Jeff Roberson, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Bleary-eyed and jubilant, Super Bowl organizers swung into cleanup mode Monday and hoped the rave reviews from fans and journalists over how it pulled off its first Super Bowl will draw the NFL's showcase event back to town.
From record attendance at Super Bowl festivities to high praise from visitors, celebrities and the league's top official, organizers declared the game a victory for the city.
"Yesterday was really a grand slam for us," said Super Bowl Host Committee President Allison Melangton.
Attendance at the game itself was far from a record -- Lucas Oil Stadium was filled Sunday night with about 69,000 fans, while last year's game in the larger Cowboys Stadium in Dallas drew more than 100,000 attendees -- but the week of pre-game celebrations drew admiring visitors in droves.
Organizers say more than 1 million people visited the Super Bowl Village over 10 days, including more than 150,000 on game day. The NFL Experience, the annual interactive indoor exhibit of all things football, broke its attendance record with more than 265,000 visitors.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called the city's hosting job "fantastic," praising Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mayor Greg Ballard for their efforts to bring the game to the city.
"We can't say enough about the tremendous work everybody did," Goodell said. "It was just an extraordinary effort and a great event."
Judy Battista, a New York Times sports writer among the hundreds leaving town Monday, tweeted: "take a bow, Indy. You were spectacular hosts. Hope the game is back here soon."
By all accounts, Indianapolis put its best foot forward, winning praise for its cleanliness, friendliness and the compact downtown that made it easy for visitors to walk to events and restaurants.
Celebrities like John Travolta, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones were common sights at St. Elmo Steak House, the century-old landmark. Balmy temperatures made it feel like spring most of the week, sending tens of thousands outside in the shadow of Lucas Oil Stadium. Even Saturday, when temperatures dropped and rain moved in, there were still 200,000 visitors, host committee Chairman Mark Miles said.
Violent crime took a holiday, too. The city's only homicide over the 10 days of Super Bowl festivities occurred after the game ended.
A memorable nail-biter of a game — the Giants scored the decisive touchdown with 57 seconds left — didn't hurt, either.
ESPN's Mike Tirico tweeted his praise: "Indy you get an 11 out of 10. Best collective effort by any city hosting any sporting event I've attended."
"Every NFL official and media person I spoke with agreed Indianapolis should become a regular part of Super Bowl rotation," tweeted Adam Schefter, ESPN's NFL analyst. "Super job, Indy."
East Coast fans of the Patriots and Giants appeared equally smitten with "Hoosier hospitality."
"I've never met so many friendly people," said Kevin Cronin, a federal government worker and Patriots fan from Baltimore who spent $7,000 on a Super Bowl package that included three nights at a hotel and a ticket to the game.
"Everybody's been taking good care of me," added Cronin, 42.
Giants fan Joe Cohen hopes his team makes the Super Bowl again in two years in East Rutherford, N.J. But the Long Island, N.Y., resident thinks a championship game closer to home might not be as enjoyable as the game in Indianapolis, where he found everything in walking distance.
"This was a good party. There's no way New York will match this in two years," he said, noting that things back home are more spread out. "The people we've met here have been off the charts."
Jason Pagni, who attended his 15th Super Bowl on Sunday, gave the highest marks for festiveness to New Orleans, where the Super Bowl will play out next year for the 10th time. But Indy was a close second in terms of cleanliness and walkability.
"This has been the best since New Orleans. No question," said Pagni, a 41-year-old owner of a commercial laundry from New Hamden, Conn. "There hasn't been one problem here."
As it basks in the reviews, the city's focus now turns to restoring a sense of normalcy after days of closed streets and crowds. The big XLVI numbers that adorned Monument Circle in the heart of the city are coming down, as is the zip line that drew more than 10,000 riders, including celebrities and politicians.
Host committee leaders say they will meet with community agencies to review Indianapolis' performance and submit their findings to the NFL. They'll also assess the game's economic impact on the city.
Those findings will help determine whether Indy bids on another Super Bowl.
The earliest the city could aim to host the game again is 2017. Super Bowls are booked through 2015, and Indy is committed to hosting Final Fours in 2015 and 2016.
"That gives us plenty of time to reflect," Miles said. "But we're in a position where that's possible."
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