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ESPN is proclaiming that the 2018 Super Bowl, won three Sundays ago by the Philadelphia Eagles in a cliff-hanger against New England, ranks as one of the best athletic confrontations of the 21st Century.

Matt Martell of Bloomington?

For him, it may be No. 1, for life, forever. And he didn’t even have to watch the game.

Matt is a 21-year-old undergrad in industrial and systems engineering at the University of Minnesota; Minneapolis is where the game was played, the site where the night before was staged the NFL’s Honors program.

That’s where the game’s stars and legends are annually honored, hailed, revered and bestowed.

That’s how Matt fits in.

He was there, up front, near the aisle, an A-lister, only an end-zone burst away from Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and an off-sides call from J.J. Watt, the Houston Texans star who won a major award for his contributions to Hurricane Harvey relief.

Uh ... Matt Martell? Sitting with all the NFL stars? At an honors gala?

Matt was a “seat-filler.”

That’s someone who at world events like the Oscars or Emmy's or Kennedy Center Honors, fills the seats of those who are up on the stage, out of their seats or yet to arrive, so that when the network TV cameras pan, all the seats are filled.

A self-described "huge" NFL fan, Matt applied back in early December. He heard nothing thereafter. 

Then, in a last-minute swirl, he got notice — appear at 1:30 p.m. on the eve of the Super Bowl, to clear security, be bused to the site and then prepped for the job of “seat-filler” for a program that would happen at 5 p.m. and be seen “live, by tape-delay” at 8 on NBC.

Figuring he wouldn't get close to any actual big-time players, that all changed when "Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach came in, sat down behind me and started chatting with us students.”

“That’s when,” adds Matt, “I realized what I was in for.”

For the next two hours, only a lateral from Rodgers and a quick hit from Watt, sitting next to New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, behind all-pro receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., just down the way from Seattle QB Russell Wilson and his model wife, Ciara, Matt soaked it all in as comedian Kevin Hart, also nearby, made wise cracks.

At one point, he watched the Manning family — Peyton, Eli, Archie — joking with Rodgers.

During commercial breaks, he watched as players got up to mill about, or go backstage, when fellow seat-fillers were quickly shuttled in “to keep the audience looking full."

"It was,” says Matt, “organized chaos.”

Meantime, back at the Martell home near Downs, his parents, Alan and Susan Martell, and sister, Jennie and her fiancé, Johnny Szumski, got involved, too.

At 8, they tuned in to watch, tipped that Matt had gotten in.

They craned; they panned; they ogled. And then suddenly, they saw Matt, on national TV, next to all the stars. They snapped pictures of their TV screen — with Matt on it. Throughout the night, they also were screaming, “There's Matt!” and “Oh, I see him again!” and “Look! There he is again!”

“It was so fun,” says Susan. “What an incredible experience for Matt.”

Yes, the game the next day was indeed fantastic. But the night before for Matt and the rest of the Martells — nothing less than Super.

Those dumb questions we all get asked

Dan Deneen is a Bloomington lawyer and player of golf who nonetheless sometimes can't drive the ball as far as a friend (fellow lawyer Rusty DePew). One day in June 2016, hit a really nice shot while playing the blue tees (longer distance to the hole) at Crestwicke Country Club in Bloomington.

It was, says Deneen, one of his best drives yet. He really whacked it.

It was also, he says, when he felt a severe pain in his shoulder.

"Oh (expletive)!" he said.

"Oh (expletive)!" said DePew, when informed why Deneen said, "Oh (expletive)!"

Later, Deneen needed rotator-cuff surgery.

Later, he filed a questionnaire with an insurer to determine if workers' compensation or another kind of insurance would help pay for the medical services.

Later still, he was sent a second questionnaire.

Then later still, just last week in fact, he received yet a third form because, as informed by the insurer, he had not fully completed the previous two.

What do you need, asked Deneen?

“(The injury) took place on a golf course, correct?”


"The information we need is whether you sued the golf course."

There was a pause to thoroughly absorb the question, says Deneen.

"Then I told her," says Deneen, "that that was the stupidest statement I’d heard in a long time! The conversation ... it then went fully downhill from there!"

Further pause.

No word yet if Deneen may now need to fill out newer forms for headache relief or hyper-extended blood pressure distress.

Please stay (expletive) tuned.


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