ard-core fans who blow wads of cash every season to get their championship tickets punched want to know: Has the NFL reached a point when this iconic face-off between our national gladiators can be hosted by any team city?
Even a cold-weather, landlocked, midsize burg surrounded by corn and guided by a mysterious force called "Hoosier Hospitality"?
Because, sorry sports fans, let's be real: This ain't New Orleans, Miami or Southern California -- or any of the sunshiny February playgrounds that have dominated location choices for 45 years. This is smack in the heart of "flyover country," where many fans of the New England Patriots and New York Giants have never before dared to venture. You can picture them trying to locate the home of the Indianapolis Colts on a map, saying, "It's in one of those 'I' states, like Iowa, Idaho or Illinois."
There's no need to mince words. Indy natives have heard it all before: "Nap-town," "India-no-place."
"Hoosiers," as Indiana residents call themselves, are used to being underestimated, and they often take advantage of the benefits of low expectations. (Full disclosure: The author is an Indiana native, but, like many of his kind, he is unable to explain the origin of the word "Hoosier.")
After decades of strategizing, planning and selling the city to NFL team owners, Indy says it's ready to host Super Bowl XLVI. "It's the pinnacle," said former Mayor Bill Hudnut, who started the campaign rolling in the early '80s.
Without a doubt, preparations have transformed the town's look and feel. The community has poured hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and corporate coin to build new hotels, spruce up landscaping and resurface miles of streets.
As a result, a sea of Patriots blue, Giants blue and Colts blue has been flowing through the downtown area -- now dubbed Super Bowl Village. More than 300,000 have walked through the neighborhood in the past week, officials said. Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy told CNN affiliate WRTV-TV that the city is putting "its best foot forward." The fans are "going to be pleasantly surprised," he said.
Restaurants, hotels and the village all surround Lucas Oil Stadium -- creating a compact, walkable Super Bowl district that veterans say is unique to almost all previous venues except perhaps New Orleans. "I think the setup here is fantastic," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told WRTV.
Streets have been renamed Raiders Road, Chiefs Avenue -- one for each NFL squad. "Mike Epps and Snoop Dogg are coming in tonight!" a fan shouted to a friend wearing a Giants jersey. Buildings are draped with majestic, gigantic multistory banners, and the street signs are adorned with the ubiquitous face of Madonna, the Super Bowl halftime headliner.