Local fans get firsthand look at Super Bowl XLI
Driving rain and a sloth of agitated Chicago Bears fans couldn't stop Putnam County residents Bev and Matt Land and Tom and Leanna Swearingen from leaping out of their seats at Dolphin Stadium Sunday when Indianapolis Colts defensive back Kelvin Hayden completed a 56-yard sprint to the end zone, helping seal the team's historic Super Bowl victory.
Before that, Bev and her husband were a little hesitant to stand up and cheer -- as they would during a regular Colts game back home -- because they were surrounded mostly by Bears fans who were becoming increasingly perturbed by their team's actions on the field.
"It was just harder to be excited," Bev said.
It didn't help that every time Bev and her husband stood up to cheer, the rain made puddles in their seats, soaking their backsides when they sat back down.
The entire crowd of more than 74,000 football fans at the game was more subdued than normal because of the rain, Bev, said.
The rain didn't start falling until about an hour before the game and never stopped throughout the duration of the evening.
But none of that mattered when it became clear that the Colts were going to pull out their first Super Bowl win since coming to Indianapolis in 1984.
"Colts fans were just going nuts," Tom recalled as he talked about his experience earlier this week.
After the game, the minority crowd of 'blue' fans stayed in their waterlogged seats to see Coach Tony Dungy and his team receive the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy. The same could not be said for the somber crowd of Bears fans who started filing out of the stadium at the end of the third quarter.
The Swearingens and the Lands were among several groups of local residents who hopped a plane to sunny south Florida last weekend to cheer their team to victory.
Both couples are season ticket holders for the Colts and knew from the start that taking part in the event was something they just had to do.
Getting tickets to the big game was made easier for the Lands because of their connection with one of the team's official sponsors.
They shared their good fortune with their friends the Swearingens and soon they were off to the land of swaying palm trees and warm, sandy beaches. But beach combing was the last thing on their minds.
"Everywhere we went it was just, 'Go Colts!" Bev said after returning home in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. "There was camaraderie among fans and it was just like you never met a stranger."
While television viewers back home are afforded a front row seat at the game -- albeit from the comfort of their living room -- what they don't often see is the spectacle that goes on outside the stadium before and after the game.
It's called the NFL Experience and is billed as "pro football's interactive theme park offering participatory games, displays, entertainment attractions, kids' clinics, free autograph sessions and the largest football card show ever," according to the website SuperBowl.com.
"It's such an event," Bev said. "Everywhere you go it's Super Bowl."
The couples took time to peruse the festivities plus attend a rally by the Blue Crew, a group of die hard Colts fanatics from Indianapolis who took their party to Miami for the Super Bowl.
Bev said there were between 2,000 and 3,000 Colts fan in attendance at the rally before the game.
"That was a lot of fun because it was all Colts fans," she said.
Attending the big game in Miami, Tom felt right at home with many of the usual fans who attend during the Colts' regular season games back home.
On a normal game weekend, the Swearingens and the Lands can be found piling into an RV and heading to Indianapolis for a tailgate party outside the RCA Dome.
"It's a lot of fun," he said.
But there was no tailgating allowed at the Super Bowl -- and not much else either.
Tom said security entering the stadium was very tight, just as it is at the airport. Fans had to go through metal detectors and undergo searches as they would before boarding an airplane.
Tom said he tried to carry a small Colts bag into the stadium but was stopped by security. He had no choice but to throw the bag in the trash.
On the way to and from Miami, the couples' flights were delayed for several hours, due in part to the heavy volume of Super Bowl fans.
But despite these inconveniences, it all came together for the longtime fans when they stepped inside the stadium.
"It's just awesome to sit there and think you're actually at the Super Bowl," Bev said.
The Swearingens and the Lands have since returned home from the game, but they're already looking forward to next season.
Tom said he has already received notice in the mail and plans to buy season tickets for another year.
"It was just a totally neat experience," he said of the Super Bowl trip.