Indy’s Super effort bowling over NFL and national media

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It seems like a lifetime ago. It wasn’t really.

It was 2007 when Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay walked down the hallway at the Colts Complex and blurted out “We’re going for the Super Bowl in 2011.”

I wasn’t even there to talk to Irsay. I was there to interview Tom Zupancic, then Colts vice president of sales and marketing.

But I’ve been a journalist long enough to know news when I see or hear it. Yes, the idea of Indianapolis hosting a Super Bowl had been bandied about since the replacement to the RCA Dome had become a reality. The NFL’s top brass had even hinted at the possibility.

But Irsay’s proclamation made it real.

An effort led by then Capital Improvement Board President Fred Glass, Jack Swarbrick and others fell painfully short in 2007 despite raising $25 million to host the game before the bid was submitted.

Dallas beat out Indianapolis by a narrow 17-15 margin despite having promised to generate more than $20 million more than Indianapolis in its bid.

The loss cast doubt on Indianapolis’ chances to ever host a Super Bowl.

Undaunted, a local group went to Atlanta in 2008 and, after much debate among owners, won the vote—if not the confidence—of  the NFL owners.

Some eleventh hour lobbying was needed by Indy's host committee to seal the deal. And some of the promises the local host committee made seemed far-fetched.

When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Indianapolis had won the bid, it all seemed a little surreal. Jubilation erupted among the local contingent in Atlanta that May.

After a weekend of attendance records and innovations in Indianapolis’ opening Super Bowl Village weekend, it’s difficult to understand what all the trepidation was about in the first place.

But trepidation there was. It wasn’t until Colts Senior Vice President Pete Ward flashed a quick and covert thumbs up after exiting the fourth voting among the 32 owners that it was certain the Super Bowl was coming to Indy.

Local host committee members were as jubilant as little children, but not everyone shared their joy. There were still a number of doubters about Indy’s ability to pull off a successful Super Bowl.

Many of the complaints against Indianapolis were the same old refrain; cold weather, small city, insufficient resources.

The vibe in the media room wasn’t all that great either. Yes, many had been to the Circle City to cover Final Fours and the NFL Combine. But if given the choice between going to Indianapolis, New Orleans or Miami in February, the choice seemed obvious to the dozens of national football writers gathered for the annual owners meeting in 2008 in the swanky Buckhead area of Atlanta.

Oh how things change.

In the four days since Indianapolis’ Super Bowl Village has opened, we’ve heard a lot more about the record number of people to come through the NFL Experience (42,238 on Saturday) and a lot less about the relatively small Super Bowl crowd Lucas Oil Stadium will hold.

We’re hearing more about Hoosier hospitality, the city’s new airport and the city’s efficient layout than the chilly weather and the city’s relatively small size.

The national media has been the first to jump on the bandwagon, raving about the drive time from the airport to the hotel and the media hotel to both AFC and NFC player hotels. Media member after media member are amazed you can actually walk to the stadium from the media hotel, the JW Marriott. In Dallas it was a bus drive of more than 30 minutes.

Media members also raved about the hand-written notes from kids greeting them in their hotel rooms, the greeters at the airport and other little niceties they don’t often see on the road.

CNBC’s Darren Rovell predicted Indianapolis would be the best Super Bowl host city ever. New York Times sports writer Judy Battista raved about the hospitality here and the notes she received from school children upon arrival.

ESPN’s Colin Cowherd called the Indianapolis International Airport today the best he’s ever been in.

It seems like a very long time ago since Indianapolis was passed over for the 2011 Super Bowl. Longer still since Indianapolis leaders made the bold move of building the Hoosier Dome with no prospects of landing an NFL team and then made its first big splash with the 1982 National Sports Festival and 1987 Pan Am Games.

It’s still galling to those of us who have called this place home for a long time that national media members call Lucas Oil Stadium “The House that Peyton Built.”

Thousands upon thousands of people built this place and made this effort. It goes back to the days when Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut served as mayors in the 1970s.

The groundwork was laid when there were countless disbelievers in Indy’s effort to be a true major-league city, when the idea of Indiana-NO-place hosting a Super Bowl seemed utterly laughable.

Now, much of that laughter has stopped as it’s game on in Indy.


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