Sights And Sounds From Indy

Lucas Oil Stadium

It's Super Bowl week in Indianapolis and our pal Eric Hartz is there to bring you the latest of what's happening in the city.

    INDIANAPOLIS — You already know how the Patriots got to the Super Bowl: by having a top offense all season, which led to the AFC's best record, the top seed in the conference playoffs and the right to home games during a playoff run. New England made the most of that home-field advantage, stomping Denver and surviving against Baltimore to reach its fifth Super Bowl in the last 11 seasons, and seventh overall.

    The real question is: how did the Super Bowl get here? As in, how did the Super Bowl — normally a party destination in the week leading up to the big game — end up in Indianapolis, the Midwestern city that used to be known as "Indiana-No-Place" or "Naptown?"

    The road to an Indianapolis Super Bowl really started back in the 1970s, when former mayor Bill Hudnut pushed for — and got the city to approve and build — the Hoosier Dome. The building was funded and billed as an expansion of the Indiana Convention Center, but its real purpose was to lure an NFL team to the city, even if none were available. Soon enough, however, the Colts relocated to Indy, and a massive makeover of the city was underway. Learn more about the transformation of Downtown Indy in this  excellent documentary by the Indianapolis Star and public television station WFYI.

    These days, the Dome has been demolished to make room for another convention center expansion, and the massive new area houses the NFL Experience this week. Now, Lucas Oil Stadium rises high above the Downtown area, just south of the old Dome site. The rest of Downtown has been transformed into the Super Bowl Village, with Georgia Street — which ends at the Convention Center at one end and Banker's Life Fieldhouse (home of the Pacers) — the center of activities.

    If you're headed to Indianapolis this week, here's what one resident says you can expect. Or, if you're staying at home, what you're missing:

    • One of the first things you'll notice upon arrival at Indy's new, spacious airport is that you'll need a car to get around. The airport is several miles away from the Downtown area, on the west side of I-465, the interstate that circles the city. However, a cab or shuttle to Downtown is likely all the transportation you'll need if you're staying Downtown. The compact city center is eminently walkable, and Lucas Oil Stadium is right in the heart of it all. If you're staying along 465, you'll need help getting downtown each day, but there are a variety of shuttle and transportation options to help you out.

    • Hardy New Englanders are used to cold winter weather, and Indy gets its share as well, so be sure to dress for the weather. Monday's high temperature approached 60 degrees and the rest of the week is forecast to be mild, for February in the Midwest, at least. The best advice is just to be prepared. We have a saying about the weather in Indiana: if you don't like it, just wait 15 minutes.

    • While you're getting dressed, be sure to throw on some comfortable walking shoes. You'll be doing a lot of it on Georgia Street and the Super Bowl Village, although if the weather gets too bad, most of Downtown — from the J.W. Marriott (home of Radio Row), to the Convention Center and stadium, to an indoor mall and several other hotels — is linked up through a series of indoor pedestrian walkways.

    • There's plenty to do and see in the Super Bowl Village for free — multiple concert stages, booths and exhibitions, as well as ESPN's broadcast center for the week at Pan Am Plaza. I haven't ventured into the paid attractions yet, like the NFL Experience at the Convention Center, or the 800-foot zipline that runs over Capital Avenue, but reports on those two attractions are positive. I did see one woman get stuck on the zipline Saturday afternoon — dangling about 50 feet above the crowd for around 10 minutes before a worker was able to "rescue" her. Not sure how that happened, but the crowd certainly got a kick out of it.

    • If you're hungry, Downtown features more than 150 restaurants in just a few block area, with something for every palate. Most will be crowded, and it may be hard to get a table — or find prices you can stomach — at some of the high end places. If you're looking for places to drink, there are plenty of bars as well. If you're into craft beer, you will love Indy. There are three breweries downtown, two more within a five-minute drive and several more in the metropolitan area. Stop by The Ram (140 S. Illinois St.) for a plastic 32-ounce "howler" of craft beer to go, or grab Sun King (sunkingbrewing.com) in cans at any package liquor store. Sun King's Brewery (135 N. College Ave.) is about a 10-minute walk east of Super Bowl Village and they have a variety of concerts going on in the parking lot.

    • Looking for celebrities or your favorite Patriot? Here are the most likely places to catch a celebrity sighting downtown: St. Elmo Steak House (127 S. Illinois St.), courtside at Banker's Life Fieldhouse (the Pacers host home games Tuesday vs. New Jersey and Saturday vs. Orlando), at the recently re-branded Bud Light Hotel (formerly the Hampton Inn at 105 S. Meridian St.), or on Monument Circle at the heart of the city. The Patriots are staying at the University Place Hotel (850 W. Michigan St.), which is a few blocks north and west of the main downtown area, but no more than a 10-minute walk (starting to see a pattern here?). Start at the J.W. Marriot (where you might see a celeb or two prowling Radio Row) and head north on West Street, then left on Michigan, onto the campus of Indiana-Purdue at Indianapolis.

    • It's not all football in Indianapolis. Hoosiers have a love affair with sports, so be sure to check out some of the other sporting attractions outside of the NFL. There are, of course, the Pacers, run by former Celtic great Larry Bird, and Banker's Life Fieldhouse is a must-see attraction, a virtual museum to the game in addition to being the best modern basketball arena in the world. Butler's historic Hinkle Fieldhouse — where "Hoosiers" was filmed — is just a few minutes north of downtown, and the Bulldogs host games on Thursday and Saturday. There's also the NCAA Hall of Champions (just north of the J.W. Marriott at White River State Park) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum (4790 W. 16th St.), which documents the history of the city's biggest sporting event, the Indianapolis 500.

Patriots fans may not feel as welcome as Giants fans at first — after all, this is a Colts and Manning town, neither of which mix well with Belichick and Co. — but it's my hope that everyone sees what's known as "Hoosier Hospitality" as the week goes on. We're proud of our city, but even more proud of our ability to host a great party. See you soon.

Eric Hartz is a lifelong Hoosier and former editor and publisher of ColtPower.com, Scout.com's Colts site. E-mail him at ejhartz@gmail.com

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