Over the weekend, the hypertalented Jon Bois of SB Nation penned a most amusing ditty about Indianapolis cuisine — "Indianapolis' restaurant district. Pictured, right to left: Olive Garden, Applebee's, Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches, LensCrafters, Dairy Queen" — that unofficially kicked off "Everybody make fun of Indianapolis because the Super Bowl is there week." This is perfectly understandable. Now that the NFL has started "awarding" Super Bowls to cities as an incentive to publicly finance stadiums rather than playing all of them in San Diego and New Orleans like they're supposed to, cities like Indianapolis are destined to be the butt of jokes. And it's true: The food choices in Indianapolis are not so great, the citizenry is somewhat chubby on the whole (though, man, nothing worse than what you see in Texas, Philadelphia, and most of Florida), and it's cold outside. But we bet the attendees filtering in this week will complain about the locale a lot less than they usually do.
This is for one primary, critical reason: accessibility. You don't know it because you've never been there, but Indianapolis has an actual downtown, and Lucas Oil Stadium is right there. When it comes to the Super Bowl, that never happens.
We've attended one Super Bowl in our lifetime. As luck would have it, it was the last time these two teams played in the Big Game, that somewhat vaguely remembered 2008 Super Bowl XLII, the one with the sticky helmet and the no-longer-undefeated team. That game was at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, home of the Buzzsaw That Is the Arizona Cardinals. That's an unusually impressive stadium, and a terrific venue to see a game — better, by far, than Lucas Oil Stadium. But the one thing University of Phoenix Stadium is definitively not is Close to Anything. Glendale is miles upon miles away from downtown Phoenix, which is miles and miles away from the parties in Scottsdale, which is miles and miles away from everywhere else. The weather in Arizona was terrific and the game was fantastic and it was an absolutely miserable week, in large part because you could not get anywhere. We spent most of the week waiting for cabs that never showed up. The longest walk we took was from the lobby of our hotel to the elevator. By Wednesday night, we gave up and decided to just stay in. Everything was too much trouble to get to.
This is a common problem with Super Bowls, and understandably so: Considering football stadiums are so, you know, big, they're rarely located near any city centers. This was the complaint about Houston, about Jacksonville, about Arlington and about Glendale, and this will be the primary complaint when East Rutherford hosts the game in two years. (Though no one will mind then, because they'll go out to East Rutherford, like the rest of us, for business purposes only, and just when absolutely necessary.)
Say what you will about Indianapolis — including legitimate questions about whether a place like Indianapolis can actually have a "city center" — but if you get a hotel even within a mile of the stadium, you won't need a car the rest of the week. Indianapolis, in large part because of recent renovations to the downtown area (many of which were put together with this Super Bowl in mind), has a convenient and thriving downtown area — with enough bars to satisfy even all the sportswriters on earth — and a football stadium right there in the middle of it, within walking distance of everywhere. (The Pacers' stadium is also right there; we visit it every year for the Big Ten Tournament, which is 450 percent more fun when it's in Indianapolis than when it's in Chicago for precisely this reason.) All the activities involving the Super Bowl this year will be roughly within a half-mile radius. This is what people are always wanting from their Super Bowls: proximity, accessibility, and the opportunity to walk everywhere. This is the sort of downtown that most cities don't bother with anymore.
Sure, sure, it's Indianapolis. We get the jokes, and all told, they're not wrong. But we bet you hear a lot fewer complaints about the host city from journalists this year ... and that most of those journalists are going to be hung-over all week.
(Editor's Note: We are in fact going to the Super Bowl this year, but not until Saturday. And we are staying 100 miles away from the stadium. So we shouldn't be too hung-over.)