My editor, my biggest supporter, approached me one recent day. “Byron,’’ she said, “we finally have an assignment that even you can’t mess up. We need you to head to the Super Bowl and tell us about the city.’’
Well, hello, Miami. LeBron James isn’t the only one taking his talents to South Beach. Drinks with Dan Marino at the Delano, dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab, just hoping against hope that I don’t get burned by the sultry tropical sun.
“It’s not in Miami,’’ my editor said.
Oh, I see. Paging Mr. Lagasse, a Mr. Emeril Lagasse. Heat up the gumbo, fine sir, because you’ve got a frosty Bostonian on a secret mission to the Big Easy. And let’s find out firsthand how Bourbon Street got its good name.
“It’s not in New Orleans,’’ she said.
Okey doke. Phoenix? She wouldn’t make eye contact. San Diego? She got this Mona Lisa smile. Jacksonville again?
“You’re going to love Indianapolis.’’
I’m begging you, no. I thought they always held Super Bowls in warm weather cities. Forget the weather, I thought they always held Super Bowls in cities. You’re telling me that the most-watched sporting event on the planet is taking place in a town where the 7-Elevens close at 8 p.m.? While we’re at it, you’re saying that a football team that defied all odds is rewarded with a trip to the Great Plains in the middle of winter? This idea undoubtedly brought to you by the same NFL marketers who insist on all those officious Roman numerals.
Before I headed for the airport, I did a little checking. Miami has hosted 10 Super Bowls; New Orleans nine, along with another one next year; California 11. I could go on, but it’s too depressing. “Weather is a factor,’’ NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote to me. “For cold weather cities, a dome is normally required.’’
Ah hah, maybe there’s been a mistake. Which is how I found myself on the phone with an oddly pleasant guy named Chris Gahl of the Indiana Convention & Visitors Center, who told me about their new stadium with the amazing retractable dome, their new billion dollar airline terminal, and their new J.W. Marriott, which he said brightly is the largest J.W. Marriott in the world. “There’s also something we call Hoosier Hospitality,’’ he said, “a genuine, authentic friendliness that comes from living here and doing business here.’’
No, no, Chris, stop it. That kind of earnestness just isn’t fair. Alas, it’s too late. He described the tens of thousands of welcome cards drawn by Indiana schoolchildren for visiting fans, and I was bleeding Hoosier red. Then he dropped this little bomb: “Did I tell you that every hotel will serve complimentary hot chocolate and snickerdoodles?’’
I was picturing Gisele in the lobby of the world’s largest J.W. Marriott holding some lucky third-grader’s greeting card and lighting into a free snickerdoodle when my phone rang with Mayor Gregory Ballard of Indianapolis on the other end of the line. I asked if everyone in his city is really this nice.
“Some people are like you, a little skeptical,’’ he said. “But then they realize it’s really who we are. I’ve been other places where they’re nice, but they couldn’t get anything done. We get things done.’’
They certainly did with me. But putting aside my new-found love for all things Indiana, I offer a modest proposal. Automatically site future Super Bowls in the city of that year’s winning team. If the Patriots beat the Giants, we get it next time. You ever see chambermaids and restaurant owners, function managers and parking lot attendants, standing arm-in-arm and cheering like their future depended on it?
By the way, Indianapolis has been to two Super Bowls in recent years, and guess where they were. Miami. Some cities have all the luck.