee; Verizon and Tree Trust for an iconic moment at Currie Park in Minneapolis.
The Vikings were represented by Executive Vice President of Public Affairs & Stadium Development Lester Bagley, Executive Director of Community Relations Brad Madson, Youth Football Manager E.J. Henderson, defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, wide receiver Jarius Wright, cornerback Tre Roberson and Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders Katie and Samantha.
"Our goal, of course, there are very few firsts left in life, but we want to be the first NFL team to not only play in their own stadium, host the Super Bowl, but win the Super Bowl in their hometown," Bagley said. "We're very proud to be here. The Super Bowl in Minnesota is very important to the Vikings."
Added Bagley: "We're going to play in it, so we've got that going, but we also want to make sure that we do well for this community, for the Vikings brand and for Minnesota."
According to Minneapolis Park Board Superintendent Jayne Miller, Currie Park is one of 160 neighborhood parks in Minneapolis and provides an area of respite in a highly dense, urban area.
The park features a community soccer field, a picturesque view of U.S. Bank Stadium and the Minneapolis skyline serving as a backdrop.
Stephen, Wright and Robison weren't afraid to get their hands dirty in planting trees and were assisted by a group of local children from the Brian Coyle Community Center.
"It's great to get out here for the environment and get a chance to plant some trees. It's always good to show kids that we care about the environment," Wright said. "The kids are having a great time, they're smiling, and that's what it's all about."
The Currie Park tree planting is the first of many Super Bowl LII urban forestry projects that will take place during the 2017 planting season. Super Bowl LII urban forestry grants have been awarded to numerous projects in Minnesota that will restore, beautify and enhance local areas.
MNSBHC CEO Maureen Bausch said it's important to the committee to implement forestry projects across the entire state.
"We're the Minnesota Super Bowl – one of only four Super Bowls to take place and include the entire state, not just the city it's played in," Bausch said. "Every single week, we hope you remember something good that the Super Bowl has done for Minnesota. That's our goal – to leave a legacy."
Wright and Stephen both said they hope to leave a legacy through Super Bowl LII.
"Of course, you always want to play in the Super Bowl," Wright said. "But just to get the chance to have that home field advantage, if you make it to the Super Bowl, with all our great fans and our great stadium [would be amazing]."