The Boneyard

Ronald C. Roat was program coordinator of the print and online journalism sequences and an associate professor of journalism at the University of Southern Indiana. He joined the faculty in 1986 after a professional career as a reporter, columnist, and/or editor at six newspapers in Michigan, West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana, including the Lansing State Journal and the Dayton Daily News. He has written regular opinion page columns for three other newspapers. Professor Roat is the author of three mystery novels, Close Softly the Doors, A Still and Icy Silence, and High Walk, all stories in the Stuart Mallory Mystery series. A Michigan native, he earned his master of arts degree at Oregon State University and his bachelor's degree from Michigan State University. He joined the Boneyard in 2006 as a contributing editor. Roat is the single father of his daughter, Brittany, and is working to complete a book on which is an outgrowth of many of his columns and his unscheduled “rants” he delivered to his students. After that, Roat will finish the next Stuart Mallory novel, Some in Velvet Gowns. Roat retired from teaching in the Fall of 2007
Hoosier Politics and Empty Stadiums

by Ron Roat

Something sticks in my gut, and I must explain it.

Twenty-three years ago Hoosiers set about to complete two unHoosier accomplishments. I was a rookie Hoosier, having arrived just over a year earlier, so I found the bickering and discussion interesting. Workers were finishing the Hoosier Dome even while many Hoosiers still whined about spending public money – it was half public and half private – to build an $80 million stadium. After all, they said, we didn’t have a football team to put in it. Never mind, they said, you can’t invite a team to Indianapolis and then build a stadium. Also never mind the National Football League seemed in no mood at the time to grant a new franchise to any city, no matter how humble.

Building a stadium when we did not have a professional football team runs against the Hoosier grain. Back then in the olden times, Hoosiers kindly declined to spend money on anything that failed to produce profit in one or two seasons. In fact, most Hoosiers remain so burdened.

Meanwhile, some of the rest of us were beginning to worry about having to defend an empty stadium. Media attempts to find out if anyone worked vigorously behind the scenes to get a football team met a great silence. Everyone knew there were two or three teams bellyaching about their current facilities, contracts and whatever, but that always seems to be the case. Millionaire complainers wander everywhere.

No one knew Indiana was about to steal the Baltimore Colts, the legendary franchise known as the team of Johnny Unitas. Unitas filled the stadium, won football games, played from the 1950s into the 1970s and was the most valuable player three times. Certainly nobody would let the Colts get away from them, even if the stadium lacked good seats, needed some serious work and had inadequate rich people boxes.

But that’s what happened. In the middle of the night, the story goes, everything the franchise owned was loaded aboard trucks and was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike heading west when Maryland woke up. The governor sent state troopers to the border to stop the trucks. Too late. Others went to court. But the Colts went to Indianapolis.

Newspaper editorials and politicians up and down the East Coast wailed about this insult to the Almighty, to Johnny Unitas and to, well, the East Coast in general. They wondered why anyone would want to go west of the Appalachians where indoor toilets are rare and they can’t speak without removing the straw they’re chewing on. Do they play football out there?

Anyone heard of the Big Ten? As for toilets, Hoosiers invented them as far as we’re concerned, and it’s tall grass, not straw. Easterners need to get out more.

Many of us have had our fun in the Hoosier Dome, now the RCA Dome. We shared season tickets the first two years and watched various teams come to Indianapolis and pulverize the Colts. We cheered ourselves hoarse in sold-out crowds. Unlike in Detroit or St. Louis, we could park our car for $4. Years later my daughter marched on that field a few times as a member of the F.J. Reitz High School Marching Band. Southwestern Indiana high school football teams played for championships in that structure. It has served us well.

Now I hear The Hoosier Dome (it will always be the Hoosier Dome to me) will be demolished. It’s the owners’ right to do that, of course. It seems a shame, though, and an insult to the stadium’s centerpiece place roll to revitalize Indianapolis, a city where in the 1970s you could barely spit without hitting a “for sale” sign.

But that’s a story for another day.

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