Commentary

Irsay, Dungy key to bringing Super Bowl to Indianapolis

Originally Published: May 20, 2008
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Call it Lucas Oil Stadium. Or call it the house that Peyton Manning built.

But don't forget to give some credit to Jim Irsay and Tony Dungy. They're the ones who built the foundation for the glitzy new stadium that's about to open in downtown Indianapolis. They're the ones who made football matter in a city (and a state) where basketball always has dominated.

[+] EnlargeJim Irsay
AP Photo/John AmisAfter coming up short in his Super Bowl bid a year ago, Jim Irsay and the Colts didn't miss this year, earning the bid for Super Bowl XLVI.
They, along with $25 million in promises from the business community, are the ones who brought a Super Bowl to Indianapolis. NFL owners voted Tuesday to give the 2012 game to Indianapolis.

For the record, that's Super Bowl XLVI. For Indianapolis, it's probably Super Bowl I and Only.

But that's one more Super Bowl than anyone could have imagined for this Midwestern city back in 1984 when Irsay's father (Robert) packed up the Baltimore Colts and moved them to Indianapolis. That's one more Super Bowl than anyone could have imagined as the Colts were winning only 90 of their first 228 games in Indianapolis. Aside from Jim Harbaugh's magical 1995 season, there was nothing to get excited about and, as a result, the team was mentioned as a candidate to move to Los Angeles or elsewhere.

It's easy to trace the change in fortune to 1998, when the Colts drafted Manning with the No. 1 overall pick and made him their franchise quarterback. But that single event doesn't come close to telling the complete story. As Manning has set all sorts of passing records, Irsay has restored glory to the family name and Dungy has shown nice guys can finish first.

No one knows what the future will bring for Irsay and Dungy, but what happened Tuesday makes both their legacies complete, for now.

"This is the completion of a chapter in some ways of the last decade," Irsay said. "I assumed full ownership after my father passed away. We began our climb to excellence with a Super Bowl win and building this new stadium. I felt this was the one piece of the puzzle that had to get put into place to tie all that together."

In a trend that reflects the modern economics of sports, the NFL rewarded Indianapolis for building a new stadium with a retractable roof. That's the only way a cold-weather venue can get a Super Bowl and it's probably a one-time thing (unless Indianapolis gets another Super Bowl when it builds another new stadium 30 or 40 years down the road).

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning and Tony Dungy
Tom Hauck/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning's and Tony Dungy's success on the field helped bring a new stadium to downtown Indianapolis.
Indianapolis was selected ahead of Glendale, Ariz., and Houston, two warm-weather venues that recently hosted Super Bowls. Indianapolis already was passed over once and Irsay and Dungy made sure that didn't happen again.

At a meeting almost exactly a year ago, Dallas was selected ahead of Indianapolis to host Super Bowl XLV.

"Leaving Nashville that night I said, 'Get ready for another year of getting after it and lobbying,'" Irsay said. "I felt disappointed and responsible that we didn't get it done."

But Irsay and Dungy are responsible for Indianapolis getting it done this time around. Irsay, who became the youngest owner (then 37) in league history when his father passed away in 1998, is a growing power broker in the NFL and has used his influence. He's aligned himself with the powerful old-school owners and he reminded them of the implied promise of a Super Bowl that comes with building a new stadium.

"In so many respects, Jim Irsay has led this effort," said Mark Miles, president of the Indianapolis Super Bowl bid committee. "It simply doesn't happen without his leadership and the respect he has in that owners' room and around the league. He was really the person in Indianapolis that said, 'We can't quit. We've got to stay at this. Indianapolis is a Super Bowl city.'"

Indianapolis is a Super Bowl city because of what Irsay and Dungy have done in making the Colts one of the most dominant teams of this decade. Not bad for an owner whose family name seemed forever tarnished and a coach, who, supposedly, couldn't win the big game.

But Irsay and Dungy, who joined the Colts in 2002, have won big together. The Colts are the first team in history to record five consecutive 12-win seasons and they won Super Bowl XLI.

It may not last forever. Dungy has said he doesn't want to coach much longer and there has been speculation this could be his last season, with assistant Jim Caldwell already designated as his successor.

But Dungy's reputation remains one of the strongest in the league. After turning around the hapless Bucs in the mid-1990s and helping bring a new stadium to Tampa Bay, Dungy did the same thing with the Colts and became the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl.

Dungy's low-key style carries plenty of weight and that's part of the reason he was in Atlanta for the presentation by the Indianapolis contingent. Dungy worked the lobby Monday night, talking to the owners who would decide if Indianapolis got a Super Bowl.

Dungy left the Ritz-Carlton moments before the victory announcement was made. Irsay stayed behind with the rest of the Indianapolis contingent. They left Atlanta separately, but they brought a Super Bowl to Indianapolis together.

Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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