US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis hosts Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles
The biggest event in the US sporting calendar was just hours away on Sunday with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots chasing history in their Super Bowl clash with the Philadelphia Eagles.
More than 100 million households were expected to tune in for the climax of a tumultuous National Football League season rocked by player protests and a bitter feud with US President Donald Trump.
A crowd of around 66,500 will huddle under the glass roof of the US Bank Stadium, while Minneapolis shivers in sub-zero temperatures.
Temperatures at kick-off, set for 5:30 pm local time (2330 GMT), are expected to be three degrees Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius), making it the coldest Super Bowl Sunday for a host city on record.
Pop star Justin Timberlake, who headlines the halftime show, will be aiming to avoid controversy, 14 years after the TV-watching nation was scandalized by his duet with Janet Jackson which culminated in the “Nipplegate” furore.
Advertisers are expected to steer clear of politically-charged TV ads, in contrast to last year, when issues such as immigration and women’s rights were tackled.
It follows an NFL season plunged into acrimony in September, when Trump disparaged as “sons of bitches” the mostly African-American players kneeling during the national anthem in a protest at social injustice.
The protests later dissipated after the NFL pledged $100 million to a players’ group which would go towards various charitable causes.
Trump, a friend of the Patriots’ billionaire owner Robert Kraft, will watch the game at his Mar-a-Lago Florida estate, where he is hosting a viewing party.
He will be among millions of fans waiting to see whether Brady, 40, can claim a record sixth Super Bowl win or whether the underdog Eagles can claim their first Lombardi Trophy.
– Records at risk –
Fans gather in the snow during Super Bowl LIVE, a 10-day fan festival leading up to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis
Brady will become the oldest quarterback in history to win the title if he successfully leads the Patriots to victory.
Win or lose, Brady will become the oldest non-kicker to play in the Sunday showpiece, 16 years after guiding the Patriots to his first Super Bowl crown in 2002.
Sunday’s finale comes one year after Brady inspired New England to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, when the Patriots overturned a 28-3 third-quarter deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime. Since then the veteran quarterback has shown no signs of being on the wane.
On Saturday, he became the oldest recipient of the NFL’s Player of the Year award, the third time he has won that honour. It follows a season in which Brady threw for 4,577 yards and 32 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Lying in wait for Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are an Eagles team who powered into the Super Bowl with a 38-7 rout of the Minnesota Vikings.
The Eagles sealed their place thanks to a dazzling display from quarterback Nick Foles, the back-up who was thrust into the starting position after an injury ended Carson Wentz’s season in December.
Foles, 29, was only 16 when Brady won his third Super Bowl ring, against the Eagles in 2005.
If there is a gulf in experience between Brady and Foles, a chasm separates Belichick and his Eagles counterpart Doug Pederson.
Belichick, 65, has won seven Super Bowl rings, two as an assistant with the New York Giants and five as Patriots’ head coach, in a career spanning five decades.
Super Bowl 2018
Pederson, 50 and only two years into his first head coaching job, was leading a high school team in Louisiana when Belichick won his fifth Super Bowl in 2005.
Pederson, however, says the Eagles are embracing the role of underdogs.
“I’ve been an underdog my whole career, my whole life,” Pederson said. “I think that’s the mentality of our football team. I think that’s the mentality of our city, and I’m OK with that.”