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The Farm Bowl: The Most Minnesotan Event of Super Bowl Week

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A star-studded affair with tractors, drones, milk pipe puzzles, and hay bales. Welcome to the Land O’ Lakes Farm Bowl.

The Land O’ Lakes Farm Bowl was incredibly unique, lots of fun, and extremely Minnesotan.

Super Bowl LIVE on Nicollet Mall? BO-RING.

The Super Bowl Experience? Child’s play.

Radio Row and the plethora of Bold North events at Mall of America? A snooze.

If you really wanted to get the full experience that encompassed exactly what Minnesota hosting the big game was all about, there was only one place to be this week. That place? Mariucci Arena on Thursday afternoon, for the biggest event of them all: the Land O’ Lakes Farm Bowl.

OK, that might be a slight exaggeration. But where else do you get the chance to see current and former NFL players compete in farm-based obstacle courses while having everything hosted by Jordin Sparks, Marty Smith, and Allie LaForce?

When I first got the email about the possibility of covering the Farm Bowl, I had two immediate thoughts:

  • “Lol what the heck is this?!”; and
  • “I HAVE to see this for myself.”

I was definitely not disappointed.

So what exactly is the Farm Bowl? Think of it like American Ninja Warrior except with farm equipment. Or maybe MTV’s The Challenge with agricultural education instead of drunken hookups. Six NFL athletes were paired with real life farmers to compete in four different stations in what has to be the world’s most unlikely pro-am ever. Especially since the pro athletes were the amateurs in this case.

These were the Farm Bowl pairings, complete with team names that read like a rural version of Legends of the Hidden Temple:

  • The Shredders: Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly and Craig Roerick, a dairy farmer from Swanville, Minnesota
  • The Stallions: Former Ravens and Rams center Jason Brown and Dave Ribero, a dairy farmer from Tulare, California
  • The Mustangs: Hall of Fame Steelers running back Jerome Bettis and Katie Dotterer-Pyle, a dairy farmer from Union Bridge, Maryland
  • The Huskers: Former Vikings, Packers, and Dolphins wide receiver Greg Jennings and Amber Horn-Leiterman, a dairy farmer from Brillion, Wisconsin
  • The Brooders: Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs and JJ Nunes, a dairy farmer from Tulare, California
  • The Holsteins: Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph and Darin Johnson, a corn and soybean farmer from Wells, Minnesota

Sound ridiculous enough yet? It was in a way, but I have to admit that I was impressed with the setup and the star power. Mariucci Arena truly felt like the set of a nationally televised game show.

Each of the six teams had four challenges to complete that were (very) loosely based on farm activities:

  • Tractor Tire Change: Pretty self-explanatory. You had to take a tire off one side of a John Deere tractor and then put a new one on the other side with lug nuts and an air wrench.

You’ll notice in the video that there were not one but two referees watching the teams’ every move, complete with penalty flags if they didn’t follow the rules. The Farm Bowl is serious business, folks. (You’ll also notice that the official hashtag of the Land O’ Lakes Farm Bowl was #LOLFarmBowl, which was just too perfect.)

  • Milk Pipe Maze: I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t completely get this one. I think it involved putting three handles on different sections of a series of pipes, and each one had to go in its own particular place or it wouldn’t work. When the players were done, they hit a button. If the buzzer went off, that meant they got it right. At least I’m pretty sure.
  • Drone Drop: Modern day farmers aren’t Luddites. They’re high tech. This station involved the farmers controlling a drone through hoops over a faux cornfield and dropping bean bags onto two targets. Seconds got deducted off your total time if you hit the bullseye. I TOLD Y’ALL THE FARM BOWL WAS LIT.
  • Hay Bale Backup: This one was straightforward. Load six bales of hay onto a trailer behind a Polaris ATV and back the trailer up between a set of cones. It was pretty simple as long as the farmers did the driving. (More on that in a bit.)

Before the event, I thought Josh Brown and the Stallions were the odds-on favorites. After playing 100 games in the NFL for Baltimore and St. Louis, Brown retired from football at age 29 to go into farming. He still runs a farm in North Carolina that regularly feeds and gives back to his local community. And sure enough, Brown and his partner Dave Ribero qualified with the fastest time. The other finalist team was a bit of a surprise though.

Kuechly had a couple of really fast stations, but he had the disadvantage of going first and having to figure out a couple of the finer points on the fly. Bettis did great on three of the stations but they took forever on the Drone Drop. Rudolph struggled on the Drone Drop as well—they missed one target altogether, which cost them precious time. Jennings looked like he and his partner were about to blow away the competition until they made the unwise decision to let Greg drive the Polaris in the final stage. Jennings plowed through the cones like Sammy the limo driver in The Wedding Singer. Game over.

Jennings’ erratic driving was easily the most humorous part of the Farm Bowl. After his mistake, he walked back to the media area and jokingly sat down with his head in his hands like a kicker that had just missed the game winner. His partner Amber Horn-Leiterman didn’t miss a beat and deadpanned, “At least I can blame everything on Greg now.” Bettis gave Jennings a good amount of grief as well. Even for a such a fun and silly event, the competitive juices were still flowing for the athletes and farmers alike.

The second place team was a bit of a surprise. Stefon Diggs looked more than a little out of his element in a farm-based competition. But he and his partner JJ Nunes finished each station efficiently enough to earn their place in the finals. When I told Diggs he missed being the top qualifier by less than a second, he let out a loud “AWW MAN!” (It’s almost like professional athletes got this far because they’re hyper-competitive or something.) While Diggs was bummed about his runner up status in the first round, it still earned him a berth in the finals against Brown.

The special final event was called Feed Run, which was basically a relay race where you had to move 500 pounds of cattle feed on a wheel barrow through a bunch of cones and then dump it in a designated area.

At first it looked like Brown and Ribero were going to run away with it. They had a seemingly much more efficient strategy, and Brown’s heft was helping push the heavy wheel barrow along faster. Meanwhile, Diggs and Nunes were struggling to keep the feed from spilling and looked a little confused as to which route they were supposed to take.

But as we know firsthand, nothing is over when Stefon Diggs is involved. He and Nunes rallied late, pushing their wheel barrow together to speed past Brown and Ribero like they were Marcus Williams.

Diggs had pulled off another seemingly impossible comeback. From the #MinneapolisMiracle to the #MariucciMiracle in just three weeks. It might not be the Lombardi, but I’m sure Diggs will cherish the facsimile with a tractor instead of a football almost as much. (OK probably not.)

By now, I bet you’re pretty sad that you missed out on all the fun. But don’t fret—you’re in luck! You can watch the full 90 minute event on the Land O’ Lakes Facebook page. And you can peruse the gallery of pictures I took to make it feel like you were there.

Thanks again to Land O’ Lakes for hosting a fun, lighthearted afternoon that was truly the most unique and Minnesotan sporting event I have ever covered.