INDIANAPOLIS - The Super Bowl host city usually conjures images of neon-lit streets overflowing with expensive cars and well-coiffed men and women in designer clothes. Even without America’s biggest prime-time sporting event - and the concerts, parties, and revelry it spawns - the archetypal Super Bowl city is a destination in its own right, brimming with warm weather and nightlife.
Miami. New Orleans. San Diego. Pasadena. Los Angeles. Tampa. Phoenix. And now: Indianapolis, game site for the New England Patriots and New York Giants. The home of Hoosier hospitality and the Indianapolis 500 is only the 15th metro area to host the Super Bowl but one decidedly more landlocked and industrial (there is a factory adjacent to the football stadium) than most of its predecessors.
So how can this city in the heartland make its mark? “The recommendation we received from everyone is, ‘Be yourself,’ ’’ said Kristen Fuhs Wells of the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee. “We are nice people.’’
It is precisely that patina of Midwestern civility and generosity that Hoosiers are showcasing, starting with the knitters who crafted scarves for 8,000 volunteers fanning across this city of 820,000.
The host committee decided to embrace the chilly winter weather that is the norm here, even including it as part of the event’s theme. Thus was born the Super Scarf, blue-and-white scarves emblazoned with the Super Bowl logo. They’re handmade by knitters and crocheters to make Super Bowl volunteers easily identifiable.
Julie Underwood and her church knitting group in the suburb of Carmel created about 15 of the scarves knit in 45 states and three countries. Some knitters attached notes with their scarves that expressed gratitude for the volunteers’ efforts. Underwood didn’t include one with her fringe-less basket weave. “I just turned it in and later . . . I got my hair done and the hairdresser said she had a client who got the sweetest note with her scarf, and I just felt a little bad,’’ the 52-year-old mother said.
So she said a prayer in church that Sunday, hoping the scarf’s recipient knew “that he or she had been in my thoughts and prayers.’’ And later that day, a serendipitous meeting took place, and she was able to personally deliver that message to Paul O’Connor, the recipient of her scarf and the host committee’s cochairman of hotel Super Service. Underwood said she and her family were waiting in line for the football toss at the NFL Experience when she looked up “and sitting across the table there was this lady . . . and I thought: ‘Oh my goodness! That’s my scarf.’ ’’
It turns out the woman was O’Connor’s wife, who was wearing the scarf Underwood is 99 percent positive she knitted. “It’s pretty incredible,’’ O’Connor said. “The likelihood is just so small. It’s crazy.’’
But it is not just scarves. Roughly 18,000 visitors are getting a Super Kids, Super Welcome when they open their hotel doors and find greeting cards made by schoolchildren. On the front: pictures crafted from crayons, markers, and construction paper. On the back, students finished the statement, “I love Indiana because . . .’’
Seven-year-old Caroline from Carmel, just north of Indianapolis, wrote: “I like to go to PetSmart and look at the animals and high-five the cats.’’ Eight-year-old Ian, also from Carmel, said: “I like to watch Indiapolis [sic] Ice.’’
Having the Super Bowl in town is a big deal, sixth-grader Ashley Twesme explained in an interview. “People will think: ‘Oh. We know this place now. They had the Super Bowl.’ ’’
Ashley’s schoolmates at Forest Glen Elementary in Lawrence, a suburb in the northeast corner of greater Indianapolis, made more than 1,000 greeting cards. Students wanted not only to welcome visitors but to educate them about the city that claims the world’s largest children’s museum and largest spectator sporting facility, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with more than 250,000 permanent seats.
“We wanted people to know that Indy’s a big city,’’ said fifth-grader Nancy Hernandez, who designed 32 greeting cards. “It’s not just cornfields.’’
So, for this week, just about everything here is “super.’’ Volunteers exhort visitors to have a “super day’’ across downtown. And there are 33 Super Cars, Indy racing cars customized with logos from each NFL team, beckoning picture-snapping fans.
For Tim Reuter, Hoosier hospitality means welcoming fellow Pats fans into Stadium Tavern, the bar he owns 500 feet from Lucas Oil Stadium. The Hoosier native has been a diehard Patriots fan for nearly 40 years. This will be the first time in recent memory that he will be able to watch the game surrounded by his sports brethren.
“We’re getting a lot of phone calls, maybe 150, from people saying they’re going to stop by,’’ Reuter said, sitting at the bar and taking a ribbing from his longtime friend Brian Harpold, a Giants fan everyone knows as Cuz.
The two have a friendly wager: The loser wears the winning team’s jersey for a day.
Typically, it is just he and his son cheering on the Patriots in hostile territory. “No matter who we’re playing, the Colts fans will root for the other team,’’ said Reuter, 55, who became a fan in the mid-1970s.
The smoky bar, with neon beer signs on the walls and matches at the bar, only holds about 100 customers, but he cannot wait for the crowds and, more importantly, the game.