Thousands of Colts fans fill downtown for NFL celebration

INDIANAPOLIS -- Think Indianapolis goes crazy in May?

Try September.

Tens of thousands of blue-clad fans poured onto the downtown Monument Circle on Thursday, where they stood shoulder to shoulder to cheer for their beloved Indianapolis Colts -- and get a little groove on while they were at it.

The crowd crammed downtown for a free, three-hour concert highlighting the NFL Opening Kickoff celebration as the Super Bowl champions prepared to take on the resurgent New Orleans Saints at the RCA Dome.

The Colts routed the Saints 41-10, outscoring them 31-0 in the second half.

"It's awesome," said Venita Bratcher, 41, of Indianapolis, who brought her two teenage children to the concert featuring Faith Hill, Kelly Clarkson and the rock group Hinder. She said the event was a great way for her family to do something together.

"I think it's a good way to show Indianapolis on the big stage," said Joshua Mathews of Franklin, who was wearing a Dwight Freeney No. 93 jersey. "I think it's really good for the city, and hopefully we can get bigger events, like a Super Bowl, in town."

Indianapolis lost to Dallas in bidding for the 2011 Super Bowl, but Mayor Bart Peterson said this week the city might consider bidding on the 2012 game -- depending on how the NFL sets up the procedure and if it looks like Indianapolis might stand a chance.

Like many of those at the concert, Mathews planned to go to the game several blocks away at the RCA Dome, where homegrown Hoosier John Mellencamp played one hit song, "Small Town," during a pregame ceremony at midfield -- appropriate for one of the NFL's smallest markets.

At the stadium, which is in its final season as the Colts' home, the lights dimmed and flashes flickered like it was the Super Bowl. Fans waved championship towels and Mellencamp and team owner Jim Irsay each spoke to the crowd.

The Colts players ran onto the field through a mock Super Bowl ring, which included a lighted blue horseshoe and the same design as the players' actual rings.

"And now to hang in our rafters forever, our world championship banner will be unfurled," Irsay said, as the banner came down from atop the stadium.

It's the fourth straight year the NFL has saluted the champion and its city with a primetime pregame show on national television.

"It's as if it's a blockbuster movie premiering that America's been anticipating for months," said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.

That's just the way the NFL likes it, and feeding that appetite for football is the reason the NFL moved up the opener to the Thursday before the full schedule begins.

What's good for the NFL is also good for Indianapolis in this case," Peterson said. "I think it's enormously valuable."

All the media coverage means people all over the country will have a look at Indianapolis, and whether it's a beautiful view of the skyline or announcers talking up the city during the football game, that image will hopefully stick in viewers' minds, the mayor said.

Lest fans forget what all the hoopla is about, huge images of Peyton Manning and the Saints' Reggie Bush wearing their best tough-guy looks glowered down on the smiling fans. A video screen hanging on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument showed highlights from the Super Bowl.

Some called the game a potential Super Bowl preview between two of the NFL's three best offenses last season.

The Colts returned the potent combination of Super Bowl MVP Manning, Pro Bowl receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, and last year's top rookie rusher, Joseph Addai.

The Saints, coming off their first NFC championship game appearance in franchise history, have former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees, perennial 1,000-yard rusher Deuce McAllister and Bush, one of the league's most exciting backs.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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