An Oral History Of When Super Bowl XLVI Came To Town

Super Bowl village

We were the champions XLVI
When Indianapolis was selected as the host city of Super Bowl XLVI in the spring of 2008, there was little excitement outside of the Hoosier State. Given that the event is predominantly held in warm destinations like New Orleans or Miami, one could understand the national aversion to jet-setting to Central Indiana in early February. In fact, we had just been passed over by a sexier locale a year prior, when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones used his influence (and wallet) to push his Super Bowl XLV bid over the goal line with his fellow NFL owners.

But Indianapolis didn’t need beaches and fancy nightclubs to host one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. Innovative planners here created one of the most widely praised Super Bowl experiences in recent history. Indy spent more than a week in early 2012 basking in the national spotlight, reveling in a surge of attention the city had never experienced before. Capitol Avenue transformed into a zipline course. Celebrities crowded the dining room at St. Elmo. Jimmy Fallon brought his show to Monument Circle. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of that bash, we gathered the people who planned, participated in, and partied for those 10 unforgettable days.

Schadenfreude Sets The Stage

A man taking a picture of a car

The story of Super Bowl XLVI can’t be told without acknowledging the “stolen” Super Bowl XLV. The heartbreak of Indy’s last-second bid loss to Dallas became a blessing in disguise, thanks to a rare winter storm that incapacitated much of the South. It turned Super Bowl XLV into a logistical nightmare and a widely panned debacle for the host city. 

MAC ENGEL (Columnist, Fort Worth Star-Telegram): “One week before Super Bowl XLV, the cold front from the deepest part of hell arrived.”

GREG BALLARD (Former mayor of Indianapolis): “The word ‘karma’ was definitely used.”

PAUL PABST (Executive producer, The Dan Patrick Show): “I woke up the second day we were there, and it was 11 degrees and snowing sideways. Our set was outside, and we brought no winter clothes whatsoever. We basically did the show outside in a snowstorm. We made the best of it, but it was impossible to get around, parties, events, everything.”

PHIL RAY (Former general manager, Indianapolis Marriott Downtown): “I used to live in Dallas, so I knew they couldn’t handle any snow at all. They were so ill-equipped that you saw people trying to shovel sidewalks with pizza boxes.”

MAC ENGEL: “We put sand on the roads, because dumping sand on a block of ice will really help. That Super Bowl was one of the worst ever. We will never forget what a disaster it was.”

EDDIE WHITE (Former vice president of team properties, Reebok): “Jerry Jones stole that one from us. It proved that God is a Hoosier and not a Texan.”

GREG BALLARD: “Because of Dallas, it was easier to clear the Super Bowl hosting bar, in a way. But we weren’t looking to just clear the bar—we were looking to host the best Super Bowl ever.”

The Super Bowl Village

Despite being in a northern city, Super Bowl XLVI organizers were determined to develop a unique, outdoor space for visiting fans to enjoy—rain, snow, or shine. After watching the calamity in Dallas a year prior, that was obviously a huge risk. But clear skies and unusually mild temperatures instead greeted those descending upon downtown for the start of Super Bowl week in February 2012. It was the perfect setting for the newly created Super Bowl Village, which Indy planners had envisioned as ground zero for all the week’s revelry. The idea was such a hit that it’s now an NFL standard for any city’s Super Bowl bid.

ALLISON MELANGTON (President, Super Bowl XLVI Host Committee): “We wanted to erase winter. We dreamed up this idea of a center nucleus outside, like the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and that was very non-traditional for a Super Bowl. Most of them had been very spread out, especially in Miami and Dallas, and the NFL initially was not a big fan of our idea. But we believed in our downtown, and the league eventually came around. It was a bold step.”

JACK SWARBRICK (Board member, Super Bowl XLVI Host Committee): “We got some great counsel from Frank Supovitz of the NFL. He said, ‘You’re making a mistake running away from your geography. Your bid stressed how people didn’t have to go outdoors if they didn’t want to. Turn it into a positive!’ He talked about the NHL All-Star cities and outdoor festivals they put on. We heeded that advice and the result was the Village. It was a great strategy.”

SUSAN BAUGHMAN (Former senior vice president, Indiana Sports Corp): “Our combined mindset was, ‘Let’s use the Village to make this The People’s Super Bowl, not just The Ticketholders’ Super Bowl,’ and that’s how we marketed it. ‘Hey, you can live outside Indianapolis or even outside Indiana, but come on down. Bring your friends. Have your piece of the Super Bowl.’”

MARK MILES (Chairman of the board, Super Bowl XLVI Host Committee): “I wanted to ensure Hoosiers had a way to be a part of the Super Bowl, even though a lot of the tickets were going to others. The Village was the vehicle to do that. A million people visited over the 10 days that we ran it, and outside of the last three days, that was basically all Hoosiers.”

SUSAN BAUGHMAN: “In our mind, we wanted it to be the ‘red carpet’ from the fieldhouse to the convention center. We weren’t intending for people to stay 12 hours at a time, but that’s what they ended up doing. It ended up being a much bigger deal than even we thought it was going to be. It had a life of its own.”

The Zipline

A woman on a zipine

One of the week’s highlights was an 800-foot-long zipline course erected over Capitol Avenue. If a rider could stomach the heights, they were in for one of the most unique and thrilling experiences a visitor could have.

ALLISON MELANGTON: “We cut the ribbon on the NFL Experience inside the convention center, and then we were walking over to cut it at the Super Bowl Village, so we hadn’t been outside yet. We stepped out, and the sky was so blue. It was like I heard heavenly angels singing.”

JIM IRSAY (Owner, Indianapolis Colts): “My first time coming downtown that week was after the zipline, the convention center, and Georgia Street were set up. I was in awe of everything and, for a second, couldn’t believe this was happening in our city.”

BILL BENNER (Co-chair, Super Bowl XLVI Media Relations Committee): “I was one of the first people to do the zipline. I just remember flying down Capitol Avenue and looking out over downtown, and it was like, ‘Holy crap!’ It was hard to comprehend.”

SUSAN BAUGHMAN: “I’ll always remember the sound of it. I would hear the zip, then I would hear the gasp, then I would hear the cheers. It was so much fun. I’d be all the way down at the fieldhouse and still hear the roars.”

Of the 10,429 people who took advantage of the zipline, Ruth Shaw may have been the oldest. A trailblazing community activist, she helped guide the Super Bowl’s accompanying Legacy Project, which included construction of the $11.3 million Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center. It was a culmination of sorts for her life’s work. She passed away a few months ago at the age of 86.

MARK MILES: “Ruth was affectionately known as the Mayor of the Near Eastside—just a wonderful person and a cheerleader for her community. She called me as we were getting ready to open the Village, and said, ‘Hey, I read about this zipline thing. How does someone get on that?’ And I said, ‘Who’s somebody? Do you mean you?’”

JAMES TAYLOR (CEO of the John H. Boner Community Center): “Ruth, who had lived here on the near-east side since 1974, actually introduced herself to Mark. She was this little old lady, but she wasn’t afraid to go talk to the mayor or business leaders. She came from a Nazarene [religious] background, so she always wore dresses and skirts. I told her, ‘Ruth, you’re going to be up in the air on that zipline. You can’t go down in a skirt!’ Her daughters got her these bloomers that went on underneath, but sure enough, she went down in a skirt.”

MARK MILES: “It was complicated to secure the harness around the dress, but we held hands and got to the top of the tower. And she just screamed bloody murder after we jumped off.”

MICHELLE MELANI (Daughter of Ruth Shaw): “She screamed the whole way across. But when she landed, she was exuberant and smiling from ear to ear. My mom went from being a very shy and reserved church lady when she was younger to really coming out of her shell and being such a huge advocate for disadvantaged people in Indianapolis. I think the zipline ride was the pinnacle and culmination of everything she did for the city.”

St. Elmo In The Spotlight

Shrimp cocktail

Downtown restaurants were jammed the entire week, but given its notoriety and location in the heart of the Super Bowl Village, St. Elmo became the place for anybody who was anybody in Indianapolis that week. Its bookings included famous actors (Jon Hamm, Michael Douglas, John Travolta, and Neil Patrick Harris among them), musicians, and comedians. But it wasn’t just limited to celebrities—both the New England Patriots and New York Giants, who were set to face off in Super Bowl XLVI, had team members arrive at St. Elmo in two separate parties, simultaneously, on the Monday night before the big game.

BRYN JONES (Director of marketing/retail, St. Elmo Steak House): “To have both competing teams, at the same time, one floor apart, and having the same dining experience was pretty wild.”

CRAIG HUSE (Co-owner, St. Elmo Steak House): “What I didn’t want was for St. Elmo to become the most popular bar on Homecoming weekend in a college town. We wanted the inside of the restaurant to be as normal as possible and the craziness to be out on Georgia and Illinois streets.”

WILL CARROLL (Writer, Sports Illustrated): “People kept asking me, ‘Will, can you get me into St. Elmo?’ I was like, ‘No! I can’t get you into St. Elmo. Hell, I can’t get myself into St. Elmo!’ If you weren’t, like, an NFL owner, you weren’t getting in there.”

EDDIE WHITE: “Of course I got in! But I went with Troy Aikman, a guy that’s won three of these things [Super Bowls].”

ELI MANNING (Giants quarterback, Super Bowl XLVI MVP): “I put in a call to Peyton last second: ‘Hey, can you get me and 30 guys into St. Elmo?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, I got it covered.’ When you’re preparing for a Super Bowl, you don’t want to have to think about anything else, so it was nice to have him there to handle it.”

BRYN JONES: “I remember Cooper Manning called Peyton trying to get a reservation. Peyton was like, ‘Geez, Cooper. You want me to get you a jersey to see if you can return kicks in the game, too?’”

CRAIG HUSE: “So we ended up hosting parties of 20-plus for both the Patriots and Giants. Numerous players tweeted that they were there, and that, of course, created a fervor with the hundreds of people on the street trying to get inside. It was just crazy. It was like being a boxer—you’re all good until you get hit the first time. We were like, ‘Shit, we got hit.’”

BRYN JONES: “When Brady came in, he was behind the rest of his group. He knew where they were in the restaurant, so he just put his hat down and somehow went through the restaurant mostly unrecognized. It’s Tom Brady, but he just walked past everybody!”

PAUL PABST:Adam Sandler had the first screening of his movie, That’s My Boy, in town that week. We went to the screening and then walked with Sandler and his crew to St. Elmo afterward. People were just going crazy like, ‘Adam! Adam! Adam!’ as we were walking down the street. Then we walked into the steakhouse, and we saw Tom Brady sitting there at another table. It was nuts.”

ELI MANNING: “I had pre-ordered shrimp cocktails for every teammate, and we did a shrimp cocktail ‘cheers’ toast. The ones who had never been there before didn’t know what they were getting into—about half of them were coughing and crying after it. That was kind of my prank on the guys.”

famous actors

Jimmy Fallon Takes The Town

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon ventured out of its New York City studio to Indianapolis for a week’s worth of broadcasts from Hilbert Circle Theatre. It was the first time the show had ever been on the road.

JOANNE BENNETT (Former director of facilities & audience services, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra): “The Late Night with Jimmy Fallon team was nervous not only about doing the show out of studio, but doing it live after the Super Bowl. We had a hard time wrapping our head around it because we did live performances every week, so we knew it wouldn’t be an issue.”

SUSAN BAUGHMAN: “Fallon’s crew was worried that the theater wouldn’t be full. We were like, ‘Guys, are you crazy? There will be people lined up around the block!’”

JOANNE BENNETT: “You had to write in to the show to get on their list, and those people who were invited lined up at 6 a.m. They didn’t even hand out tickets until 10 a.m., and the taping was late afternoon. We had well-known people, even the governor’s office, who were trying to get in. But we still ended up having to turn away a lot of people. I felt really bad about it.”

GREG BALLARD: “I didn’t know what to expect when I went on the show. The entire crew was exceptionally gracious and nice. Jimmy is a great guy and stunningly talented. When we did the chest bump on the Circle, he damn near knocked me over.”

JOANNE BENNETT: “Everything they did on the show that week was Indy-centric, from the design and creation of the set that they built—it was designed based on the theater itself so it would blend in—to putting an ensemble from the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra on a small stage that they created. He wanted to include our city.”

GREG BALLARD: “Jimmy called me up on stage on the last show and gave me this sash, like Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons. He thanked us for being a great city and hosting a wonderful Super Bowl. It was a special moment. I actually saved the sash. As a joke, I wore it in parades.”

Fallon and his crew didn’t limit their appearances to just the Hilbert Circle Theatre and their hotel, though. Jimmy, Questlove and The Roots, and the show’s producers, writers, and workers—an estimated crew of about 70 people—spent the week out on the town, patronizing several local establishments and taking in the sights of the city, just like everyone else.

NEAL BROWN (Chef & restaurateur, Neal Brown Hospitality Group): “We got an email about two weeks before the Super Bowl from a producer for Jimmy Fallon, and they were like, ‘Hey, Jimmy is going to be doing the show live from Hilbert Circle Theatre. Can The Libertine accommodate us for the week?’ We’re like, ‘Of course!’ So, Jimmy, his staff, and Questlove and The Roots were in there basically all week. Jimmy would come in every night and greet every single person in the place and then go sit in the back at the table we reserved for them. I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better celebrity to host all week.”

the outside of a bar
The Slippery Noodle Inn

SCOTT WISE (Founder, Scotty’s Brewhouse): “Jimmy ordered $5,000 worth of carryout from us one night. I got a text the next morning from a friend that said, ‘Dude, did you see what happened on Fallon last night?’ I go to watch it, and Jimmy is in the crowd talking with audience members. He asks this IUPUI student where she’s watching the game, and she said she was going to Scotty’s Brewhouse with her friends. The Roots then did an impromptu song about Scotty’s Brewhouse. It’s still my phone’s ringtone. We actually found that student and gave her free food for a year and named a sandwich after her.”

MARTY BACON(General manager, The Slippery Noodle Inn): “Jimmy and his crew came in late one night and we shut down the back room and stage for them. All he wanted to do was hook up his iPod to our sound system and sing karaoke. We did a duet together of ‘Thunder Road’ by Bruce Springsteen. He and his people just wanted to have fun and play back there.”


Friday Night Fiasco

XLVI on the circle

Most out-of-town visitors arrived on Thursday and Friday, but the stream of locals who had flooded downtown all week kept flowing. That created an uncomfortable situation in the Super Bowl Village, as well as at Friday night’s concerts, headlined by LMFAO.

SUSAN BAUGHMAN: “We really thought we’d go from Indiana people to Super Bowl fans on Friday. What happened instead was the locals were like, ‘The Village is ours. We’re staying.’ Nobody left.”

BILL BENNER: “It got too full. You couldn’t move an inch. I know public safety had some concerns. It was shoulder-to-shoulder.”

DAVE LINDQUIST (Former entertainment reporter, The Indianapolis Star): “That was closer to a fatal stampede than anything I had ever experienced before. Georgia Street was packed beyond what was reasonable. The crowd was so tight, you actually noticed if some part of your body was not being touched.”

JACK SWARBRICK: “I was at a reception with Mark Miles, and we were up on top of the Conrad hotel. That’s when we first realized that too many people were coming into downtown. We had to shut off the ramps on the interstate.”

MARK MILES: “From our vantage point, it looked like the traffic on Washington Street went all the way to the state of Illinois. It was so slammed, and we were very worried about public safety. That was certainly an ‘Oh, shit’ moment.”

DAVE LINDQUIST: “I was there to cover the LMFAO concert, but after it was over, I just called in and said, ‘I’ve got nothing. I just spent 90 minutes helping other people stay upright.’ If anyone had fallen down, it would’ve been a domino effect. That’s not a very cheery Super Bowl memory.”


Super Bowl Sunday

Superbowl Sunday

It was the second Super Bowl meeting in four years for the Patriots and Giants, and the matchup created an interesting dynamic for Indianapolis Colts fans, with New England being the most hated rival in the city and the Giants being led by Eli Manning, the younger brother of Peyton Manning, the soon-to-depart Colts legend. While not as epic as the 2008 contest, Super Bowl XLVI was close throughout, and once again included a memorable game-winning drive by New York, set up by a sensational sideline connection between Manning and receiver Mario Manningham.

ALLISON MELANGTON: “In the fourth quarter, with the Patriots still ahead, I thought to myself, No, the movie doesn’t end this way.”

ELI MANNING: “Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz were covered up pretty well, so I looked to my left, and I had a shot to Manningham. It was a throw where either he gets it or nobody does. Considering the length of it and to put it in a spot like that, it’s one of my favorite throws.”


MITCH DANIELS (Former governor of Indiana): “A college classmate of mine, Laird Hayes, was officiating his third Super Bowl and was the side judge on the Manning to Manningham play, so he made the critical call on the Giants’ game-winning drive. The people around me were saying, ‘Were his toes in? Did he control the ball?’ and I told them, ‘100 bucks says he caught it!’ I knew if my man Hayes said it was a catch, it was a catch.”

DIANNA BOYCE (Director of communications, Super Bowl XLVI Host Committee): “It was a beautiful thing. I remember laying my head on my husband’s shoulder, and I actually fell asleep for a bit in the stands. But I was awake for that!”

DEION BRANCH (New England Patriots wide receiver, Super Bowl XXXIX MVP): “When you start making crazy plays on the sideline, like the catch Manningham had … I mean, come on. That never happened to our defense. That really swung things in their direction.”

When Tom Brady’s desperation Hail Mary squirted past a diving Rob Gronkowski on the final play, it sealed the Patriots’ fate, another Giants’ Super Bowl victory, and for some, capped a perfect week in Indianapolis.

SCOTT WISE: “Tom Brady getting beat by a Manning was so nice to see in our stadium for once.”

PETE WARD (Chief operating officer, Indianapolis Colts): “I think for Indianapolis, it was a cherry on top of the Super Bowl week sundae.”

MATHIAS KIWANUKA (Former New York Giants defensive end): “At that point in my career, I had been through some shit—injuries and depression, all of that—so it was an absolute dream to win a Super Bowl in Indy. My daughter was going to be born that year, I had just signed my contract, a Super Bowl win at home … the stars were aligned.”

DEION BRANCH: “If any game haunts me at night, it’s that one. They won the game, but we felt like we beat ourselves. As a competitor, those kinds of losses never leave your mind. They stick with you forever.”Super Bowl XLVI Winners

The Last Night

A bar
The former Libertine bar location.

The weeklong party didn’t stop after the confetti cannons fired at Lucas Oil Stadium, as both teams went to their designated postgame sites and one huge celebrity made an impromptu visit to a local establishment for an epic nightcap.

PHIL RAY (Former general manager, Indianapolis Downtown Marriott, host of the Giants Super Bowl party): “Everyone in the Giants organization was on such a high after that win. We had private spaces for Coach Tom Coughlin and the Manning family, but the Grand Ballroom was just crazy. We had a perimeter fence around the entrances to the hotel, but people were just everywhere. It ended up being a million-dollar party.”

ELI MANNING: “We had our own private room. It wasn’t a time where you’re signing autographs and taking pictures—you’re with your people. David Morris [Eli’s friend and backup at Ole Miss] was in charge of coordinating everything for me. He had rented a stretch limo for the weekend, and before paying for it, he asked the driver, ‘What if I got you into Eli Manning’s postgame Super Bowl party instead?’ The driver goes, ‘Heck yeah, I love the Mannings!’ So, I had to take a picture with the limo driver and his mom, but everyone else there was friends and family.”

RANDY LEWANDOWSKI (President, Indianapolis Indians): “The Patriots were widely expected to win the game and didn’t. So there we were at Victory Field, hosting what was supposed to be New England’s Super Bowl victory party, and the whole atmosphere was like a deflated balloon. It was a super-weird scene. Once the sting of the loss wore off, though, everyone started going nuts and jumping up on stage with LMFAO. I’m not going to get into the details of the rest of the night.”

DEION BRANCH: “I didn’t go to the postgame party at Victory Field because I’m a sore loser. Not saying you can’t go and party and have a good time, but that didn’t go over great with me.”

Katy Perry
Katy Perry

Some controversy arose from the surprisingly raucous Patriots after-party, as videos of shirtless Patriots players partying (including a young Rob Gronkowski) on stage with LMFAO made the rounds the next morning. But none of what happened at Victory Field or the Marriott was any match for what unfolded early Monday morning at The Libertine.

NEAL BROWN: “We had an entire floor upstairs that was barely used and was mostly for storage. It wasn’t even a great space. Around 2 a.m., Katy Perry shows up with an entire entourage. The first few that walked in said, ‘We have a lot more people coming.’ Fallon’s crew party was wrapping up downstairs and we were scrambling to put together a makeshift bar upstairs. Katy started DJing a dance party for her people. Weird, random celebrities—I think David Arquette showed up for a minute—were funneling in. Her people brought in our aluminum chairs from outside and they were doing this catwalk/modeling thing, where they would take off their clothes and only wear the chairs with crazy hats. I’ll never forget standing there while Katy Perry was on my laptop going through a playlist while there were naked, D-list celebrities modeling lawn chairs in the middle of our bar. It was a wild, wild night.”

The Morning AfterThe airport

As Mayor Ballard bid adieu to departing fans Monday morning at Indianapolis International Airport, the historic Super Bowl XLVI week came to a close. Even without any imminent plans to bid for another, Indianapolis continues to be widely praised as one of the best run and organized Super Bowls in recent history. The effects on Indy’s reputation as an event city and the continued fruits of the Legacy Project are still being felt to this day.

EDDIE WHITE: “I was in the lobby of the JW Marriott and ran into [Super Bowl XXXV–winning head coach] Brian Billick. He comes up to me and says, ‘Was this the best frickin’ place for a Super Bowl or what?’ All of the coaches and national NFL media guys said the same thing. None of them are from here, and they’ve all been in every city and every stadium, yet they all agreed that Indianapolis was the best city for a Super Bowl.”

MARK MILES: “We wanted the event to be better when it left than when it came in. Some people thought that was preposterous, because we’re not South Florida or Los Angeles, but we were confident we did that.”

JACK SWARBRICK: “It was one of those moments like the Pan Am Games. It changed perceptions of who we are.”

JIM IRSAY: “The Super Bowl was the event Indianapolis was born to host.”

ELI MANNING: “Everyone there that week was so excited and willing to do anything to make the trip worthwhile. It was a great representation of Indianapolis.”

GREG BALLARD: “The phrase I kept hearing was, ‘I never saw our city like this.’ Even when I was in the Marine Corps, traveling around the world, I always thought Indianapolis was great. It wasn’t until I was in the Super Bowl Village that it really crystalized in my mind: I’m glad others finally see what I see.”

GERRY DICK (Founder, Inside Indiana Business): “Indianapolis hosted a Super Bowl, and now everyone in the world knows it. The city always has that arrow in its quiver.”

PETE WARD: “We knew we were going to kick ass in hosting this event. Afterwards, everyone else knew it, too.”

ALLISON MELANGTON: “I was walking down Georgia Street that week and ran into Mayor Hudnut, whose vision years ago was the reason hosting a Super Bowl here was even possible. He had tears in his eyes and we hugged. After a long pause, he said, ‘I never could’ve pictured this.’”