After a rain-soaked victory in Miami the night before and then a frigid, bone-numbing homecoming parade through the streets of downtown Indianapolis on Monday night, the Colts finally arrived at the stadium for a raucous celebration with their fans.
More than 40,000 of them, just as loud and boisterous as they were when the Colts left the Dome two weeks earlier with the AFC championship, welcomed them home, reveling in the city's first major professional sports championship in more than 30 years.
"It sure feels good to be back in this Dome after playing in that weather last night," shouted Peyton Manning, the MVP in the Colts' 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears. "On behalf of the players, we want to thank the greatest fans in the world."
Most of the fans had been there for hours, patiently waiting for the team to arrive. The parade was supposed to begin around 4 p.m. but got under way late because the Colts' plane from Miami was delayed. No matter.
"It might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Robert Smith of Indianapolis said while watching a giant-screen TV replay of Sunday night's victory over the Bears.
Many of the fans were wearing Colts blue. Many held signs such as "We love our Colts" or just a simple "Thank You."
Once the team arrived, still wearing their parkas or hooded sweat shirts from the below-zero wind chill outside, it was the Colts themselves who delivered all the thank yous.
"You guys are awesome," coach Tony Dungy told the crowd. "For the last 16 or 18 hours, we've been enjoying this championship. We had a team party (in Miami) last night, but we were looking forward to coming home. This is more than we could have ever expected. Thank you for this turnout."
Two giant inflatable balloons resembling Colts players flanked a stage that was set up on the floor of the Dome. Amid a barrage of camera flashes from the stands, many of the Colts players — and Dungy, too — brought out their own cameras to record the moment.
"Wow," Colts owner Jim Irsay said. "This is just unbelievable. I couldn't be more excited. ... You guys are what makes it go. I love you, and Go Colts!"
Colts president Bill Polian called the fans "the voice that propels us. ... Thank you for your support. Thank you for what you do for us. Be proud. You're the world champions."
Most of the fans had waited inside the Dome, although hundreds went back out onto the streets as the parade approached. Many of them shared triumphant shouts and high-fives with the players who were riding atop the slow-moving trucks and floats.
Some of them had braved the single-digit temperatures for hours.
"We want to see the Colts go by," said Misty Bell of nearby Monrovia. "It's worth it."
Eric Dycus of Indianapolis, one of the fans who waited inside, called it "exciting times" for the franchise.
"The Indianapolis Colts waited for this for a long time. We went through the hard times and all of the muck and mire. This is worth celebrating," Dycus said.
The Colts also won the Super Bowl in 1971, when the team was based in Baltimore, but Sunday's victory over Chicago gave the city its first major pro title in any sport since the Indiana Pacers won their third ABA championship in 1973.
Roger Fairchild, a construction worker from Brownsburg, helped build the RCA Dome.
"I spent a lot of cold days in here before the roof was on. This is great," Fairchild said.
The Colts will play one more year in the Dome before moving into the new Lucas Oil Stadium, which is expected to be completed in time for the 2008 season.
"I know at times I wondered if it would happen in this building when they started building a new stadium," Fairchild said. "It's highly likely they can pull it off again."
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