Whether on wheels or in cleats, Indianapolis loves athletics. The city has been dubbed the Amateur Sports Capital of the World, but it’s also home to ten professional sports teams—not to mention the national headquarters for both the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and the NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations).
Indy’s love for sports is both deeply historic and constantly changing. The nation’s second-oldest minor league baseball team, the Indianapolis Indians, have been playing since 1902, while the Indy Eleven (soccer) and Indy Fuel (hockey) just made their debuts in 2014. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway—the largest-capacity sports venue in the world—dates back to 1909, but the luxurious and modern Lucas Oil Stadium is less than a decade old. With so much passion and history, there’s clearly something special about sports in Indianapolis.
It all started in 1984, when the team relocated under cover of darkness from Baltimore to Indianapolis. For their first 11 seasons in the Circle City, however, the Colts were anything but successful, having reached the postseason just once.
The turning point came when owner Jim Irsay made the crucial decision to hire Bill Polian as general manager in 1997. Together they rebuilt the roster, starting the team’s #1 overall pick in the in the 1998 NFL draft: Peyton Manning. Tony Dungy was appointed head coach in 2002. With Polian at the helm, Dungy on the sidelines, and Manning on the field, the Colts enjoyed over a decade of sustained success, including seven division titles and the 2007 Super Bowl championship.
The next major turning point came in 2011, when an injured Peyton Manning was ruled out for the season, leading the Colts to a bitterly disappointing 2-14 record. At the end of the 2011 season, Irsay fired Polian and hired Ryan Grigson to take his place. The team then released Manning, who went on to play for the Denver Broncos. Like Polian, the first and most important decision Grigson made was to draft the Colts’ next quarterback of the future: Andrew Luck.
Under the Luck-led offense, the Colts rebounded from their abysmal 2011 season, reaching the postseason in 2012 and 2013 with an 11-5 record each year. They faltered somewhat in 2015, with 8 wins and 8 losses–but love for the Colts, and particularly for Luck and Irsay, runs deep in Indianapolis.
The Colts play at Lucas Oil Stadium, which seats 62,421 fans and features 137 executive suites, as well as a state-of-the-art retractable roof. It opened in 2008 (replacing the RCA Dome as the Colts’ home field) and would later host the 2012 Super Bowl. Like all great Hoosier landmarks, the stadium’s exterior is made up partly of Indiana limestone.
It’s no secret that basketball is big in Indiana. The Pacers have been an Indianapolis team since their founding in 1967—originally as part of the ABA (American Basketball Association), currently as members of the NBA’s Central Division in the Eastern Conference. They play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, formerly Conseco Fieldhouse. The facility is widely regarded as one of the fan-friendliest venues in the league in terms of layout, comfort, and amenities.
From 1987 to 2005, Reggie Miller was the bedrock upon which the Pacers were built. Other key additions to the team came in the 2001–02 season, when the Pacers engineered a blockbuster trade with the Chicago Bulls, in which they acquired Brad Miller, Ron Artest, Kevin Ollie and Ron Mercer in exchange for Jalen Rose and Travis Best. Both Miller and Artest went on to become All-Stars for the Pacers. During the era of Danny Granger from 2005 to 2012, the Pacers earned 5 playoff berths.
The Pacers have consistently been among the most successful teams in the NBA, having won eight division titles and an Eastern Conference title in 2000.
As for the name? That connects back to two other Indiana pastimes. “Pacers” were common in harness racing, a form of horse racing that was popular at the time. But the team name is also a reference to a pace car, a safety precaution and ceremonial tradition that was first used in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911 (and is now standard in auto racing events around the world).
The Indiana Fever is one of the most successful teams in the WNBA. Since their founding in 2000, they have made the playoffs 12 times, winning three Conference Championships as well as the WNBA Championship in 2012. The team also made it to the Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014 and the WNBA Finals in 2015. From 2001-2014 the team sent 21 players to the All-Stars game. The Fever is owned by by Herb Simon, who also owns the Indiana Pacers and Simon Malls. The Fever plays all home games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The legendary 2.5-mile track was built in 1911, entirely with brick–hence the term “brickyard.” As racing speeds increased through the years, the brick was eventually replaced with a paved surface. In a nod to this historical precedent, the bricks from the original track still demarcate the finish line. The IMS also hosts the Brickyard 400 race, and was the site of the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix from 2008 to 2015.
The Indy 500 takes place every Memorial Day weekend. On the Sunday of the race, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway practically becomes a city within a city, with an estimated 250,000 spectators in the stands and another 150,000 on foot. The IMS is also a great year-round destination thanks to the Hall of Fame Museum, which boasts 30,000 square feet of exibition space filled with antique cars–including many race-winning vehicles from the last 100 years.
The Indianapolis Indians are the city’s only professional baseball team. A member of the Minor League Baseball (MiLB), the team has been a Triple-A baseball affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates since 1902.
“The Tribe,” as they’re known, plays all home games at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis. This outstanding ballpark is widely regarded as one of the best minor league stadiums in the country, and has won several national accolades. The park also includes 29 luxury suites. The Indians’ season runs from April through September.