Even though the Minnesota Vikings blew their chance to try for a record-setting five Super Bowl losses, some of their die-hard fans and even rival Green Bay Packers backers in the Coulee Region will be players in the Super Bowl Week festivities in Minneapolis.
They are among 30,000 people who applied to be volunteer members of Crew 52, guides and goodwill ambassadors for the throngs expected to flood the Twin Cities for Super Bowl LII.
A lucky 10,000 made the final cut.
Many of the volunteers who are lifelong Vikings fans are setting aside the grief from the Vikes’ 38-7 implosion against the Philadelphia Eagles a week ago, eliminating them from becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl at home.
Some of the dyed-in-the-wool Green-and-Gold zealots volunteered with the belief that being goodwill ambassadors in archenemy territory passes the loyalty test because the teams are in the same division. (They also have had to turn a blind eye to the fact that Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr’s hit broke Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone and effectively knocked the Packers out of the playoff race.)
“I’m over my grieving,” Vikings fan Paul Bissen of Winona said Wednesday, two days before his volunteer shifts at National Volunteer Headquarters in downtown Minneapolis — one Friday night and two Saturday.
Two other Crew 52 members — Sandy Wiggert of La Crosse and Jayne Wells of La Crescent — are shedding no tears: The co-workers are Packers fans. They are thrilled with their assignments and the fact that they will be able to attend the free Prince tribute Monday, part of dozens of concerts, games and other activities at Super Bowl Live, in a six-block area of Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis set aside for 10 days of free events.
A La Crosse couple went for two and scored, with both Tasha and Marvin Rice making Crew 52. They and Wiggert are rarities on the crew, only 9 percent of whom are from outside the Gopher State.
Two Crew 52 members from Houston County, Minn. — Ryan Henry of La Crescent and Connie Strinmoen of Spring Grove — volunteered with deceased relatives in mind.
“I bet my dad would think this is pretty cool,” said Henry, who inherited his father’s purple blood.
He and his father, David, had a standing date to watch Vikings games together on Sundays until David died at age 57 on Oct. 15, 2015, after a 12-year battle with cancer.
That father-son bond “was part of my thought process” in deciding to apply, Henry said, adding that, if his dad were alive and he had been able to tell him about the opportunity, “he’d be the first to say go for it.”
David infused Ryan with not only Vikings values but also Minnesota Twins tendencies — not to mention a Timberwolves temperament and, of course, a warmth for the Wild. They frequently attended games together, as Ryan does now with his wife, Maria, and daughter, Kenley.
Like most Vikings fans, Henry approached the Eagles game with his heart in his throat, and it took a while to shake the loss.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh, man, now I’ve gotta go up there and be happy,” he said, adding that he had applied for Crew 52 last fall, early in the NFL season.
“It’s bittersweet. I signed up before I even knew the Vikings” would make such a strong run, he said.
“Oh, I wish we were there, but I’m pumped up for it now,” said Henry, who worked two shifts at Super Bowl Live Saturday and will wrap up his commitment with a shift Sunday.
Super Bowl Live features concerts, light shows, games and opportunities to experience football in a variety of ways for all ages. Also on tap will be the annual Super Bowl Experience, which is staged in the Minneapolis Convention Center at a cost of $35 for adults and $25 for ages 12 and younger. (An SBXTRA fast pass is $55 for all ages.)
Henry’s Crew 52 duties were “nothing real specific, help people find their hotels or light shows — mostly be a happy face to help people,” said Henry, an editor at Kaplan University in La Crosse.
All Crew 52 members were advised during their orientation in November to be especially alert for any signs of sex trafficking, which they were told is common during such events, he said.
“We watch for young kids who look like they are in uncomfortable circumstances, kids on the phone all the time — which is every kid — things that blacken the eye of the event,” he said.
“It’s also to promote what the state has to offer,” Henry said.
Crew members were trained not to interfere if they see something suspicious, but rather call 911 and let law enforcement handle it.
Connie Strinmoen volunteered in part in memory of her husband, Gary, who died in April at the age of 62. Avid Vikings fans, the couple had been involved in coaching basketball and other youth sports for decades and are known for their activities throughout Houston County.
Although many Crew 52 members haven’t seen the new U.S. Bank Stadium that the Vikings broke in as their home field this year, Strinmoen was able to watch Spring Grove’s nine-man football team experience some glory days during the downtown Minneapolis facility’s inaugural year.
“Our Spring Grove nine-man football team made school history by winning state for the first time in the new Vikings stadium,” she said, noting that she and Gary had coached many of the Lions players since they were youngsters.
“I was hoping that the Minnesota Vikings could have made history playing in their own stadium for Super Bowl 52,” she said.
“So I am sad that didn’t get to happen, but I am very proud to be a Spring Grove fan and a Minnesota Vikings fan,” said Strinmoen, who worked a shift at Super Bowl Live Saturday and will work another from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 3 and her final one from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday.
Although the couple reveled in meeting people and community involvement, Strinmoen expressed doubt that Gary would have volunteered for Crew 52.
“We love people, but I don’t know, with all those people, it would have been like a bigger extreme for him,” she said. “He’d have gone along, but I don’t think he would have been on the crew.
“I’m doing it in his memory and to keep me busy,” she said. “It involves safety and helping others, and that’s what we liked.”
Ryan Henry stressed that Crew 52 members are not taking a knee and working for free for the multibillion-dollar National Football League.
“We’re volunteering for the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee,” he said. “They worked hard for three years to make the bid to the NFL to host the game.”
On the other hand, the volunteers get to keep the gear they got for free to be readily visible hosts and guides, including a turquoise lightweight puffer jacket, a blue parka, a purple long-sleeved polo shirt, a scarf, a Crew 52 backpack, a Crew 52 “Love Your Melon” stocking cap, purple mittens with “Bold” knitted on one palm and “North” on the other, multi-color novelty socks and a travel mug.
The parka features an outline of the stadium, a heart with Minnesota in the middle and “kindness” next to the heart.
The items are valued at more than $200, which Henry described as “your payment, so to speak.”
Sandy Wiggert and Jayne Wells are blending their roles as retirees working part-time jobs as wing agents for Delta Global at La Crosse Regional Airport with volunteering for Crew 52.
Wiggert, who retired after teaching French at Onalaska High School for 33 years and even taught in France in the 1998-99 school year as a Fulbright exchange teacher, sometimes uses French as a gate agent, she said.
Wiggert often translates for French travelers at the Delta gate, and “with American (Airlines) at the airport, they have even called me over to translate,” she said.
Her training included a tour of the Minneapolis skyway system, because her assignment is to help people navigate the 10 miles of skyways connecting hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
“I’m super proud to be in the Midwest,” Wiggert said. “I want to show how awesome we are. I think we’re gonna make people go, ‘Wow.’”
Wiggert and Wells, who also is a Packers backer despite living in La Crescent because her roots are in Wisconsin, watched the disappointing Vikings-Eagles game together.
Both cheered for the Vikings against the Eagles without feeling guilt, saying it was a matter of sportsmanship and NFC North loyalty and pride.
Wells’ Crew 52 gig helping direct passengers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport also carries an element of pride, she said, in part as an employee of Delta, a Super Bowl co-sponsor.
She can’t translate foreign languages like her pal Wiggert can, but Wells interjected, “I can say ‘uff-da,’” which probably is what many visitors want to hear anyway.
Wells, who is retired from Western Technical College in La Crosse after working there 31 years, and Wiggert are going to the Cities on Sunday so they can attend the Prince tribute concert on Monday, a free day from their volunteer assignments, Wells said.
Paul Bissen, a road and bridge inspector for the state of Minnesota for 33 years who has an eye on retiring in a year, said he is happy to be volunteering at headquarters, with its convenient location near downtown activities.
He expressed gratitude for the clothing and other items the volunteers received, except that, “My only problem is that the parka only goes up to 3X, and I need 4X,” he said.
That’s a problem many Crew 52 members have encountered, resulting in a Facebook page where they can exchange items.
As for the Super Bowl, the avid Vikings fan said, “I’m not even sure I’ll watch the game. We sure looked bad” against the Eagles.
“I was upset, but it’s a game,” acknowledged Steffani Kinyanjui of Winona, whose Vikings allegiance can be traced to her upbringing in northern Minnesota, near Duluth. “I was not as much upset at the game as at the fans.”
She was referring to Eagles’ fans heckling of Vikings supporters in the City of Brotherly Love, including hurling full cans of beer at Vikings fans near the stadium and a few cases of fisticuffs. On the other hand, Vikings fans did a bit of taunting themselves, including wrapping a purple towel with Vikings player Stephon Diggs on it around the waist of the Rocky Balboa statue and singing the “Skol” chant on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Nonetheless, if Eagles fans ask Kinyanjui for directions or hand her their cameras so she can take their pictures during her stints at Super Bowl Live, she said she will accommodate them as a civilized member of Crew 52.
Kinyanjui, a medical secretary at Super Bowl co-sponsor Mayo Clinic Health System in Rochester, herself is looking forward to the Polaris snowmobile races, for which 11th Street is being shut down.
As for the Super Bowl, Kinyanjui acknowledged grudgingly that, “as much as I don’t want the Patriots to win, they probably will.”
Tasha and Marvin Rice are approaching their Crew 52 duties as a way to get as “close as you can to experiencing the Super Bowl, especially when you can’t go because who can afford $4,000 tickets?”
They will be in the thick of it next weekend, working the skyways for the regular four-hour shifts on Saturday but being on duty from 1 to 11 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday.
Marvin, a Chicago native who is a Vikings fan, “was pretty upset” about the loss to Philadelphia, Tasha said. She remains a Packers fan but said she can endure her husband’s allegiance to the rival team.
During the longer shift on Super Bowl Sunday, Crew 52 members will be able to take a break, have dinner and watch part of the game, said Tasha, a nursing assistant in the behavioral health unit at Gundersen Health System, where Marvin works in environmental services.
They will be back at their posts early in the second half, though, she said.
“Statistics show that most people leave the Super Bowl at halftime. It’s unbelievable people would pay that much and leave at halftime,” said Tasha, who said she and Marvin will be able to scratch being involved with the Super Bowl off their bucket list.
“We’ve had a bucket list since we lost my mom a year ago at 59, and this was on it,” she said.
WASHINGTON — In different circumstances, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg might be on a valedictory tour in her final months on the Supreme Court. But in the era of Donald Trump, the 84-year-old Ginsburg is packing her schedule and sending signals she intends to keep her seat on the bench for years.
The eldest Supreme Court justice has produced two of the court’s four signed opinions so far this term. Outside court, she’s the subject of a new documentary that includes video of her working out. And she’s hired law clerks to take her through June 2020, just four months before the next presidential election.
Soaking in her late-in-life emergence as a liberal icon, she’s using the court’s monthlong break to embark on a speaking tour that is taking her from the Sundance Film Festival in Utah to law schools and synagogues on the East Coast. One talk will have her in Rhode Island on Tuesday, meaning she won’t attend the president’s State of the Union speech that night in Washington.
She has a standard response for interviewers who ask how long she intends to serve. She will stay as long as she can go “full steam,” she says, and she sees as her model John Paul Stevens, who stepped down as a justice in 2010 at age 90.
“I think that Justice Ginsburg has made clear that she has no intention of retiring. I am sure she wants to stay on the court until the end of the Trump presidency if she can,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, and a liberal who called on Ginsburg to retire in 2014, when Barack Obama was president and Democrats controlled the Senate.
But Chemerinsky noted, “No one can know whether she will be on the court on Jan. 20, 2021, if Trump serves one term, let alone Jan. 20, 2025, if he is re-elected.”
Ginsburg doesn’t talk about Trump in public anymore, not since she criticized him in interviews with The Associated Press and other media outlets before the 2016 election. The comments prompted Trump to tweet that “Her mind is shot—resign!” She later apologized.
Ginsburg, who declined to comment for this story, this year marks the 25th anniversary of her nomination by President Bill Clinton and her confirmation as the second woman on the court.
As Ginsburg and most Americans anticipated Hillary Clinton’s election win in 2016, she didn’t commit to retiring but suggested she would give the first female president the chance to replace “a flaming feminist litigator,” as Ginsburg has wryly described herself.
When her husband, Martin Ginsburg, died in 2010, Ginsburg said she did not think much about stepping down. If anything, since Stevens’ retirement, she has become more outspoken and visible as the leader of the court’s liberal wing.
Two childhood friends from New York City, say “Kiki,” the nickname they still use for Ginsburg, has kept the same busy schedule for years.
“I don’t think she’s slowing down. That’s for sure,” said Ann Kittner, a friend since their days at James Madison High School. Harryette Helsel, who has known Ginsburg since kindergarten, said she’s joked with Ginsburg: “We’re retired. Why are you working so hard?” They both laughed.
Helsel pointed to Ginsburg’s workout routine, which has been in the spotlight in recent years. Ginsburg started working out with a trainer in 1999 after being treated for colorectal cancer. She does an hour twice a week.
A book on the workout by her trainer, with a forward by Ginsburg, came out last year. “RBG,” a documentary about the justice that premiered at Sundance, includes video of her doing pushups and throwing a weighted ball, among other exercises. While pulling on a resistance band, she tells her trainer: “This is light.”
That video may surprise visitors to the court, who can be struck by how slowly Ginsburg moves, her head often bowed, when the court session ends for the day and justices leave the bench in full view of the audience. Justices Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan have taken to waiting until Ginsburg exits because she otherwise would be left by herself as she makes her way to the justices’ robing room.
But she has walked at a deliberate pace for years. Once, after remaining seated well after the other justices had departed, she explained that she had accidentally kicked off a shoe during the arguments and couldn’t locate it with her feet.
Ginsburg usually grips a handrail to go down the few steps from the bench in the courtroom. But there was no railing for her to grab on a November day when she followed a director’s instructions through several takes and climbed the steps in front of the courthouse for a scene in “On the Basis of Sex,” a movie about Ginsburg’s rise in the legal profession that is due out this year.
Ginsburg’s friend Ann Claire Williams, a newly retired federal appeals court judge, said sometimes people get the wrong idea from Ginsburg’s small stature and think she is frail.
“She is so spry,” said Williams, adding that Ginsburg’s mind is also sharp and her recall on cases “extraordinary.”
Trump remarked during the campaign that he might get to name four justices while president. But conservatives hoping to lock in a majority on the court during Trump’s presidency would be happy for now with just one more vacancy. They are focused not on Ginsburg but on the prospect that Justice Anthony Kennedy might retire this year. Kennedy, too, has hired law clerks for next term, a possible hint he plans on staying. The Above the Law blog first reported on Ginsburg’s and Kennedy’s clerk hirings.
Ginsburg’s decision to stay on past Obama’s time in the White House upset progressives because they feared — and conservatives now hope — a more conservative justice might replace her.
“The assumption was she can’t go till she’s 87, but maybe she will,” said Curt Levey, president of the conservative Committee for Justice.
She has been counted out before, wrongly.
When Ginsburg had a second cancer surgery, for pancreatic cancer in 2009, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., inelegantly forecast that she would die within a year. He later apologized.
In a speech just over a year later, Ginsburg said, “I am pleased to report that, contrary to Sen. Bunning’s prediction, I am alive and in good health.”
Bunning died last year.
MADISON — Since it began taking cases from other counties two years ago, the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office has conducted 70 percent more autopsies a year than in 2015.
Most of the 827 autopsies completed last year were done by just two forensic pathologists, a crushing workload that far exceeded the recommended 250 autopsies a year by the National Association of Medical Examiners.
At the same time, a national shortage of qualified pathologists has made it all but impossible to fill two open positions, a spokesman for the office said.
Dr. Vincent Tranchida, the county’s chief medical examiner, and Dr. Agnieszka Rogalska, the deputy chief, didn’t take a single vacation day last year, often working 10 to 12 hours a day for six days a week to keep abreast of the flood of cases, spokesman Barry Irmen said.
The surge in autopsies is the result of a contract to handle death investigations from Rock County starting in 2015, followed by a similar agreement with Brown, Door and Oconto counties in 2016. Another factor has been the opioid epidemic, which experts say has increased the workloads of most forensic pathologists by about 10 percent annually during the past few years.
Prior to the expansion, the office had three forensic pathologists and had been authorized by the county to add another one to handle the expected workload increase. But a shortage of pathologists complicated that plan. Exacerbating the problem, in August 2016 one of the office’s pathologists resigned.
Despite the huge increase in their workload, Tranchida and Rogalska say the expansion will have been worth it if it helps raise expertise in the field, which is little regulated in Wisconsin, Irmen said. It comes at a time when county officials and state lawmakers are grappling with whether to set new standards for training coroners, medical examiners and death investigators, and determining when to order an autopsy.
“These people see the vision and the value behind regionalization,” Irmen said. “(They want to give) other counties the ability to have good forensic autopsies if they need them. They are serving the families, the criminal justice partners and public health. That’s why they are committed to the mission. Their drive is amazing, if you ask me.”
Autopsies are conducted to find the cause and manner of death and play important roles in solving crimes, settling insurance claims and family estate matters and offering closure for loved ones.
They can be ordered in each county by a coroner, who is elected, or a medical examiner, who is appointed.
Wisconsin is one of just a few states that does not require any medical training for either position. However, the autopsies themselves must be performed by medically trained forensic pathologists.
As a result, most counties send their cases to one of four regional medical examiner’s offices with trained pathologists: Dane County (two pathologists); Milwaukee County (six); Waukesha County (three); and UW Hospital (two).
The medical examiner’s office in Fond du Lac County had been a fifth site, but its forensic pathologist, Dr. Douglas Kelley, is joining the Milwaukee office because he has been unable to find a second forensic pathologist to join his staff and reduce his untenable workload, Milwaukee County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Brian Peterson said.
Counties typically pay to have the work done at one of the four sites on an individual basis. Dane County handled 98 autopsies from nine counties that way in 2017.
But as the demand has grown and the number of forensic pathologists shrink, counties are increasingly signing contracts with one of the sites.
While several counties have signed agreements with either the Milwaukee and Waukesha offices to do their autopsies, the four counties that reached agreement with the Dane County office to do their autopsies also gave it operational control over their medical examiners’ offices.
That has allowed Tranchida and Rogalska to oversee more than 3,000 death investigations, hire and train new investigators and receive key information and clues helpful in performing an autopsy, Irmen said.
“Even the elderly deaths are more complicated these days,” Irmen said. “We’ve had elderly people who are using heroin. When I say elderly I mean 70 and above, and it takes a trained investigator to recognize those signs at a death scene.”
Since the agreements were signed, the number of autopsies originating in each of the four counties has increased, especially in Rock and Brown counties where the coroner’s office and medical examiner’s office, respectively, had been mired in controversy in recent years.
“It’s been worth every penny to do this contract,” Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden said. “It’s been a good thing to move into. I’m very happy with it.”
But many counties still operate under much lower standards when it comes to death investigations because of a hodge-podge set of rules. Most of Wisconsin’s coroners and medical examiners aren’t forensic pathologists and can’t provide proof that they’ve had any training for their positions, said Angela Hinze, the president of the Wisconsin Coroners and Medical Examiners Association. There are also no formal requirements for death investigators, who assist coroners and medical examiners.
“I’m seeing (court) cases lost to poor investigations and other cases lost to the fact that we are missing things out in the field,” said Hinze, who also is the Columbia County Medical Examiner.
After years of lobbying by the coroner and medical examiner association, the state Assembly last year unanimously approved legislation requiring all coroners, medical examiners and death investigators to undergo at least some basic training.
But earlier this month, Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, made clear to the association’s leaders that he didn’t plan to advance the bill through the Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations, Irmen said.
“He said he didn’t think it had any merit,” Irmen said. “Stopping that bill won’t hurt the counties that have certified investigators, but it will hurt the other ones for sure.”
Kapenga did not return calls to his office seeking comment.
Some untrained coroners, medical examiners and investigators are likely missing or ignoring important clues when conducting a death investigation, said Peterson, the Milwaukee County medical examiner, who also is president of the National Association of Medical Examiners.
“The thing is we all take shortcuts. We all have to. There are too many deaths, too much to cover,” said Peterson. “The question is: Are you taking thoughtful shortcuts, and what are you missing?’’
Getting the correct manner of death is more important than the correct cause of death, he said.
“Somebody can have heart disease and liver disease, so which one caused his death? Whatever one we say it was,” Peterson said. “But you don’t want to call a homicide a natural (death). So there are shortcuts you can take but with more education and training you have a better idea of which shortcuts are safe and which ones aren’t.”
St. Croix Medical Examiner Patty Schachtner, who won a special election to the state Senate on Jan. 16, said she wants the state to adopt standards for coroners and medical examiners.
“There will be federal requirements passed sometime soon that might be very high,” she said. “It only makes sense to get our standards set now so we can move forward.”
Although she has not undergone any specialized training herself, Schachtner said she has developed a strong understanding of what’s needed in a death investigation after serving as the county’s medical examiner since 2011 and an investigator for nine years before that. Family members and friends, for example, usually have the most information about the deceased person, and the best way to earn their trust is to make a good, and lasting, first impression.
She recently persuaded her county to invest in a facility that includes a “reflection room” with low lighting, a white noise machine and artwork that makes the process of identifying a dead family member less traumatic.
“Those are skills that come with time and experience working in this crazy job,” she said. “Some of us lack certification, but I don’t know of any who don’t take their jobs seriously.”
Irmen is optimistic that a forensic pathologist from Canada the office has been trying to hire for over a year will join the staff by March. Visa problems have delayed her arrival, he said. There is no timetable to add a fourth pathologist because the few available to hire are heading to the coasts despite a salary package that ranges up to $200,000, he said.
The shortage started several years ago when fewer medical doctors decided to become pathologists and even fewer decided to receive the additional schooling required to become forensic pathologists. Despite the extra schooling, they generally make about half as much as a pathologist makes at a hospital, and no federal funds are available to pay for the extra schooling, Peterson said.
Nationally, there are fewer than 500 forensic pathologists in a field where more than 1,000 are needed, Peterson said.
Help has arrived in other ways. Last August, the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office moved to new space at the county’s East District campus on the Southeast Side. The building’s three autopsy suites is triple the number at the old office. That has contributed to a better flow of autopsies, and the office has started to reduce a backlog of reports, Irmen said.
“The backlog is something we recognize and that we’re working to fix, and we’re struggling to get there,” Irmen said.
The County Board also included funding in its 2018 budget for two new investigators, and one already is on staff.
“The expectations are high for our investigators, doctors, support staff, autopsy techs, all those people,” Irmen said. “But at the same time the county is very fair. The (salaries are) fair, the expectations are reasonable.”
That means there are no plans to cut back services to any of the counties who aren’t under contract with them but have entrusted the office to do their autopsies in the past, according to Irmen.
“You certainly have to draw the line somewhere, but how do you turn down a coroner or medical examiner who needs an autopsy done on a homicide victim?” he said. “You are turning not only that person but the family and law enforcement and the district attorney’s office and there’s no way for those people to get justice done.”