SPORTS: Overdosing on the Colts? Enjoy it while you can

January 29, 2007

That sport, and not religion as Karl Marx once declared, has become the "opiate of the masses" is apparent in our fair burg, where we all-or at least most of us-are overdosing on the Indianapolis Colts.

The TV types are in full hyper-ventilation. The scribes are cranking out words by the thousands.

No angle involving the Colts and their upcoming Super Bowl date with Da Bears in Miami will go uncovered. And, yes, some of the story lines will be downright silly, especially when both teams and the media horde converge on South Florida.

But all they're doing is feeding the beast. And our appetite for anything and everything Colts is ravenous.

Don't get the wrong idea. This is not a cynical rant. If you could hear the hoarseness of my voice, you would know I allowed myself to become totally swept up in the jubilation and celebration of the AFC Championship victory over the Patriots. Those of us in Section 318 had one helluva good time and shared some memories-not to mention some hugs-that will linger for a lifetime. Around the RCA Dome, and around the city and state, similar giddiness erupted as the Colts completed that historic comeback.

This is not a good time for the haters of sports, or for the whiners and complainers about "misplaced priorities" that elevate sports over the necessities of life. Their gripes are drowned out by the euphoric roar. No one is much interested in sour grapes when the atmosphere is so otherwise sweet.

That does not make the critics less relevant. We should care as much, if not more, about crime, education, paved roads and basic services as we do about Peyton Manning's quarterback rating.

What I take exception with are those who try to play one against the other. It's just not that simple. To me, it's never been an either/or question. I want my city to have it all because I believe there is value in providing sports and cultural options to citizens, just as there is value in providing safe streets, good education and the other functions government serves.

I also point out that Indianapolis is hardly alone in investing in sports and the venues required in support of those enterprises. Last time I checked, there were 31 other NFL franchises. Most of them are playing in stadia largely financed through public dollars. Those other cities, in varying degrees, are faced with the same problems we are.

It all goes back to beer and circus. We like our beer and circus. People worldwide like beer and circus.

And while we try to quantify the value of sports in economic impact, I'm always mindful of the emotional impact. Not to steal a line from the commercial, but you cannot put a price on those moments in the RCA Dome on that Sunday night, or the collective feeling that occurred in the streets afterward.

On that subject, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge those who journeyed downtown. A couple of weeks back, I wrote in IBJ about many Indianapolis fans selling their loyalty for a price. That was not the case for the New England game. The Dome was unquestionably "Indy's house."

And on the streets afterward, the behavior I observed was first class. The few Patriots fans I saw were not being ridiculed or harassed. Nothing was set on fire. People hooted, hollered and honked their car horns. Perhaps they enjoyed a celebratory cocktail. But then they went home. Peacefully.

Let's hope similar civility exists following the Super Bowl, win or lose.

As for that Super Bowl, well, of course the Colts will win. This team has "destiny" written all over it. But if the Colts don't prevail, I hope folks don't lose sight of the wild and crazy journey to this point. I didn't see it coming. Not many outside those locker room walls on West 56th Street did.

And that's the great thing about sports, and why it sucks so many of us in. One day your team can be losing to lowly Houston, and feeling as if all is lost. And the next, your team is coming from 18 points arrears to earn a trip to the Super Bowl, captivating and invigorating the populace.

I suppose the places of dynasties take this all for granted, although in the injury-riddled, salary-capped NFL-the Patriots notwithstanding-it is too much to expect that this can happen here again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.

So enjoy the now. No doubt, you are.

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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