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SPORTS: AFC title game is a big event in a land of big events

January 22, 2007

There is conjecture that the hosting of the AFC Championship game between the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots is the biggest/greatest/most significant-choose your superlative-sports-related event in the city's history.

That got me to thinking.

Is it greater than the 1911 Indianapolis 500, which led to the other 88 500s that, in their current form, generate far more annual economic impact than even a Super Bowl?

Is it greater than the 1946 Indianapolis 500, when Tony Hulman took ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, rescued IMS from the crumbling, weed-infested relic it had become, and began the transformation-spurred further by grandson Tony George-that has turned it into the undisputed motor-racing capital of the world?

Is it greater than either the 1994 Brickyard 400 or the 2000 U.S. Grand Prix, two other events that, when combined with the Indy 500, produce far more local economic impact and easily as much national and international focus on Indianapolis?

Is it greater than that March day in 1984 when Colts owner Robert Irsay and Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut marched handin-hand into the Hoosier Dome, signaling the arrival of the Colts from Baltimore? (And while I'm on the subject, it really is time for Balti-morons to get over it.) After all, had there been no move in '84, there might still be no team and, hence, no AFC Championship game to host.

Is it greater than the hemispheric gathering that was the 1987 Pan American Games, which were embraced by more than 30,000 volunteers and could well be the greatest community-wide event ever held here?

Is it greater than the 1980 NCAA Men's Final Four at Market Square Arena, which gave Indianapolis a foothold with the NCAA, which later led to the hosting of more Final Fours, which led to a strengthening of the relationship with the NCAA that helped Indianapolis bring the NCAA headquarters to the city in 1999?

Is it greater than the 1997 announcement that the NCAA was moving from a Kansas City suburb, which led to the subsequent announcement that the NCAA has agreed to place men's and women's Final Fours, men's and women's basketball tournament regionals and its annual convention in the city on a five-year rotation through 2039 with an additional 30-year option to 2069, resulting in billions-yes, billions-of dollars in direct spending and untold value in exposure for the city?

Is it greater than the 1974 opening of Market Square Arena as home to the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Racers (a hockey team, for those who don't know or remember, and, yes, some 17-year-old named Wayne Gretzky scored his first professional goal there) that was the first step in the downtown redevelopment that has reinvigorated and redefined our city?

Is it greater than the 1999 opening of Conseco Fieldhouse as home to the Indiana Pacers and many other events, notable among them the boys' and girls' state high school tournaments and the men's and women's Big Ten tournaments, the latter of which will be in Indy (chosen over Chicago) for a five-year run beginning in 2008?

Is it greater than any of those Hicks-versus-Knicks Pacer home playoff games, that Pacers-Bulls Game Six in 1998, or when the Pacers were hosting playoff games on the same weekend-in a couple of instances, the same day-as the Indianapolis 500?

Is it greater than the 1954 Milan-Muncie Central game in Butler Fieldhouse, which forever sealed our basketball legacy and served as the basis for "Hoosiers," generally regarded as the best sports movie ever?

Is it greater, individually, than all the events-amateur and pro-that have raised Indy's national and international profile?

Will it be as big as the opening of Lucas Oil Stadium and its potential for the city, including those future Final Fours and perhaps a Super Bowl?

Now, don't get me wrong, this is big ... as big as they get. But as always, I try to serve as the guardian of perspective in a sports world that exists in the realm of hyperbole and hysteria.

In that regard, the AFC Championship is another in a series of big sports-related happenings-all the result of enormous hard work, investment and relationship-building-that have made our town Indy one happenin' place.

One by one, you lay the bricks. Then one day you look up and-how about that?-there stands a skyscraper.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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