It’s a cold and blustery day in Bloomington, Minnesota, and faces of confused shoppers tell the tale — the circus is in town.

At the cartoonishly sized Mall of America; a sprawling, 4.2 million-square-foot monument to red, white and blue consumerism, Minnesota’s largest tourist attraction now hosts the nation’s most over-the-top sporting event: The Super Bowl… or rather, the run-up to it.

Holding court — quite literally — amidst a collection of dozens of fast-food restaurants, uncounted radio stations across the country (including yours truly) race to bring everyone the latest news from the upcoming game, and compete for the attention of guests both famous and otherwise. It’s the Super Bowl, you see — everyone has an opinion on it, which is why NFL Hall-of-Famers wander from table to table, dodging actors, musicians and teenage YouTube stars, all curiously equal in importance, because while football is the reason that everyone is here, in a Super Bowl host city, it’s merely a starting point.

Here in Minnesota, the notorious winter weather’s sub-freezing temperatures overwhelm warmer-weather visitors, while denizens from colder climes like Colorado find themselves nonplussed; it’s just another day. In the mall, the omnipresent, Bill Belichick-favorite hoodie seems to be Minnesota’s unofficial uniform, and fans there are still in mourning after their beloved Vikings missed becoming the first team to ever play in a hometown Super Bowl by a single game… a single NFC Championship game in which they were so soundly drummed by the Eagles that the whole city seems to have completely moved on from football for the winter.

Nevertheless, Minnesota earned the privilege of hosting this year’s hurricane of activity by building one of football’s latest and most brilliant chapels; the jaw-dropping US Bank Stadium, which looms like a great, glass ship, storming into the Minneapolis skyline and dominating it even from the air. The billion-dollar edifice was built thanks to nearly $600 million in taxpayer financing, and this is the NFL’s thanks for all that cash.

Minnesota’s setup for the notoriously challenging Super Bowl is efficient and effective, and the idea of placing so many of the pre-game activities of the week in a mall seems oddly fitting. Famous already for the million-dollar ads that become as anticipated as the movies, beer and… insurance companies that they sell, this year’s media circus seems more genuine than usual — we’re all part of the NFL’s marketing juggernaut.

At least we’re all in it together. The convivial atmosphere among media members exists even though they’re pressed shoulder-to-shoulder in countless press conferences, shout over each other to record their television or radio segment, constantly in tug-of-wars with one another over the varied array of guests and hovered over by hundreds of onlookers in the public media areas. Media members are penned in, a zoo attraction for rabid fans and a curiosity for families on their way to get the kids an ice cream.

Nevertheless, Super Bowl weeks often amount to de facto class reunions for media members, as colleagues, former co-workers and friends shake hands, embrace and act like it’s only been a week since they’ve seen each other instead of another year that rocketed by — and that’s before the legendary parties begin.

For the media and fans, the dance devolves into more of a mosh pit rather quickly, a bizarre blend of excitement, enthusiasm and crisis management; all building to a crescendo that’s over too quickly. For Minnesota, the circus will be over quickly, and life in the “Bold North” will go back to normal soon enough. But in that week, the overwhelming experience bonds strangers together in ways they’d never expect.

The NFL likes to say that “football is family”. It may be — the kind that makes so many Thanksgivings a madcap event full of squabbles and petty arguments; all eventually erased by the knowledge that what binds you together is stronger than what tries to separate you. That’s football; that’s fandom… that’s us.

We’re all one, big, dysfunctional family.

See you all next year.