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Untold stories from Indianapolis’ epic 2012 Super Bowl week

INDIANAPOLSIS (WISH) — Let’s toast to a special anniversary for Indianapolis and some of the most dedicated workers in sports.

On paper, the script for this toast is to a legacy that lives on one decade later.

For those who made this project nearly their entire lives, this marks 17 years since embarking on one of the most ambitious quests in Indianapolis’ history.

In 2005, Allison Melangton started down this path. The blueprint? That didn’t exist.

The goal? Become only the fourth cold-weather city to host Super Bowl, and in the process, do it better than any NFL host city, period.

Little did Melangton know, it would be seven more years until Indianapolis conquered the beast.  

Before we go any further, will the game ever return to Lucas Oil Stadium?

The weather debacle in each of the two cold-weather cities to host since, New Jersey (2014) and Minneapolis (2018), doesn’t help Indianapolis’ case.

But the resounding answer from the major players behind Indianapolis Super Bowl XLVI all agree: Never say never.

So how did Melangton, the eventual president and CEO of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee, former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and so many other driven Hoosiers pull this off?

Ten years later, ahead of Los Angeles hosting Super Bowl LVI in its sparkling $5 billion SoFi Stadium, with the glitz and the glamour of Hollywood serving as the backdrop, it boils down to this: Indianapolis demanded fun over fake. Charm over your checkbook. A streamlined city over insanity.

“It was crazy,” Melangton said. “We had over one million people that came to the village over 10 days. It was a sea of people every single day. It was wall to wall, all the way down Georgia Street, all the way down Meridian Street.

“I ran into people I hadn’t seen for years. Mayor (William) Hudnut was walking down the street, he hugged me and just started crying.

“He said, ‘I just can’t believe this is our city.’”

Indianapolis Super Bowl XLVI Village in February of 2012. (Courtesy: Jason Lavengood)

The biggest gamble of the entire process? That arguably went down in 2008 while Indianapolis was still a finalist to host Super Bowl XLVI.

“We took a lot of risks for the Super Bowl because we aren’t Miami and we aren’t Phoenix,” Melangton said. “We took a lot of risks that were Indy-centric. An example of that is what other city would send 32 eighth-graders to meet with NFL owners to sell Indianapolis? That was a crazy idea from Jack Swarbrick and Mark Miles.”

The idea struck gold, winning over the 32 NFL owners and securing the Indianapolis bid to host its first Super Bowl.

“I thought, ‘OK, I have an eighth grader and I don’t picture him sitting too well with Jerry Jones selling the city of Indianapolis,’” Melangton said. “But we found the right kids and now they are all 28 or 29 years old. That is one of my favorite professional days ever, taking all of them to the airport that morning with their bid books. We dressed them all up and some had never flown before.

“Here we send them off to another city across the country and we said, ‘The whole city is hanging on your coattails, go sell this for us.’”

Once February of 2012 finally arrived, so too did a historic Super Bowl matchup between two teams with very different histories in Indianapolis.

The Colts’ archrival New England Patriots made their fifth Super Bowl trip of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era, matched up against Peyton Manning’s younger brother Eli Manning and the New York Giants for the second time in five seasons. The original JW Marriot in downtown Indianapolis hosted the Giants for Super Bowl week.

“Typically, a [hotel] general manager will greet the head coach, take him up to his room, get him settled, and then boom, the coach goes about his business,” Marriott General Manager Phil Ray said. “The Monday [Giants Head coach] Tom Coughlin arrives, we take him up to his room and the two big retired Indiana state troopers say, ‘Wait right here for a minute. Coach Coughlin wants to walk the space with you.’ We walk the space and I am saying, ‘Here is your quarterback room, here is your offensive room,’ and Coughlin says, ‘Phil, can you do me a favor by tomorrow morning? I need a clock in every one of these meeting rooms, and do me a favor make sure they are set so they are five minutes fast.’

“Here we [JW Marriott staff] are winding clocks, finding clocks, going to our cafeteria and pulling clocks off the wall, it was like, ‘OK, we need 12 more! Let’s go find them!’”

Ray’s highlights of Super Bowl week include ushering Eli Manning to a special meeting on Super Bowl eve.

“The [players’] floors were restricted, even family can’t come on to those floors,” Ray said. “Eli [Manning] had just had a baby and the newborn and his family stayed at the JW [Marriott], so I escorted Eli across the Saturday night before the Super Bowl. We got a chance to spend an hour to an hour and a half with his newborn Ava Frances and his wife Abby here at the JW before we got him back to the hotel the night before the game.

“He was completely calm, I don’t know how they stay so calm.”

Once the crowds moved in, then-Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard found himself at the center of one of the best snapshots of the entire week. Standing between Melangton and Indiana’s Democratic congressman Andre Carson, Ballard cut the ribbon to officially open Super Bowl XLVI village.

The sun was out, the temperature in the 50s, and the student ambassadors who delivered the original Super Bowl bid books back in 2008 were flying 800 feet across the city on the largest temporary zip line ever constructed.

It wasn’t until later in the week that the magnitude of Super Bowl week hit Ballard. Ironically, it occurred trying to grab breakfast on the run one morning.

“There was a moment when I realized I could not go into the [Super Bowl] village any longer,” Ballard said. “Frankly, I was going from Meridian [Street] and Georgia [Street] up to Pennsylvania [Street] to go get a cinnamon roll, and a half an hour later, I was only a half of a block up because everyone wanted a picture. It wasn’t necessarily me but it was the fact that I represented the city.

“That was powerful, that was an emotional moment.”

Ballard encountered the stress of Super Bowl week in droves as well. Now he can laugh about it, but at the time a crowd surge at the LMFAO outdoor concert downtown had Ballard screaming at the monitors inside a security center downtown.

It sounded something like, “No more songs! End the encore!” from what he remembers.

Thankfully, the stage cleared and the lively concert crowd dispersed peacefully. Crisis averted.

Madonna and LMFAO performing at the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show. (Courtesy: Getty)

A few blocks away, did you see the scene outside of St. Elmo? Technically, a line to get in, well, it didn’t exist. On social media, actor Neil Patrick Harris let the entertainment world know even he couldn’t get a reservation. Servers at the famous steakhouse drifted from table to table taking care of A-list celebrities regularly during Super Bowl week.

For longtime St. Elmo server George Stoyonovich, the close to his shift every evening was unforgettable.

“The streets were blocked off and the crowd was 10, 15, 20 deep throughout the night to see who was walking on our red carpet,” Stoyonovich said. “When we [servers] would leave for the night, they would cheer us. I have never been cheered before.

“The energy, the TV coverage, the buzz, it was just amazing.”

Essentially every party seated at St. Elmo covered two topics during some portion of dinner: The unseasonably warm winter weather in Indianapolis and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning’s future.

“At that time, we were worried Peyton [Manning] was going to go somewhere else, so I joked that the weather gods and football gods got together and brokered a deal,” longtime Harry and Izzy’s server Bill Dollens said. “They said, ‘You are going to lose Peyton, but we are going to give you good weather.’”

Just one month later on March 7, Colts owner Jim Irsay and Manning cried at a press conference at team headquarters. The Manning era in Indianapolis, which is directly responsible for Lucas Oil Stadium, Super Bowl XLVI, and economic growth across Indianapolis’ metropolitan area, was over.

On Feb. 5, the Giants’ 21-17 comeback victory set off an epic party at the Marriott which may still rank as the most expensive single party in Indianapolis’ history.

According to Ray, the final bill was over $1 million, and the scene included the Manning family located downstairs, Coughlin’s crew carved out in their own room and the rest of Indianapolis taking back to the streets for one more night of bedlam.

The Patriots final pass falls incomplete as the Giants win Super Bowl XLVI 21-17. (Courtesy: Getty)

Now, a decade later, what legacy did Super Bowl week leave on the city?

“It was our responsibility to show the world what Indianapolis was,” Melangton said. “How many thank you notes I got after from [NBC broadcaster] Mike Tirico, [former Colts coach) Tony Dungy and the president of NBC all saying, ‘We have never met people who are so helpful, so sincere, and so genuine about wanting us to experience Indianapolis.”

Ballard believes it changed the way Hoosiers looked at themselves and their home.

“It was a feeling of, ‘Oh my god, look at Indianapolis, we are really doing this, we are really this kind of city,’” Ballard said.

“The Super Bowl took it to the level of making it feel like, we are world-class,” Ray said. “People said, ‘Hands down it has been the best Super Bowl experience ever.’”

Dear commissioner Roger Goodell, Indianapolis is ready for another one. Let’s make it happen.

Monument Circle in February of 2012. (Courtesy: Anthony Calhoun)