Naylor: The Super Bowl heartbreak for Colts fans in Indy

Dave Naylor
1/30/2012 3:15:33 PM
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Timing, they say, is everything.

For back when Indianapolis was granted its first opportunity to host a Super Bowl, it wasn't hard to imagine the Colts as the first team to play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in front of its home crowd.

With a shiny new stadium and the best player of his generation showing no signs of slowing down, the Colts entered this season on a run of nine consecutive seasons of double-digit regular season victories.

Funny what happens in the world of sports sometimes, with the air all rushing out of the Colts' balloon this season by early September. With Peyton Manning on the shelf, the Colts suffered an epic collapse and talk quickly turned to a new era in Indy, one without The Polians, head coach Jim Caldwell and, quite likely, Manning.

All of which has turned Indy into the NFL's news hotspot, with the recent hiring of a new head coach and general manager and the sense of significant upheaval among the player ranks, beyond Manning.

The disappointment from the season doesn't seem to have sucked any of the enthusiasm out of this Super Bowl week, however, where the locals danced in the streets Sunday evening, a full week before the big game. There's a sense of this being a once-in-a-lifetime kind of event for Indianapolis so, with or without the Colts, the fans have decided to enjoy it.

And besides, fans here understand that if your team is going to fall out of the running to play in a Super Bowl, it might as well freefall, like the Colts did this season by securing the No. 1 overall pick come this April.

Of course the setting for this year's game is the perfect drop-back for Manning story which has continued to play-out on a daily basis of late, with the quarterback and Colts owner Jim Irsay trading barbs in the media the week before the Super Bowl. That story can't overshadow the matchup between the Giants and Patriots. But given Manning's stature in the NFL and the location of this year's game, it's sure to get its fair share of attention from the thousands of journalists in town this week, all keen to have their take on the NFL's most compelling soap opera.

Meanwhile, instead of Manning starring in the big game on the field he helped get built, he'll have to watch his chief rival over his career, Brady, and his little brother, Eli, take centre stage. And the possibility that Brady could become only the third quarterback with four Super Bowl rings, or that Eli can pass his older brother for NFL championships, only enriches the storyline around this year's game.

All of which is playing out in a city that would have seem far-fetched destination for a Super Bowl once upon a time.

But that was back when Super Bowls were exclusively handed-out to places with the most tropical and entertaining surroundings, where hotel space and weather would never be an issue.

These days the NFL's big game is used as a means of luring public money for new stadiums, such the colossal Lucas Oil Stadium that sits in downtown Indy adjacent from where the Hoosier/RCA Dome once was.

The Hoosier/RCA Dome was the carrot used to attract former Colts owner Robert Irsay, who infamously ordered the Mayflower moving vans to pack up his team's gear in Baltimore and travel under the cloak of darkness to this small Midwestern city back in March of 1984.

While a hole burned in the hearts of Baltimore football fans, the Colts became a middling team with an assortment of underwhelming personnel until Bill Polian came along, drafted Peyton Manning first overall in 1998 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Though Indy may have been front-and-centre on the NFL map for more than a decade, but it's still one of the league's smallest markets, a fact reflected in the wide distribution of "Super Bowl" hotel rooms into the Indiana countryside this week.

But it's going to feel big-time between now and Sunday, as it welcomes two of the NFL's colossal markets and Madonna as well.

And a week from now they can turn their attention full-time to the Manning saga and the inevitable arrival of Andrew Luck with the first pick in the upcoming draft, who will – either right away or very soon – inherit the torch as quarterback.

It's been a fine NFL ride for Indianapolis, with two state-of-the art stadiums built in its downtown core, hosting a Super Bowl and the chance to snag its second generational franchise player in a row.

You'd almost think this city has horseshoes somewhere.

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