Moorhead High graduate performs at Super Bowl LII halftime
February 9, 2018
Connor Neill, a 2014 Moorhead High School graduate, performed during halftime of Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium on Feb. 4. Neill, a senior at the University of Minnesota majoring in ecology, evolution and biology, is a four-year member of the University of Minnesota Golden Gopher Marching Band.
According to Neill, members of the band started a social media campaign this past fall trying to get pop star Justin Timberlake’s attention.
“Around the same time our marching band director Betsy McCann began reaching out to her contacts in the music industry,” he said.
During the band’s post-season banquet in December, McCann asked everyone to place their phones in the center of the table before delivering the news that the band would be performing with Justin Timberlake during halftime of the Super Bowl. Additionally, she told them, all members of the band would be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement: they could not speak of their appearance with anyone.
Rehearsals for their performance began ten days before Super Bowl Sunday. Besides the 325 members of the U of M marching band, the halftime show also featured dancers from several metro area high school and college dance teams.
“Initially, everything seemed pretty organized, but over time everything was constantly changing,” Neill said.
Two weeks before the big game they had a nine-hour Saturday rehearsal at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds Coliseum. Halfway through the rehearsal Timberlake arrived.
“We weren’t expecting to see him until a few days before the game, but he showed up at that Saturday’s rehearsal,” Neill said.
Neill and his bandmates rehearsed for 32 hours over four nights at US Bank Stadium during the week of the Super Bowl. The halftime performers boarded a chartered light rail train close to campus that took them into the secure stadium perimeter. At one point Neill was concerned that word would get out that the band would be featured.
“During our rehearsal on Thursday night the WCCO news helicopter flew over the stadium and broadcast a live feed of the rehearsal during their newscast,” he said. “We wondered if people would notice there was a marching band on the field.”
Due to heightened security, the performers were not allowed to bring electronics or backpacks into US Bank Stadium. Because of that Neill said studying wasn’t an option during down time so they played UNO and other card games to pass the time.
On Super Bowl Sunday band members boarded nine buses on campus at 12:30 p.m. that took them to the secured staging area at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds where they ate boxed lunches, changed into their tuxedos, and lined up in alphabetical order to proceed through security clearance. Photo ID was required when they went through the metal detector.
Approximately one hour before kickoff all halftime performers boarded buses that were escorted by police and military vehicles from the fairgrounds to US Bank Stadium. Neill didn’t know how many vehicles were escorting them but said, “We didn’t stop at any intersections.”
At the stadium they proceeded into several warming tents prior to entering the stadium. Because of the large number of halftime performers they waited in the lower level tunnel using switchback lines similar to waiting in line at amusement parks.
“Once we were given the cue to take the field, we hustled,” Neill said.
Neill said earlier in the week the band had been professionally recorded playing the music that Timberlake performed to.
“Timberlake sang almost everything live during the actual game. It was just the back-up music that was pre-recorded,” Neill said.
To help keep the band members and dancers in step they were given receivers with earbuds that played the music. Neill said it was a “brilliant way to keep us all together.”
After the performance the band was bused back to TCF stadium. Several band parents and alumni, all of whom had to sign the non-disclosure agreements, had food and cake waiting for the band members.
“The adrenaline and excitement of performing at the Super Bowl is something I will never forget,” Neill said.
- Brian Cole
Photo: Erin Hopfensparger