Benner/Sports and Super Bowl and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Opinion

BENNER: We need not have panicked after losing 2007 bid

February 4, 2012

I recall the overblown reaction to Indianapolis’, in 2007, losing the bid for the 2011 Super Bowl.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had swept in with his newer, bigger Cowboys Stadium that offered more suites and seats than Lucas Oil Stadium would have. It translated into $20 million more in revenue than Indy could provide.

Conspiracy theorists believed Jones had scored a coup because the impending labor impasse between players and owners could threaten the 2012 Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Indy organizers—encouraged by the NFL hierarchy to bid again—regrouped and refocused. A year later, the 2012 Super Bowl was ours with all those labor clouds hanging over it.

Big, bad Texas. Poor little Indy.

Now we know how it all played out.

The 2011 Super Bowl had, uh, challenges. An ice/snowstorm the region was ill-prepared to handle. A taxi strike. A stadium seating fiasco. And the sheer logistical challenges that occur when a “region” rather than a city hosts the game.

And here in Indy? Well, as this is being written, we’re still a few days away from the game itself. But the preliminaries have been off the charts. Both the Village and the NFL Experience have been resounding successes. With a few exceptions from the normal grumps, media are singing Indy’s praises to the nation and world.

And the weather? It’s early spring, not dead of winter. How to explain it? Serendipity. Karma.

Certainly, you can’t control the weather. But everything that humans can touch has been exceedingly well done. And as a life-long Hoosier and Indy guy I, like most of us, have been filled with pride for what I have witnessed.

Walking about downtown, I have had goose-bump moments about every 10 feet.

There was the ribbon-cutting at the Village when, just as the giant scissors snipped through the fabric, four zip line riders soared past overhead. It was as good as any F-16 flyover I’ve seen.

It was walking through the NFL Experience and seeing so many parents with children punting, passing, kicking and generally having the times of their lives.

It was watching the crowds gather for the free concerts every day and night at the Village. It was looking up to see some of the XLVI faces that adorn the side of the CXS building.

It was the first breathtaking sight of those 33 Indy cars lined up in 11 rows of three on the south spoke of Meridian, backdropped by the giant XLVI letters beneath the steps of Monument Circle. That was the photo op of a lifetime.

It was going to mass at St. John on that first Sunday and understanding that when the doors closed and the music and prayers began, I was at the real epicenter of awesome in the Epicenter of Awesome. Then Father Rick Nagel delivered an inspired homily using the zip line as a metaphor for our faith journeys.

It was watching the lights and fireworks and feeling the positive vibes. I encountered no grouches. Everyone was in a good mood.

It was witnessing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway transformed into a nighttime wonderland to welcome the world’s media. Other than Race Day itself, I’ve never seen IMS look better.

It was being in Bankers Life Fieldhouse and watching a small army of volunteers assemble Baskets of Hope for ill children around the country. CEO Kevin O’Keefe, of the Riley Children’s Foundation, had sought to expand this very local program to hospitalized children in all 32 NFL cities, so 7,000 of these gift-filled baskets were being prepared to be shipped.

“I think this will be the best Super Bowl party of the week,” O’Keefe said.

I think he’s probably right.

It was the sights and the sounds and the buzz and the belief—which I first experienced 25 years ago during the closing ceremonies of the Pan Am Games—that, “If we can do this, hey, we can do anything.”

And by the way, if you haven’t seen WFYI’s wonderful documentary, “Naptown to Super City,” I strongly encourage you to do so. And I say that not because the producers graciously allowed an old scribe to be part of it.

Now, I know this Super Bowl isn’t the be-all, end-all, and that we have more significant problems—schools, infrastructure, job development—that will still be here when the Roman Numerals leave town.

That said, I sure am proud to call this place home.•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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