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SPORTS: Dome's days are numbered, but memories linger

June 18, 2007

You know you're getting old when you outlive buildings.

First, it was Market Square Arena. I covered the first and last games there. Now, it's the RCA Dome.

In the summer of 1983, I went along with my then-boss,

Indianapolis Star

Sports Editor Bob

Collins, to the roof of an old warehouse on South Capitol Avenue. From that vantage point, we watched-in awe-as the roof of the Hoosier Dome slowly inflated.

While some might have hoped, no one knew for certain what an impact that facility would have on our city's future. Critics called it a white elephant. Just imagine, building a stadium without a team to play in it.

But you could say that as that roof swelled, so did Indy.

The following spring, the Colts arrived. NCAA men's basketball regionals showed up in 1987 and, in 1991, the first of four men's Final Fours took place.

Without question, the city's success in hosting those events in turn helped pave the path that brought the NCAA headquarters here in 1999-a move that served as the capstone of the amateur sports initiative.

Now we have future women's and men's Final Fours guaranteed to be here over the next 30-plus years.

And in a year, the RCA Dome will come down, down, down as the finishing touches are applied to Lucas Oil Stadium.

But as with Market Square Arena, there will be a bit of nostalgia and wistfulness as the Dome takes its place in history. Like MSA, it has played such an important role in our city's evolution.

It's all about moments and memories:

That Friday afternoon in March 1984, when Mayor Bill Hudnut and Bob Irsay marched hand-in-hand into the Dome, officially signaling that Indianapolis-largely regarded as a backwater less than 20 years before-had become an NFL city.

The Olympic basketball doubleheader with Bob Knight's Team USA against a team of NBA stars led by Larry Bird. The crowd of 67,596 was for many years the largest ever to see a basketball game indoors.

My wife and I spent our 10th anniversary (I know, romantic, huh?) in the Dome watching the first football game played there. No, it wasn't the Colts-it was the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills, a game scheduled long before the Colts' move.

The dedication game between the University of Notre Dame and Purdue University. It's hard to imagine Notre Dame's giving up a home football game today, but back then Indianapolis businessman Bob Welch made it happen.

The NBA All-Star Game in 1985 and the NBA Draft in 1994.

The World Gymnastics Championships in 1991 and the World Indoor Track Championships in 1987.

The closing ceremonies of the Pan Am Games in 1987 and the opening ceremonies of the World Police & Fire Games in 2001, the latter just months before 9/11.

The IHSAA championship game in 1990, when 41,046-still the largest crowd ever to watch a high school game-turned out for a schoolboy coronation. Bedford North Lawrence's Damon Bailey scored the game's last 11 points to bring a state championship win over previously unbeaten Concord. A scribe at the time (OK, it was me) noted that when the game was over, the Dome roof parted and Bailey ascended a golden staircase into the waiting arms of Bob Knight.

Some truly wild-and-crazy Circle City Classics. I'm talking about the marching bands, of course, but the games have been terrific, too.

The spectacle of motorcyclists at eye level of the upper deck during SuperCross. All that college hoopin': Detroit over UCLA. Eastern Michigan over Duke. Duke over UNLV and that incredible Grant Hill dunk. Arizona over Kentucky in overtime. Mateen Cleaves limping out of the locker room to lead Michigan State past Florida. And then, Florida. First and finally, the Colts: Eric Dickerson and Monday Night Football on Halloween. Marshall Faulk and The Edge. Peyton Manning to Brandon Stokely for The Record. Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison for The Other Record.

Then that AFC Championship Game.

And the Super Bowl celebration 15 days later.

Yeah, I'll miss the old place. Right until the moment The Luke opens. But I won't forget its significance. More than a building, it's moments and memories.



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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