Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Do Colts Fans Boo Injured Players?

In recent years fans of the Indianapolis Colts have developed a bit of a reputation for being "low class" (or other less charitable phrases). The reputation is undeserved and is the product of a crowd that knows and understands the game reacting in a way that to those who don't know and understand the game -- and in particular, don't know and understand the way the Colts play the game -- seems wrong. Do Colts fans boo injured players? Yes, but only some of the time. And it is an understanding of the when and why Colts fans boo an injury that explains why Colts fans aren't really being "low class" at all.

The first thing that must be understood is how the Colts offense plays the game. Unlike almost all other teams, the Colts don't go into a huddle between plays. When one play ends, the offense walks right up to the line of scrimmage and gets ready for the next play. The Colts are able to do this effectively because their quarterback, Peyton Manning, is so good at what he does. Using the "no huddle" offense provides the Colts with several advantages. First, it allows the team to get into a rhythm from play to play to play. That is part of the reason that the Colts are so successful in marching straight down the field so often. In addition, by using the no huddle offense the Colts are able to keep the defense from making player substitutions that might be appropriate given the down and distance situation in the game. If the defense has to rely upon the "wrong" player being in the game in a particular situation, then that is an advantage for the Colts. Furthermore, the no huddle offense can be physically exhausting on a defense and, if the defense is exhausted, it should be easier for the offense to have success. Finally, the Colts have become quite adept at being ready to run the next play very, very quickly and catching the other team with too many players on the field (while making substitutions) or being out of position. Sometimes, the defense get penalized; sometimes the defense will call a timeout; and sometimes the defense will fake an injury. And that is when Colts fans boo.

If you watch a Colts game carefully, you will note that Colts fans don't boo when member of the opposing team's offense or special teams is injured. And Colts fans don't boo when there is an obvious real  injury. For that matter, Colts fans almost never boo when a defensive player stays down immediately after a play. But when a defensive player gets up after a play, walks back into his team's huddle, looks over to the sidelines, and then takes a knee or "falls" to the ground, we know what we're seeing. The strategy of faking an injury was perfected by the New England Patriots (and Willie McGinest in particular in a December 2003 game when New England was out of timeouts).

The next time that you watch a Colts game, here a few things to notice about "injuries" that the other team may incur:
  • The "injury" rarely affects one of the defense's top players;
  • The "injury" usually happens just before a 3rd down play;
  • The "injury" usually happens right after a big play or right before a critical play;
  • The "injury" is almost always described as a cramp;
  • The "injured" player usually sits out one or two plays and then returns;
  • Frequently the coach or defensive coordinator of the other team will be seen smiling or laughing on the sidelines while the "injury" is being attended to; and
  • Sometimes two players are "injured" at the same time, but remarkably one of them is able to continue while the other has to come out of the game for a play or two.
True fans of football never want to see a player injured. But fans of the game also don't want a team to take advantage of the care that is taken to prevent injuries to be used as a tool. In reality, what is going on is that Colts fans are booing the coach of the other team for having so little respect for the game. Colts fans aren't booing the injured player or the injury; we are booing the other team for resorting to a lie in order to try to stop our offense.


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Friday, August 14, 2009

An Open Letter to the Pittsburgh Pirates (update 2)

On July 22, 2009, I posted my open letter to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In that letter, I bemoaned the way the Pirates continue to trade (or sell) their only good players and asked what fans have to root for. On July 30, 2009, I posted an update following yet more trades. It is worth noting that, despite having sent my letter to the Pirates, I've not received any response (not that I really expected any; after all, what would they say: "Gee, sorry that the team is terrible and that we're more interested in keeping our salaries low than in putting a winning team on the field"?).

Anyway, I thought that I'd update that open letter one more time with some interesting statistics:
  • Since July 22, the Pirates' record is 4-16 (.200). Before that, the record was 42-52 (.450).
  • Since July 22, the Pirates are averaging 3.4 runs per game. That number is skewed upward somewhat by two games in which the Pirates scored 10 and 11 runs, respectively. If those games are factored out, the Pirates are averaging just 2.6 runs per game. Factor out the two games in which the Pirates scored 6 and 7 runs, and the average drops to a miserable 2.1 runs per game.
  • Since July 22, the Pirates have been shutout 5 times. In other words, the Pirates have been shutout 25% of the time that they've played! To put that in perspective, for the entire season, the Pirates have only shutout their opponent 6 times. San Francisco, leading the league in shutouts, only has 15 for the whole season. But the Pirates, since July 22, get shutout 1 out of every 4 times they take the field.
  • During that same period, the Pirates have given up an average of 6.05 runs per game.
  • On July 22, the Pirates were in last place, but only 2 games behind Cincinnati (in 5th) and only 7.5 games behind St. Louis (in 1st). As of today, the Pirates are still in last place, but now they are 4 games behind Cincinnati (in 5th) and 17 games behind St. Louis (in 1st).
  • On July 22, 7 teams (Baltimore, Kansas City, Clevland, Oakland, Washington, Arizona, and San Diego) had worse records than the Pirates. Today, just 2 teams (Kansas City and Washington have worse records).
  • Thus, since my open letter, Pirates have lost 80% of their games by an average of 2.65 runs per game, fallen 2 more games behind 5th place Cincinnati, and 9.5 games further behind 1st place St. Louis.

Those numbers are beyond embarrassing; they are painful. So, I need someone to remind me again why I continue to root for the Pirates.


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Thursday, July 30, 2009

An Open Letter to the Pittsburgh Pirates (update)

A few days ago I posted my open letter to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In that letter, I bemoaned the number of consecutive losing seasons that the Pirates have had and the sale or trading of any star players that the Pirates may have. Well, yesterday, the Pirates traded away yet more players (Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, and Ian Snell). It is worth noting that Sanchez was one of the Pirates' two players in this year's All-Star game. In return, the Pirates got more young prospects who, I have little doubt, will be traded away if and when they become stars (or even moderately successful).

One more thing: The article that brought these trades to my attention reminded me that the Pirates are working on their 17th straight losing season, which would set a major league record for consecutive losing seasons.


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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Open Letter to the Pittsburgh Pirates

My first baseball card was Roberto Clemente. I declared that he was my favorite player. My second baseball card was Willie Stargell and I declared him to be my second favorite player. When it was pointed out to me that they played for the same team, I declared that team to be my favorite team. Then I asked what team they played for. Of course the answer was the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was the spring of 1971 and I was 5 years old. That was my first exposure to Major League Baseball. The Pirates went on to beat the Orioles in the World Series and my team loyalty was solidified.

In 1979, I was 13, and I spent my summer touring the United States with a group made up largely of teens from the New York area. All I heard about was the Mets and the Yankees. As we drove from one city to another, we had a lot of time to listen to baseball (remember radio?), read newspaper accounts of the games, study box scores, and memorize statistics. That was probably the first year in which I really began to follow and understand baseball’s nuances and the meaning of some of the statistics. And, of course, the Pirates once again beat the Orioles to win the World Series.

People often ask me how, growing up in Indianapolis, I could be a Pirate fan instead of a Reds fan or a Cubs fan or even a White Sox or Tigers or Cardinals fan. I simply smiled and relayed my story.

I tried to tune in to WGN or WTBS when the Pirates played the Cubs or Braves. When I was in college in Chicago, I worked hard to go see the Pirates whenever they visited Wrigley Field.

In 1990, I went to Cincinnati to watch the Pirates play the Reds in the NLCS. I wore a Pirates cap and jersey (an unruly Reds fan through my cap over the railing to the lower deck…) and proudly cheered on my team, much to the dismay of the Reds fans all around me.

In 1992, I visited Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play the Braves in the NLCS. My seat was in straight-away center field, third row from the top of the upper deck. Yet I was thrilled. It was the playoffs, I was in Pittsburgh (for the first time ever), and I’d even managed to drag my girlfriend (now wife) along. Everything in the world was right (except that she still hated sports).

But then the Pirates lost and from there my loyalty has been severely tested. I’ve stood with the Pirates through thick and thin (mostly thin…). I watched as players like Jason Kendall, Jason Bay, Aramis Ramirez, Brian Giles, Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth, and now Adam LaRoche, not to mention a number of other players, were traded or sold. With almost every deal, fans heard about the quality of the young prospects that the Pirates received for the “name” players who were being traded away. That may be true. But the fact is, the Pirates have not been in the playoffs since 1992; for that matter, they haven’t had a winning record since 1992, haven’t finished better than 3rd since 1997, and have finished last or next to last 7 of those 17 seasons (and they’re currently in last again).

I don’t know if any of those trades was good or bad. What I do know is that it is becoming harder and harder to be a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Part of cheering for a team is having players to cheer for. It has become almost certain that any Pirate player to develop a name or positive reputation will be traded or sold for “youth” but as soon as that young player begins to develop he too will be sold or traded. Thus, we fans have no stars to root for and a team that can’t win. To add insult to injury, each year when I tune in to the All-Star Game, I can’t help but notice the number of players who once wore a Pirate uniform.

I’m told that the owners of the team are making bucket loads of money, and of course that is what they should be doing. But from where I sit, two states away, looking back to the glory days of the ‘70s and early ‘90s, I see a team with ownership that doesn’t care about putting a winning team on the field. Other “small market” teams, like Minnesota and Milwaukee have managed to be competitive. Florida has one two World Series and expansion teams Tampa Bay, Colorado, and Arizona have all been to the World Series more recently than the Pirates. Even the Cubs have become competitive in recent years. But not the Pirates. And Pittsburgh’s other teams, the Steelers and Penguins have been able to succeed despite being in a small market.

What prompted this letter? I got a press release email from the team telling me about today’s trade of Adam LaRoche. Again, I don’t know if this was a good trade or a bad trade. When I read the stats of the players obtained for LaRoche, I am far from impressed (“hit .253 with 14 doubles, 24 RBIs and 21 runs scored with Double-A Portland” and “5-4 with one save and a 3.35 ERA in 18 appearances (12 starts) this year for the Single-A Greenville Drive”). I have no doubt that should either of these players develop, they too will be traded away.

So what is left for me to root for? A losing team without stars. Why bother? I’ve given the Pirates 38 years of my loyalty and I’ve been a devoted fan. For the last 17 years, I’ve cheered for a loser. Do the math: For nearly half of the time that I’ve been a Pirate fan, the team has hasn’t had a winning season! I don’t want to say goodbye to baseball or to the Pirates. But at some point, I’m going to have to say enough is enough. Maybe it is time to turn my attention to a team that really wants to win. Or maybe I should simply turn my attention to another sport entirely. As I watch my son play soccer, I’m learning to appreciate it more and more. Maybe I’d be better served following MLS than MLB. I’ve tried to get my son interested in baseball and the Pirates, but I don’t know how to do that, especially with a team perennially in last place. And it is hard to look at the way the Pirate organization is run when the best thing that I have to compare it to are the Indianapolis Colts; the differences couldn’t be more stark.

I love my Pirates, but I want to root for a winner or at least a team that looks like it’s trying to be a winner. Right now, that doesn’t describe the Pirates.

So, I’ve taken the step of sending this letter to my team in hopes that maybe, just maybe, someone in the organization will remember that without fans … well, that ways lies darkness.


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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Banning Good Player Sends Wrong Message to Kids

By now I'm sure that most people have heard about Jericho Scott, the 9-year old baseball player from New Haven, Connecticut that has been prevented from pitching because he is too good. (For information, including some video, please take a look at ESPN's article.) The decision by the league is wrong in so many ways that it is almost unfathomable. I wanted to discuss a few of my thoughts on the subject.

First, it is important to note that there has not been any allegation that Jericho has hurt anybody. He hasn't beaned another player. Instead, the allegation appears to simply be that he throws too hard and, thus, the other kids will be afraid and/or the other kids won't have success when they bat against Jericho. To both of those concerns, I say, tough.

I remember playing baseball as a 9-year old (the first year that kids pitched in our league). I pitched. Badly. I hit other players. Oops. But I wasn't banned. Other kids pitched well. They threw hard. But neither I nor anyone else on my team complained because the other pitcher was too good. No, we got into the batter's box and tried. When one of us got a hit off one of the good pitchers, we were excited. That was what sports was all about. And I remember the first time that I saw a curveball. It scared the %$^&@# out of me. But again, I didn't cry foul.

Think what message the league has sent to Jericho. They've told him that skill, whether obtained by practice or genetics, is to be punished rather than rewarded. And they've told him that feelings are more important than good sportsmanship. Just imagine if this was the local spelling bee instead of baseball. Can you imagine a kid being banned from the spelling bee because he (or she) spent too much time practicing or knew too many words? That situation isn't really any different than that facing Jericho Scott. (And don't tell me that the situation is different because a kid might get hurt. First, remember that nobody has alleged that Jericho has hit anybody [which speaks to his control and skill]. Second, any thrown pitch has a chance to hurt a kid. Third, and most importantly, batted balls [not to mention thrown bats] also have a great chance to hurt kids. No, this is not about safety at all; it's about protecting the egos of other kids who might strike out against Jericho and it's about protecting the egos of the parents who might be forced to watch their child strike out.)

My 8-year-old son plays soccer. I've seen some kids kick the ball pretty hard, especially at goal. But I can't imagine trying to get one of those kids (or his team) thrown out of the league for kicking too hard. Nor could I envision the league penalizing a player who could dribble too well. My 8-year-old daughter is a competitive cheerleader. I can't imagine her team walking off the mat because another team had a girl who could tumble or fly better than her team.

As long as you are playing within the rules of the sport, then skill should be rewarded, not feared. And that is a troubling part of the message being sent to the kids on the other teams. Rather than tell those kids that they need to suck it up and try their best, they are told to quit. Rather than tell those kids to try to hit off Jericho and use it as a learning experience and opportunity to get better, they are told that adults will remove obstacles to their success. (It is also worth noting that, with 8 teams in the league, each batter will face Jericho very infrequently...) I wonder: Will those parents try to get school teachers to give easier spelling tests? Will they demand that the fastest runners not be allowed to compete in relay races and the tallest kids not be allowed to play basketball? I thought that sports was supposed to be about learning to develop your own potential, not a race to the lowest common denominator. Gee, I know. Let's keep the best pitchers out of the game. We can also bench the best hitters. The fastest kids shouldn't have a chance to outrun anybody and the kids who can catch or throw well should also be pushed aside. Is that really the world that we want for our children?

Some have suggested that the simple answer is for Jericho to "play up" (that is, play in the league for older kids). That solution is fine if Jericho wants to play up. But just as a child who does well in school shouldn't be forced to skip a grade, Jericho shouldn't be forced to play up if he doesn't want to. It is also worth noting that there are two real problems with having Jericho play up (not to mention the bad message that forcing him to play up sends to the other kids in the "younger" league). First, Jericho is a 9-year-old kid. Is he emotionally mature enough to play with older kids? Just because he can throw the ball hard doesn't mean that he should be sharing a bench with a 13-year-old (while Jericho is discussing Ben 10 or Star Wars or whatever he likes, the other kids on the bench might be discussing girls or drugs or something that would be wholly inappropriate for a 9-year-old). Secondly, while Jericho may be a great pitcher, we don't know what his other skills are like. For all we know, his batting and throwing skills or his knowledge and understanding of the game may be no better than average for his age group. Forcing him to play up could actually impede his ability to develop these other skills at an age appropriate pace.

One more point that I'd like to make. I mentioned this story to my 8-year-old son. I told him that Jericho was a very good pitcher who threw very hard and that the other kids couldn't hit his pitches and some might be scared. And I told him that the league kicked Jericho out. My son's response: "That's not fair." When I asked why it wasn't fair, my son said that Jericho should be allowed to play and, most importantly, he recognized that sometimes other kids would be better. I asked him how he would feel if there was a player so good that he couldn't get a hit. My son's reply? "That's how the game works." Too bad adults aren't always as wise as kids.


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Monday, August 25, 2008

Lucas Oil Stadium: A Fan's Perspective

Last night, I attended my first "game" at Lucas Oil Stadium. I put "game" in quotation marks because I don't consider pre-season NFL games to be real games; rather they are bad excuses for NFL owners to wrangle a few extra (well, more than a few) dollars out of the fans. But that is a discussion for another day. More importantly, between last week's walkaround and last night's game, I've now had a chance to really look at and think about Indianapolis' new stadium and thought that I'd offer a few thoughts.

First, for the record, I intend for this post to be the last time that I refer to "Lucas Oil Stadium" again. I'll probably call it the "The Luke" or "The Stadium" or "Peyton's Place" or "That Great Big Brick Building Downtown That Replaced the Dome" but I won't call it "Lucas Oil Stadium". Sorry. Frankly, I've always had problems with naming rights for stadiums, but I recognize that the almighty dollar requires sacrifices like naming stadiums after local dignitaries or the team (can you imagine the Yankees playing at "Trump Stadium" or the Bears playing at "Geico Insurance Field"?).

So, I can live with the name that a city gives to a stadium so long as the name rolls off the tongue easily enough and bears some relation to the city. Conseco Fieldhouse and the RCA Dome were each named for major companies in the Indianapolis economy and the Pepsi Coliseum is at least easy to say and named for a product with which everyone is familiar (me, I'd prefer the Coke Coliseum...). But Lucas Oil? It doesn't really roll of the tongue, now does it? I could have lived with Lucas Stadium (sounds like it was named for someone), but throwing in the word "Oil" just destroys it. And have you ever looked at the logo for Lucas Oil? Come on, a 5th-grader with PhotoShop could come up with a better logo (not to mention one that looks like it was designed some time since the invention of, oh, I don't know, the internal combustion engine?). Wrigley Field: cool. US Cellular Field: yuck. Soldier Field: cool. Minute Maid Park: yuck. Ford Field: cool. Lucas Oil Stadium? You decide. I thought that Denver's approach made a lot of sense: Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium. Invesco got their naming rights and everyone can still call the place Mile High Stadium. On the opposite end of the spectrum, how many times has the baseball stadium in San Francisco changed names (SBC Park, Pacific Bell Park, AT&T Park)? If Lucas Oil is bought will it become Pennzoil Stadium or Quaker State Stadium?

I'm still curious to know why a local Indianapolis company didn't step up and acquire the naming rights (in particular, Eli Lilly).

Apparently, Lucas Oil doesn't want the stadium to be called "The Luke" because one of their big competitors is Luke Oil. Tough. Mr. Lucas should have thought of that when he threw his money at our stadium.

Finally, just for the record, I noticed last night that you can purchase Lucas Oil t-shirts and hats and oil products at the game. Just what I want to do: Buy a quart of oil for my dragster while I'm at a Colts game. I wonder: How does Lucas Oil taste on bratwurst?

And now we return to our regularly schedul ... er ... the review portion of this post.

So let's talk about The Luke (and I'm going to try to order these comments in the order that a visitor will encounter things, not necessarily importance). The first thing that you notice about the stadium is that it's big. No, think bigger than that. If you drive into downtown Indianapolis on the Airport Expressway, you'll get an idea of just how massive the structure is. And it dwarfs the Hoosier Dome two blocks away. The architects were also very smart to use brick on the exterior of the stadium; it helps give it a much warmer feel, more like a stadium and less like a generic government facility.

One criticism, though, can be leveled at the exterior and that involves parking. I thought that the stadium was supposed to have a large parking lot for tailgating. It does have a large parking lot, but apparently the only people who can use that lot are those with suites or club seats and those people (at least the ones in the suites) seem least likely to tailgate before a game. For last night's pre-season game, the stadium appeared nearly full, but the parking lot was, if not empty, certainly not full. I also learned that, even with all of that parking, there is no on site parking for disabled fans. That so much parking is set aside for the VIPs with no thought given to who might need parking is at best a poor decision and at worst shameful.

Inside, The Luke provides quite a "wow" factor (mostly good "wows" but a few bad ones, too). The stadium is so different from the Hoosier Dome, it's hard to explain. Try this: The Dome is to The Luke as a warehouse is to an upscale shopping mall? I'm not sure if I can capture it better than that. Picture this, though: At the Dome, the concourses surrounding the stadium were simply concrete walkways with concession stands every-so-often. No aesthetics to speak of. At The Luke, the concourses may be concrete, but between decorated walls, pillars, and ceilings, neon lights and product placements, there is much more of a "finished" feel to the place (except for some of the concrete floors that seem very unfinished). At the Dome, you would walk from here to there; at The Luke, when walking from here to there, you might actually find yourself looking at something other than the floor or the back in front of you.

The main entrance plaza at The Luke includes a stage (and the band kept playing until time for the pre-game festivities). And unlike at the Dome where you could only see into the stadium through the walkways to the seats, the entire north end plaza is open to the stadium, so you can see down to the field from the stage, concession stands, and bar. This was one of the biggest "wow" moments at the stadium.

We thought about taking the elevator to one of the upper levels just to look around (we got to the game very early), but there was a huge line to go up the escalator (I read this morning that the line was nearly 20 minutes long). That will need to be corrected (apparently there are ramps to the upper levels, but I didn't know that and didn't see the ramps). So, I'll have to wait for another day to look around from higher up. I will say that if you are offered "nose bleed" seats at The Luke, you may have a better vantage point if you charter a plane and fly over the game. Yes, the nose bleed seats are that high up. If you sit up by the south window, you might want to bring oxygen to the game.

There appear to be more concession stands with more choices. That's good. Some of them are even "dressed up" (one has an exterior to make it look like an old fashioned diner). And the food that we had was pretty good. Last week I tried a pork tenderloin (a Hoosier favorite) and it was better than average (and I've certainly had a lot worse) and the cheeseburger that I had last night was quite good. The onion rings and fries were forgettable, but the chicken tenders were large and decent (and not overly greasy).

However, there were some serious kinks that need to be ironed out of the concessions. First, the prices seemed a bit steep on some things and stupid on others. The cheeseburger was $7.50, which seemed a bit high, but probably within the outer reaches of acceptability. The popcorn, on the other hand, was not. If I recall, at the Dome, there was a choice of a bucket of popcorn (think large movie popcorn) or a giant souvenir bucket (where you're really paying for the bucket). I don't recall how much the souvenir bucket was, but I think it was in the $8-10 range. We got one, just to have, but often got a bucket of popcorn to share (and I think it was about $4, but could have been a bit more). At The Luke, popcorn comes in a cardboard "megaphone" (maybe a foot tall with a 4-inch diameter at the top; it doesn't look like much popcorn) for $4.75 or the souvenir bucket for $12! The megaphone is way too expensive for way too little and the souvenir bucket is too expensive. There should be a choice in between. Oh, well.

We also had to settle for cheeseburgers because the machine that makes the Philly steak sandwiches was broken. More troubling was the fact that we had to wait nearly 20 minutes for those two cheeseburgers! Somehow, the concession operator was woefully unprepared for the demand. Chicken tenders, fries, and onion rings were being served up quickly enough, but if you dared to order a cheeseburger, you were in for quite a wait. And I still don't understand why people were being told to stick their hands in their beers when they complained that there was too much head... Yeah, when I'm at a game, I really want to stick my hand in my beer.

Jumping ahead briefly: The concessions were served with nice cardboard cartons to carry everything. However, when we were finished, I wanted to throw away the cartons (they were large and there's only so much room to sit), but I had to walk all the way out to the main concourse to find a trash can (and when I did, it was full). There should be trash cans in the walkways leading to the seats.

Speaking of the seats, those in The Luke are much nicer than those at the Dome. They are wider, have more leg room, and have cup holders mounted on the seat in front (instead of on the armrest). And somehow, they simply felt more comfortable. Back at the Dome, we sat where the stands begin to curve (just a bit) toward the endzone; as a result, two of our seats were much narrower than others and not all of our group could ... um ... er ... fit ... into some of those seats (at least not comfortably). That problem is gone (at least for our seats).

The design of the stadium also now includes far more levels of seating with walkways running between seating levels. This has the benefit of raising the seats of those sitting higher up by a little bit so that they can see over those in front. Plexiglas has been used in place of metal railings in many places which should also help with the view. As a place to watch a game, The Luke should be terrific (at least for football; I'll reserve judgment for basketball).

Still talking about seats, there were two things that seemed a bit problematic. I understand that people who pay for club seats get "more"; they get the best field location and they get cushioned seats. But I don't like the idea of the Plexiglas railings that separated our section of the stands from the club seats next to us. There are even two aisles running right next to each other separated by Plexiglas. It's a bit like the nobility is afraid to brush up against the commoners. Come on, I showered before the game and I don't think that I have anything contagious. We all understand that there are "haves" and "have lesses", but there is no reason to rub it in. And on that note, the way that the ushers were quite rudely directing people who mistakenly thought that they could get from here to there by walking through the club seat area was unacceptable. First, there should be signs directing people so that they don't walk down a hallway only to be turned back. Second, the ushers should always be polite. Third, why can't people walk through a concourse to get to their seat (especially when the main concourse is very crowded)? Again, why rub in the "we've got more"? Perhaps the club seats should have a private entrance where those folks don't even have to see the rest of us? Maybe hang a giant curtain between us and them? I understand that they're paying more, and should get more, but should they get more at the expense of others who not only get less but get it less conveniently? I don't think so.

And now back to the stadium. Back at the Dome, I often used my binoculars to look at the replay screens. They were small, far away, and very grainy (high tech in 1984; embarrassing by 2008). Not at The Luke. In fact, my mother had to keep tearing her eyes away from the giant screens and back to the field. It was almost too easy to watch the game on the screen and not on the field. I almost can't wait for the first controversial replay call so that we can see very clearly what really happened on the field. One bit of disappointment with the big screens was that they weren't being used to display stats. I thought that 1/4 of the screen was going to be used for stats during the game. Instead, it was just used for advertising.

Speaking of advertising, the stadium is, essentially, one giant ad. Between the 2nd and 3rd levels of the stadium is a giant "ribbon" screen (essentially a digital display screen that virtually circles the stadium). Occasionally, the screen would have some interesting information on it, but by and large it was used for brightly colored animated advertising. Cool for a few minutes, but I tried to tune it out pretty quickly. However, the motion and bright lights could, from time to time, be distracting. I'd like to see the ribbon also get used for things relevant to the game now and then. The scoreboard itself is much cooler than at the Dome, with the ability to show the teams' logos (in color, no less) and in a much easier to read typeface. However, it can be hard to actually find the scoreboard with the ads pressing in from both sides. I'll simply have to train my eye to look to the right spot.

During last week's open house, I was very worried that The Luke would be much quieter than the Dome (which could be absolutely deafening and definitely had a direct impact on the game; you could watch other teams struggle to communicate when we got really loud). After last night's pre-season game, I'm still a bit worried about the noise level, but not as worried. I don't think that it can possibly be as loud as the Dome, but I don't think that it will be quiet, either. I guess that says something about our fans rather than the stadium. (I went to a game in Detroit at Ford Field a few years ago. During the 1st quarter, the Lions were [gasp] beating the Colts, but the 20 or so Colts fans in attendance were far louder than the stadium full of Lions fans. It was the quietest stadium I'd ever ... um ... heard?)

OK. Nearly done. A few more quick "cool" items. First (obviously) is the roof. Watching it open was cool. Sorry, I can't quite come up with a better word. It was cool. The same can be said for the north window (which is massive). The unfortunate thing about the north window is that it will only provide a view of downtown to those sitting in certain parts of the city (or to TV audiences, I suppose). For us, when we look through the north window we see the sky; then again, after 24 years in the Dome, seeing the sky from a football game is pretty wild. Even with the roof open, I'm not sure that I felt like I was outside; maybe it's because of the overhangs above us; maybe it's because the roof is so high; or maybe it's because of the massive crossbeams that the roof rests on. So I felt as if I was kinda-in, kinda-out. That is, until I felt the breeze! Once the north window opened, a fairly strong breeze began to fill the stadium. What was really strange was that the division and Super Bowl banners hung from the rafters were blowing in different directions at the same time. All I can guess is that the wind comes in and then swirls around. That should make life interesting for kickers.

Another interesting feature are the field-level suites at the south endzone. Yes, there are a set of suits at field level with just a 4-foot high (give or take) padded wall separating the fans from the playing field. As a place to watch a game, those seats are probably pretty lousy, but as a way to get into the game when the action is on the south end of the field, those seats (big leather recliners, it looked like) should be wild. I just hope that the people in those suites get super loud and super obnoxious (everything short of throwing beer, I guess) when the other team has the ball on that end of the field.

I do feel sorry for businesses close to the Dome. The Luke is only a few blocks away, but as parking seems to be shifting much further south and west, I'm afraid that many of those businesses may be losing out (I suspect that Nordstrom will be sending out a search party for my mother by mid-season). Restaurants and bars near the Dome may still do OK, but I think that stores in Circle Center Mall will suffer.

I also think that the City of Indianapolis is going to have to spend some money to clean up some of the streets and buildings around The Luke. The revitalization that is so evident in much of downtown is much less evident on some of the streets and alleys south of the stadium where many people are parking. As this will be a point of reference for Indianapolis for out-of-town visitors, this will be an area that needs to be addressed by the City.

Well, I know that I've made a lot of criticisms. Please don't take this post wrong and think that I don't like the stadium. I do and I'm looking forward to years of exciting games. But, as I'm sure that it will be garnering rave reviews from numerous quarters, I thought that it was worth the effort to at least point out a few problems, especially ones that can be easily corrected. Just as the Colts have a pre-season, so to, I guess, do the stadium operators. Hopefully, by the time the Colts host the Bears to open the 2008 season, the kinks will be worked out and The Luke will be ready.


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