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Indianapolis makes terrific first impression on Super Bowl visitors

A giant picture of the Lombardi Trophy welcomes visitors to Super Bowl week in Indianapolis. (Brian Spurlock/US Presswire)

INDIANAPOLIS -- About five minutes into the media shuttle ride from Indianapolis International Airport to downtown Indy on Sunday, the Super Bowl XLVI greeter on board paused her discussion of the city's scene to ask a question:

"So ... what are people saying about Indianapolis?"

Well, there's a long way to go between now and Super Bowl Sunday but, so far, so good.

From the walkways connecting many of downtown's major venues to an ample number of restaurants and bars to an army of volunteers, Indianapolis has made a terrific first impression on the swarm of people arriving for football's showcase week.

"I don't think people realize how many big events we have here," volunteer and longtime Indianapolis native Nancy Allen said. "We're very proud of our downtown."

Of course, the weekend before the Super Bowl is a bit of the calm before the storm. The Patriots arrived Sunday afternoon, with the Giants following Monday. The number of fans and media in town figures to grow exponentially over the next few days, too. So, aside from a hearty crowd braving the cold at one of Indianapolis' two temporary concert venues Sunday night, it was relatively quiet elsewhere.

That's just fine with the media on hand, who still have memories of last year's frustrating trip to Dallas that included the lack of seating fiasco, a headache that bothered the Cowboys and NFL for weeks after the game.

The weather also played a sinister part in disrupting the Lone Star State's Super Bowl moment, with a huge ice storm hitting the Dallas area on the Tuesday of Super Bowl week and its effects lingering through the title game.

The Indianapolis Super Bowl committee was there to witness that mess, explaining why plans are in place to mobilize the city's thousands of volunteers if there's even so much as a dusting of snow. Unless the forecast changes drastically, Indianapolis will dodge that bullet anyway -- it was a balmy 55 Monday afternoon.

"Our methods to control the weather have worked," Colts owner Jim Irsay joked during a Super Bowl committee press conference.

Weather aside, Indianapolis seems more than prepared for its moment in the spotlight.

"We have events leading up to the game and more planned for Super Bowl Sunday," volunteer Danielle McGrath said, "but this will give Indianapolis a long, lasting legacy."

The motto of "Everything's bigger in Texas" doesn't apply this week, either. The JW Marriott -- headquarters for this week's media -- features a monstrous image of the Vince Lomardi trophy with XLVI to its side, the graphic stretching 20-plus stories high. Then there's the 96-foot tall, 800-foot long zip line ride for fans that runs in front of the Indiana Convention Center.

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Once you get in to downtown Indianapolis, there's just no escaping the Super Bowl madness.

This area has hosted the Final Four before (and will again in 2015), is the location for the annual Big Ten football championship game and welcomes the Indy 500 each year. The Super Bowl, though,  might be a one-time shot for Indianapolis.

The NFL tends to keep its popular warm-weather spots in the conversation for hosting duties -- Miami, New Orleans, etc. -- meaning little opportunity for the upstarts. Even with a perfect showing this week, Indianapolis would face an uphill battle to bring the big game back.

Still, Irsay refuses to concede that the city's chances at another Super Bowl. He said Monday that he believes the NFL will keep Indianapolis in the mix down the road, because "that's the type of job we think we will do here."

Next year's venue, New Orleans, could not be more of a 180 from the compact, urban setting Super Bowl visitors have been greeted with in Indianapolis. But the locals are plenty excited to show what this spot can do.

"I volunteered because this is a great opportunity to show off what makes Indianapolis a great area," said McGrath, who works in downtown Indianapolis. "We have a terrific sense of community -- that Hoosier hospitality."

Irsay's message Monday asked for even more help from the local residents: "Ask not what the Super Bowl can do for you, ask what you can do for the Super Bowl."

The real test for Indianapolis comes over the next few days, as rival fans from New York and the Boston area converge on this Midwestern hub. Oh yeah, and there's that little matter of the actual game next Sunday.

It's been a sensational start, though. Now, let's just hope the winter storms stay away.
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