The power of minor miracles
Here we are, in the middle of the week before — yes, I’m glad to say it — our Colts play the New England Patriots to determine the American Football Conference championship. This, of course, is the last test that must be successfully completed in order for, ahem, us to find ourselves in the promised land — that being the most deliciously bombastic of all American sporting events, the Super Bowl. This, as we all know, is an event so big there weren’t adequate words to express its gladiatorial greatness. The wise men who ran football back in the 1960s tried and tried to come up with a name that might capture the mythic splendor they expected to attend this annual clash of gridiron titans. In the end, they threw up their hands in a kind of giddy despair, opting not for poetry but the shortest distance between two rhetorical points. The Super Bowl, the annual game to determine the top professional football team in the United States, was christened. And we’re almost, almost there.
Knock off New England in the frozen fastness of its alien, outdoor lair and, for one afternoon at least — not to mention the hyperbolic run-up to the game itself — Indianapolis will be living large. All of the citizens of this metropolis, no matter how modest or infirm, will momentarily bask in the warmth of television light.
You may think that I take this lightly. I do not. As a matter of fact, I am delighted by the Colts’ success. I’m hoping against hope that they sustain the laser-like focus that has gotten them past the likes of Denver and Kansas City, trounce the Pats and then go on to win it all. I want to see Jimmy Irsay and Tony Dungy, splattered with champagne, grinning like 7-year-olds as they hoist the Super Bowl trophy up for all of us to see.
Winning is fun. Nobody ever said it wasn’t. And winning within the context of the biggest of all national spectacles is, well, super. So I’m glad for the Colts and I’m especially glad for everyone in Indianapolis who has had the sense of humor and enthusiasm to let this crazy season get hold of them, even if only for a little while. That’s what bandwagons are for — they’re invitations to party.
Last Sunday afternoon, just after the Colts disposed of the Chiefs, my wife was driving on Spring Mill Road. She passed a bunch of girls who had improvised some old-fashioned cheerleader outfits for themselves and were doing Colts cheers in their front yard. They waved to her; she honked back. I am perfectly content to credit this minor miracle of spontaneous human interaction to the Indianapolis Colts.
Which, of necessity, brings us to the nagging question of how this winning season will affect the negotiations taking place between the team and the city regarding whether or not Indianapolis will continue to be the place the Colts call home. The Colts want the city — which means you and me — to give them millions of dollars above and beyond what we’ve already given them in the form of taxes and subsidies. At the beginning of this season, a rather formidable majority of us indicated through polling that we did not want to give the Colts more of our money — and we especially did not fancy building the Colts a new stadium. Now, however, people — one suspects the mayor, in particular — are wondering whether this mood has changed.
Don’t be surprised if your phone rings in the next few weeks with someone wanting to know how you’d feel if the Colts were to relocate to someplace like Los Angeles. Before answering that question, it’s important that we’re clear about a few things. First of all, the economic research is pretty stern: There is no evidence from other cities to suggest that local government will be able to pay for a new stadium with taxes levied on downtown businesses like hotels and restaurants. It will take more. Also, it is very unlikely that the Colts will ever be financially self-sufficient. Today’s negotiations will be revisited tomorrow and the day after that. Finally, there is no hard contemporary evidence proving that the presence of a professional sports team either enhances tourism or causes major businesses to relocate.
No, the reason for hanging on to a team like the Colts has a lot more to do with those girls cheering in the front yard. It has to do with the boost we feel when Indianapolis is on national TV, winning something for a change. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that boost may almost be enough to make up for our demonstrably inadequate public transportation system. Or our Civil War era sewers. The fact that Wishard Hospital can barely afford to treat the uninsured. You know this drill by now. There is so much in this city that needs attention, by which I mean money, to make things better. Choices will have to be made — which will be that much harder when even minor miracles are so few and far between.