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New stadium gets high marks from Colts players

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tony Dungy just wanted his players to get comfortable in their new digs.

Now the Indianapolis Colts can't wait to return to their new home, Lucas Oil Stadium, Sunday night.

"It's beautiful," three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "The roof opens up, so we'll get a little outside atmosphere. What I really like is the suites right there on the field. Maybe we can get a Lucas Leap going instead of a Lambeau Leap."

For some, Tuesday's first practice in the open air was the first time they had seen the $720 million stadium that is replacing the RCA Dome, home to the Colts since they moved from Baltimore in 1984.

The comforts and amenities immediately turned heads and drew eyes skyward.

Whether it was Peyton Manning pointing toward the sliding window in the north end zone, perhaps inquiring whether the elements would affect his passes when the window opens, or other players just looking to catch a glimpse of the clear, blue sky -- something never previously seen during a professional football game in Indianapolis -- Dungy wanted those awe-struck feelings gone before Buffalo comes to town this weekend.

They walked through the expanded locker room, the brand-new training room and even watched themselves on the massive video boards in the corners of both end zones.

"It was good to finally see it," tight end Dallas Clark said Wednesday. "I've had people come up to me in the street or whatever and say 'Have you seen it?' I said, 'No,' so it was good to get in there. It looks like such a fan-friendly environment, and I think that will be different."

As a stadium-opening veteran, Dungy knows all about the wrinkles that can short-circuit a team in the opening game.

Back in 1998, he helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers christen Raymond James Stadium, complete with pirate ships and cannons after seven straight weeks on the road. This time, Dungy took advantage of the earlier completion by hauling the team to the stadium five days before the first game so players could work out details about parking and how to get to the locker room.

"In Tampa, the first time we saw the stadium was Week 3, so this is different because you're not getting stressed out the first time you're there," he said. "Though it's a preseason game, I think our guys are excited. I think they were excited to go in there yesterday with no fans."

But this will be more than just a football stadium. The new 63,000-seat facility is already scheduled to host the 2010 NCAA men's basketball Final Four and the 2012 Super Bowl.

To the Colts though, it's simply home.

"I really like that the fans are close to us," safety Bob Sanders said. "I thought they would be much farther away, but they are right behind our benches. That's definitely exciting because they can experience it with us."

Some finishing touches, such as placing the names in the Colts' ring of fame weren't finished when the Colts took the field.

Yet the building is ready for football.

The first games are scheduled for Friday night, a high-school doubleheader in this year's PeyBack Classic, a fundraising effort by Manning's charitable foundation to help area schools. The Colts debut in Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, then start their regular season with a home night game Sept. 7 against Chicago.

Team officials acknowledge they expect some unforeseen kinks, just as families have when moving into a new house, and players have already noticed a few.

"One thing we found (Tuesday) is it looks like the sun is going to shine on our side of the bench and the visiting team is going to be in the shade," Manning said. "I don't know if that's exactly how it was designed, but it looks like that is what we are going to have deal with. The sun doesn't bother me. I kind of like the idea that it will be outside."

And if first impressions mean anything, the Colts like what they've seen.

"I won't be out there playing Sunday, but I think the players are excited to be out there," Manning said. "I know the fans are excited, and hopefully, we can play good football here at home."



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