Indianapolis throbs with excitement on Super Bowl weekend

Michael Wright Reports from Indianapolis

February 6, 2010


The Super Bowl

No three words tweak the American psyche quite as much.  It’s not just a football game, it’s a national event.  One that occupies not just a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, but nearly an entire weekend.

I have come to Indianapolis, site of Super Bowl XLIV.  That’s 44 to you.  The Indianapolis Colts are playing the New Orleans Saints, and Indianapolis is hosting the game by virtue of the Colts’ superior record during the regular season.

New Orleans and Indianapolis.  It’s hard to think of two American cities more steeped in history.  During the Seven Years War between England and France, British troops in North America routed French-born settlers known as Acadians from the Maritime provinces of Canada.  Many fled to New Orleans, and those Acadians became “Cajuns.”  Then in 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city.  The few survivors sought refuge in the Superdome.  Then they left.  Now the handful of stragglers who remain in the city feel that only an NFL Championship can save them.

Indianapolis is a little less interesting, but just as fascinating.  It was probably founded in the 1800s.  It has the word “Indian” in its name so maybe Indians had something to do with it.  David Letterman was born there.  They have a car race every spring.

So now it’s Saturday, the day before the game, and here I am in Indianapolis, the Fort Wayne of Indiana.  The folks here are excited about the Super Bowl, but the city doesn’t seem as crowded as I would have expected.  Of course, it’s still early.  By this time tomorrow, the world’s media will have descended on the place, and Pat Summerall and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder will fill the airwaves with their own special brand of merriment.

Not wanting to wear myself out, I spent most Saturday afternoon in my room at the Ramada Inn.  They have cable TV in all the rooms, so I watched some shows I don’t have the luxury of seeing at home.  Not the nudie stuff on HBO, however.

In the evening, I wanted to experience the culture of downtown Indianapolis, so I went to the Voodoo Lounge.  They have liquor and entertainers there.  Which brings us to the subject of the Super Bowl halftime show.  This has become a showbiz gala that’s almost as important as the game itself.  Past entertainers have included Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and Janet Jackson’s left nipple. 

This year’s halftime headliner is Bobby Goldsboro.  At least I assume he is.  He’s doing two shows at the Voodoo Lounge over the weekend, and from what I can see in the papers, he seems to be the only Hollywood A-lister in the city at the present time. 

Bobby has long been a favorite of mine.  As a kid, I especially loved his song “Watching Scotty Grow,” a heartfelt tribute to a son from his proud father.  I was not close to my own father, so that song meant a lot to me.  It was an idealized version of something I didn’t have.  I grew up idolizing Bobby Goldsboro.

He sang all his hits tonight at the Voodoo Lounge:  “Honey,” “See the Funny Little Clown,” and yes, “Watching Scotty Grow.”  Imagine my excitement when, between sets, I saw Bobby sitting alone at a table drinking an iced tea.  I approached him, introduced myself, and told him how much his music meant to me.  He shook my hand and bade me sit down.  We talked.  I told him of the many nights I’d fallen asleep with my transistor radio under my pillow, letting him and Scotty serenade me to sleep.  I asked him what Scotty was doing these days.  He must, after all, be about my age now.

Bobby laughed and said that there was no Scotty in real life.  Bobby didn’t even write the song.  It was written by Mac Davis, a singer who enjoyed modest popularity in the early ’70s, and who co-starred in a few good ol’ boy movies with Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed.

Well, that was a bit of a downer, but all of us have our childhood illusions shattered at some point, don’t we?  Onward and upward.  Bobby went off to play his second set, and I went back to the Ramada Inn for a good night’s sleep.  Sleep, however, was a long time coming.

Bobby Goldsboro didn’t write his own best song.  There is no Scotty.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the son-of-a-bitch didn’t have any son at all.

Sunday, February 7

The months of waiting are over.  Super Sunday is here.  I had breakfast in my room.  Toast and coffee.  Surprisingly, the city has still not caught that Super Bowl buzz.  I see no activity in the streets.

There’s still time, though.  The game doesn’t start until 6:30 PM, so the city may yet catch fire.  And there’s a lot of time to kill before I head over to Lucas Oil Stadium.  Lovely name, isn’t it?  Such is America in the 21st century.

You know, it would also surprise me if Mac Davis had a son.  Although ostensibly a singer, he was better known for his skintight dungarees.  And it’s a fact that tight-fitting clothes cause excessive body heat in the groin, which can lower a man’s sperm count.  I believe Mac’s testicles were nestled too close to his body for far too long to allow him to be fertile. 

I went down to the hotel bar for a few drinks.  It was just after noon, but as the song says, it’s always five o’clock somewhere.  In the lobby I saw a boy who looked as though he’d already begun celebrating the Super Bowl, early and illegally, since he couldn’t have been more than fifteen.  He had one of those oversized foam rubber hands with the index finger raised in the “We’re #1!” gesture.  He wore a Saints jersey.  He ran up to me, breathing beery fumes, and shouted “New Awlins!!  WOOOOO!!”  I cringed.  “Yes, New Awlins, woo,” I meekly replied, even though I am rooting for Indianapolis because it’s closer to Chrislip.  The boy ran away. 

I was afraid of him.  I am a grown man who’ll not see 40 again, and I was afraid of a drunken boy of fifteen waving a foam rubber hand.  

I went into the bar and ordered a Manhattan, and then another.  I doodled on my napkin.  Have you noticed that you can take the B from Bowl, stick it on the end of Super, and come up with a whole new phrase?  Superb Owl.  That’s me, a superb owl who only comes out when the scary things of the day are gone.  Things like boys one-third my age, who frighten me.

The walls of the bar were mirrored on both sides, meaning that my reflection was reflected, and reflected again.  I could see an infinite progression of Michael Wrights.  I hid my eyes. 

You see, I don’t like myself very much.  And I like an infinite number of myselves infinitely less.

Game time came.  I didn’t go.  There were lots of other people in the bar, and they didn’t go either.  The game was on a big screen TV.   I was appalled at the sight of the fans in their shirtsleeves.  There wasn’t a jacket to be seen, and Indianapolis in winter is not that much warmer than Chrislip.  Then I noticed that the announcers kept talking about Miami.  Miami this, Miami that, over and over.  And everywhere there were signs.  Welcome to Miami!

The truth finally crawled up on me.  The game was being played in Miami.  I had come to the wrong city.  I laughed at myself, and my laughter was dry and ironic.  Any city I am in is the wrong city.

I don’t remember how the game ended.  This much I know:  somebody won and somebody lost.  That’s life.  But it’s funny how, when we come to a certain point in our lives and look backward, the road behind us is littered with with so few victories and so many losses.

I left the bar and took a long walk in Eagle Creek Park.  At one point I thought I saw Bobby Goldsboro.  It looked like the fellow I’d seen playing the Voodoo Lounge, with the same modified helmet-hairdo he had in the Seventies, but now with a little mustache.  I didn’t approach him, and I’m sure now that it wasn’t him.

It’s a long way from youth to middle-age, and a long way from Chrislip to Indianapolis. 

I don’t condone what Mark David Chapman did.  But I understand it.

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