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September 7, 2007
 
Thousands pack Downtown to start NFL in style
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Given a national stage, Indianapolis raised its voice and provided memorable scenes Thursday.

Faith Hill gets close to her fans during the Monument Circle concert. - Kelly Wilkinson / The Star
A sellout crowd at the RCA Dome roared when the Colts unveiled their 2006 World Champions banner.
When Kelly Clarkson performed hits such as "Because of You" on Monument Circle, tens of thousands of people sang along.
The free "NFL Kickoff" concert in the heart of the city was tailored for a television special NBC aired before the season-opening Colts-Saints game.
"This whole city is glowing," said prominent Colts fan Zack Legend, who posts first-person videos of his game-attending experiences at the team's official Web site. "The city looks beautiful from every aspect."
Clarkson performed on an open-air stage nestled against the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Loudspeakers displayed logos of all 32 NFL teams, and a rectangular performance surface sloped into the crowd to give musicians room to interact with fans.
With high-octane rock band Hinder serving as the backdrop, Hall of Fame running backs Eric Dickerson and Marcus Allen gave a joint interview to WTHR (Channel 13).
And at the end of an afternoon of consistent drizzling rain, the sun broke through to shine on concert headliner Faith Hill.
A few blocks away at the Dome, 57-year-old C.R. Reames had the honor of pulling a blue handle attached to the steel cable that unfurled the Colts' title banner from the stadium's ceiling.
"I helped raise it. I inspected it. I guess it would be my problem if it didn't come down," said Reames, who works for Aerial Arts, a local stage rigging business. "This was probably the most people ever counting on us."
After John Mellencamp arrived on the field at the Dome to sing a spirited rendition of Indiana anthem "Small Town," Colts owner Jim Irsay signaled Reames to pull the handle connected to the banner. A day filled with pageantry gave way to football.
The only thing marring the celebration: Police were investigating the death of a man who apparently fell or jumped off the ninth-floor pool deck of the Sheraton City Center overlooking Monument Circle.
After the man fell in an alley between WellPoint's headquarters and the hotel, he was taken to a hospital about 7:15 p.m. No further information was available late Thursday.
In general, spectators were well-behaved and incidents were rare. Many office workers took the afternoon off, and the crowd extending south from the Circle nearly reached Maryland Street. Police providing security could not remember the crowd for a Final Four concert in April 2006 extending past Washington Street.
Hill paused during her performance to snap a photograph of the spectacle.
"The people of this city are so incredibly kind and nice," she said from the stage.
The country music star's compliments echoed those of visitors such as NFL Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz, who gave his endorsement to Indianapolis as a future Super Bowl host city.
Julia Watson, vice president of marketing for Indianapolis Downtown Inc., welcomed the praise.
"We never get tired of hearing it," Watson said. "With any message, it needs to be repeated over and over. But it also needs to be genuine."
The influx of fans filled Downtown parking garages, restaurants and bars. Parking places close to the Dome were going for as much as $20.
Indianapolis resident Lisa Cannon was among the earliest to arrive when she queued up at 10:30 a.m. for the concert, which started at 5:15 p.m.
"It's good to be here and be part of history," she said. "I'll tell the grandkids about it."
The Colts began defending their title backed by supporters who've embraced a tradition of wearing jerseys on game day. Current stars Manning, Harrison, Freeney, Sanders, Addai and Vinatieri were well-represented on the Circle, as were departed favorites James, Stokley and Harbaugh.
"When you see all the blue and you see everybody excited," said 22-year-old Allison Hessel, "it makes you proud of your city."

Star reporters Phillip B. Wilson and Francesca Jarosz contributed to this story.Call Star reporter David Lindquist at (317) 444-6404.

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