The Final Four in Indianapolis

 

by Terry Hogan

 

It was the Final Four Finale in Indianapolis.  The city was “chuck full” of fans and "high rollers" that could afford to pay a minimum of $900/night to stay at the brand new Conrad Hotel downtown.  Did I mention, there was also a four-night minimum?  That makes $3600 for four nights plus various taxes, which would bring in over the $4,000 mark.  The city had looked forward to this economic shot in the arm for several years now.  Fifty thousand fans plus radio, TV, and yes, even a few print journalists and support crews, helped to book all the motel rooms in and near the city. The bars and restaurants stayed open later to accommodate the happy winners who celebrated and the sad losers who wanted to drown their loss and plan for next year. But the establishments complained because Indiana’s legislature voted to go on daylight savings time for the first time this year, so the bars and restaurants “lost” an hour of business Saturday night.   Most prices for about anything had been “jacked up” for the weekend.  Even local gas prices seemed to have gone up suddenly. Perhaps it was just a coincidence. But there is no doubt about supply and demand hotel room prices.

Weather offered more excitement in Indianapolis than the games, however.

 

Corporate High Rollers

Who paid $4,000 for four nights?  Not me.  But I'm speculating it was the CEOs and those lobbyists and others who entertained important corporate clients.  There were a number of famous faces, such as pro-sport types, current and past, that probably also stayed where the common fan couldn’t.  Coaches of all shapes and dispositions also were attracted to the spotlight like moths to the fire.

 

Locals

How about the Indianapolis "locals"?  If they were not part of the support activities — waiters, bartenders, hotel employees, cabbies, police, etc., many avoided the city like the avian plague.  A number of my friends left town for the weekend. Speaking of police, they were out in great numbers.  Many of the streets in the downtown area were marked as no–parking areas. Police and tow truck operators waited like vultures to ticket and tow off the vehicles owned by the illiterate, the indifferent, or those VIPs who believed that the police wouldn't dare tow their cars.   

There were a few basketball games played. I suppose that is, in part, why the crowd was in the city.  But with the typical "Big 10" flare, the Midwestern teams dropped like flies at a pesticide convention. Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa teams were not to be found among the Final Four.

Monday night's final game was a commuting problem for the "locals," compounded by other problems.  Most locals are required to work and commute into Indianapolis, which has a fairly decent commuter rush hour. Traffic goes pretty well when everyone is used to running bumper to bumper at 75 mph around the beltway and in the "Inner Loop" (I-65 and I-70).  These two interstates provide access to the heart of the city and also to the hotels and RCA Dome where the games were played. Fans not used to commuter behavior on these interstates put their lives and the lives of the regular commuters at risk.  The system only survives as long as nobody does anything stupid while traveling at 75 and reading the fine print on the bumper sticker a couple of feet ahead of you.

 

Ticket Scalping

Scalping of sport tickets, or any other type of ticket, except perhaps speeding, is legal in Indiana.  So there was, of course, a thriving business with those fans who showed up without tickets. After spending $4,000 for lodging, the high rollers were obligated to pay the top dollar for the best seats.  Rumors had tickets going for as high as $7,000, but these may have been scalpers' rumors to help their business. There were even published reports of counterfeit tickets being sold. The Final Four is a little bit like “survival of the fittest” — for the fans, not the teams.  If you've got the money or the credit, the hotels, restaurants, and scalpers will stroke your ego.

 

Tornadoes, High Winds, Hail, and Thunderstorms, Oh My  

Sunday, Indianapolis had a number of free concerts on Monument Circle (dead center downtown), but the weather wasn't cooperative. Early in the evening there was spotty rain and it was cool and windy.  In the evening, with a free outdoor concert presented by Indiana's own John Melloncamp, central Indiana was under a number of tornado, hail, and thunderstorm warnings. Luckily, the crowd had departed from the concert when the worst weather hit Indianapolis. Damaging straight line winds blew down trees and damaged homes.

Monday's sunrise showed one of Indianapolis' tallest buildings in dismal shape. The high winds blew in the windows on the southwest and northwest corners of about 16 upper stories of the Regions Bank Building.  Apparently the force of the wind blew in the windows on the west side of the building and blew out the windows on the north and south sides of the building.  Monday morning, many of the downtown streets were closed to traffic due to debris and risk of more falling glass and metal from the skyscraper.  A debris path of office papers, files, vertical window shades, insulation, and other office contents could easily be tracked for at least six blocks to the northeast from the damaged skyscraper.

 

Monday Night Fans

 Monday's weather wasn't much better, but the RCA Dome is a dome, so rain or cool weather  wasn't going to dampen the spirits of the true fan who had spent thousands of dollars for the "big game" or the "big dance," if you prefer. But there weren't that many true fans left for Monday night's game.  Many fans went home after their teams lost. UCLA and Florida fans were not in great abundance around Indianapolis on Monday.  Some of the corporate suite owners in the dome were fishing around with lower tier clients, trying to fill the suites for a game involving two teams with little local interest, a game that didn't start until nearly 9:30pm.  Suddenly, the hottest tickets in town began to cool.

 

New Colts Stadium and the Civil War Dead

But as the loyal fans trudged into the dome Friday and Monday, sporting team logos and colors, the scalpers were there selling tickets for the best price the market would bear. Nearby, just south of the dome, is a really big hole that will become the new home of the Indianapolis Colts.  Few know (and fewer probably care) that just a few blocks west toward the White River lay the forgotten bones of Southern Civil War prisoners of war that had died at Indianapolis' Camp Morton.  Most of the remains were recovered and relocated to another cemetery on the north side of the city.  But not all the remains were found, at least according to rumor.  A marker dedicated to the southern soldiers who died at Camp Morton was relocated from the burial site clear across Indianapolis to the southeast and placed in a pretty city park that has nothing to do with the location of dead civil war soldiers. But it is a pretty park, so maybe that is enough.  It is an unfortunate joke on our southern friends who come to see where their ancestors died and were buried.

But history and time continues. The cries of the dying Civil War soldiers have been replaced by the cheers of the Final Four basketball fans.  Each has passed into history as Indianapolis has been returned to the Hoosiers who call it home and/or workplace.  Hotel rooms will become cheaper.  Food, gas, and parking garage prices will return to pre-hype levels.  Life will return to normal for the locals.  Fans will be gone: some cheering but more disappointed.  But they will all share one thing in common — leaving a fistful or two of money behind.  They will be replaced, in part, by the engineers who will try to figure out why the building failed to withstand the storm and by the skilled workers who will try to get folks back in their shattered offices as soon as practicable.

 

Tournament Winner — Florida

Oh yes, I nearly forgot.  Florida won the NCAA title Monday night, while UCLA went home after the loss of its last game of the season. I didn’t watch the game at the RCA Dome or on TV.  It started too late for me. I don't recall the score, but it doesn't matter. 

It is all history now, just another story blowing in the wind.