Jim Baumbach is an investigative / enterprise sports reporter for Newsday. A Long Island native, he started working
Standing in the lobby of the JW Marriott here, you're just as likely to see Joe Montana, Eddie George and Michael Irvin as you are some random fan wearing a Giants, Patriots or Colts jersey. Seriously.
This spot serves as the hub of Super Bowl XLVI, and the consensus among longtime attendees is that the people-watching here is better than it is in any other host city. From current and past sports stars to random celebrities -- think Vanilla Ice -- so many have passed through here in the past week.
It may be a tad crowded and the noise level is high, but if you're into seeing what it's like to, say, literally bump into a football behemoth such as Warren Sapp, this is the place to be.
The average asking price on the secondary market for a ticket to Sunday night's big game is somewhere in the $3,000 range, much too steep for most of us 99-percenters. But if you want the next-best Super Bowl experience at a significantly reduced price, find a way to get here next time the game comes to Indy and simply stroll around the downtown, especially this hotel.
There's no entrance fee to the hotel and -- wait, hey look, there's Adam Sandler. And isn't that Jets tight end Dustin Keller on line at Starbucks? And there goes Archie Manning entering the gym. Heck, I've even seen former Baltimore Ravens coach and current NFL Network personality Brian Billick get his shoes shined on consecutive days, which still boggles my mind.
What makes this city so great for the Super Bowl is its small, compact downtown. Everything you would want to get to -- from the team hotels to media headquarters to restaurants -- sits within a few blocks of one another. Admittedly, that's highly convenient from a reporter's standpoint, but it's also perfect for fans looking for a slice of what makes the Super Bowl different from any other sporting event.
Celebrities flock here because it's the in thing to do, with parties being thrown every night by the high rollers. When the Super Bowl comes to the New York area in 2014, the celebrities and sports folks will be able to attend their parties without being seen, because that's business as usual in Manhattan. But here, that's proven to be nearly impossible.
Every night this week, a large crowd of gawkers has gathered outside Indy's top dining spot, St. Elmo Steak House, to see who shows up. It began Monday night when the two quarterbacks -- Eli Manning and Tom Brady -- were spotted having dinner at the same time, though at different tables, of course.
But, really, you don't even need to travel that far or step outside for such sightings. For the first time, the NFL allowed fans inside "Radio Row," the designated area where radio stations set up shop and sports figures / celebrities come to be interviewed (and also pitch their products, latest movies or whatever else they're being paid for).
You might see Cam Newton and Tim Tebow on one side of the third-floor ballroom that houses "Radio Row," then spot Rosie O'Donnell and Jay Mohr on the other. Curt Schilling even came by to pitch a video game. Sometimes the bizarre scene simply leaves you shaking your head.
You might say the only thing missing is a Kardashian.