SPORTS: In retrospect, the Dome's utility can't be denied

May 5, 2008

The roof has closed for the first time on Lucas Oil Stadium, and we now have a timetable for the demolition of its predecessor, the RCA Dome. Its last general event, the Fire Department Instructors Conference, has come and gone, as has its last sporting event, Supercross.

Bit by bit, its innards are being dismantled. The pace will quicken throughout the summer. In August, the Teflon dome will disappear from the city skyline and shortly thereafter, the walls and the upper deck will come tumblin'down. By that time, we won't much care because our attention will be focused on the Luke.

That said, recent discussion of the Dome's demise got me thinking, and counting, and remembering. Its multi-functionality and positioning adjacent to the Indiana Convention Center made it unique. The city leaders who figured that out-Jim Morris, Bill McGowan, Dave Frick, et al.-didn't fully comprehend the genius of that decision at the time. Instead, they, and their mayor, Bill Hudnut, were too busy donning flak jackets to absorb the shots being hurled from a skeptical public.

But it has been a grand sports facility, and it really didn't hit me in totality until I scanned a comprehensive list of every event hosted by the Dome since 1986.

Yes, I know, it opened in 1984, but records for those first two years are a bit sketchy. These are my very unofficial calculations.

The Dome has hosted 243 professional football games, only one of which didn't involve the Colts. That, of course, was the Bears-Bills exhibition game that already was scheduled before the Colts arrived.

High school football has graced the Dome more than any other sport. There have been at least 400 prep games played there, and virtually every fall weekend had a high school doubleheader or quadruple header scheduled in addition to the IHSAA state championships in November.

There have been at least 115 college basketball games played in the Dome, capped by the four NCAA Men's Final Fours and the Women's Final Four in 2005. NCAA men's regionals, the Bank One Big Four Classic and Indiana-Kentucky battles were also Dome staples.

There were more than 40 high school basketball games that took place in the Dome, the most memorable of which was the "Damon Bailey Game," when Bedford-North Lawrence defeated Concord for the 1990 state high school championship before a crowd of 41,046, the largest ever-still-to witness a high school game.

Motorsports has had a significant presence, from USAC Midget Races-"Thunder in the Dome"-to Supercross motorcycles to the Thunder Drags to Monster Trucks. I counted no fewer than 55 motorsports events over the years.

There were at least 32 college football games played there, with the annual Circle City Classic-a presence from the first year to the last-leading the way.

Perhaps overlooked is the Dome's role as a track and field venue, hosting the NCAA Indoors in a 10-year run, as well as the World Indoor Track Championships in 1987.

The Dome had other significant ties to international and Olympic competition, starting with the Olympic basketball doubleheader exhibition on July 9, 1984, witnessed by 67,000-plus, then the largest crowd to witness a game indoors. By 2010, it won't even be the largest crowd to watch basketball in Indianapolis. More than 70,000 are expected in the Luke to see the 2010 Men's Final Four.

In addition to the gymnastics competition and closing ceremonies of the Pan American Games, the Dome also hosted the World Gymnastics Championships in 1991, the World Basketball Championship in 2002 and the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials in 2004.

Pro basketball came to the Dome three times. There was the 1985 NBA All-Star Game. Then the 1994 NBA Draft. But my favorite was all about nostalgia: the American Basketball Association Reunion.

Of course, virtually every NFL career of note has begun in the Dome via the NFL Scouting Combine.

Yet the two moments that will rise above all others as the Dome comes down are easy to identify: that AFC Championship Colts victory over the Patriots and the Super Bowl celebration that took place 15 nights later.

Twenty-five years from now, I wonder what we will recall when we look back at the events that have taken place at Lucas Oil Stadium.

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. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. To comment on this column, send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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