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Fly to the Finish Line

I saw Jesus before I went to Indianapolis.

Wait. I should be more specific. Touchdown Jesus. You know, the painting overlooking Notre Dame’s field. I watched Washington play at Notre Dame in 2009 and afterward drove a couple of hours to Indianapolis to watch Seattle play some pro-football the very next day. Turned out to be quite an opportunity to see that place burned into the hard drive of so many Irish Catholics such as myself who grew up cheering for the Irish though my time at the University of Washington cured me of my affection for that particular team.

I’m a Husky through and through, and this year, I’m considering a similar double play. You see, Washington plays at Michigan the day before Seattle opens its season in Indianapolis, and while that’s a healthy drive of more than three hours between the two sites, that wouldn’t be what I call prohibitive.

And that’s one of the biggest selling points of Indianapolis: location. It’s the annual pro-football job fair takes place there every single year. OK. That’s not what it’s called per se, but that’s what the scouting combine is. Every February more than 200 of the top draft-eligible players are flown into Indianapolis so they can be weighed, measured and timed by the 32 teams that compose the country’s top pro sports league.

It’s as close as pro football comes to having an annual convention as every one of the league’s coaching staffs and the front offices converge in this city whose primary selling point is that you can walk from one end of downtown to the other without ever going outside. This is a huge selling point in February when it’s bone cold outside You simply use the covered walkways to move from one convention hall to another.

The most difficult place to get dinner that week? St. Elmo Steakhouse. It’s the choice du jour of the ownership class and while you may be able to elbow your way to a spot in the bar, good luck getting a table for four that week. The best people watching? Easy. That’s the downtown Steak ‘n Shake at about 2 a.m. Not only do you not know WHO you’ll see there, you have no idea what state that person might be in.

My favorite spot in Indianapolis is the Slippery Noodle Inn, a two-story brick building known for its live music and having the longest history of any bar in the state. It opened in 1850, has been through several name changes and operated both before and after prohibition. Oh yeah, at one point it was also a bordello. But it’s an absolutely great spot.

Indianapolis is an incredibly walkable city, which includes features like the Central Canal and one of the nation’s largest urban state parks. It also has the most war memorials and monuments of any U.S. city other than Washington D.C. There’s a wonderful collection of self-guided walking tours provided by volunteers from the city, which can be accessed through iTunes or the VisitIndy app.

Arrival: Alaska Air is the only airline that has a direct flight from Sea-Tac to Indianapolis (IND), but that’s not a surprise. Alaska has more daily flights from Sea-Tac than any other airline.

Stadium: Lucas Oil Stadium opened in 2008, and it features two retractable roof panels. It takes 11 minutes for the panels to open up. There’s also a large retractable window at one end, giving the stadium natural light. Who decides if the roof is open? Franchise owner: Jim Irsay. Heavy lies the crown. Or in this case, the roof.

Last time here: Seattle last played in Indianapolis in October 2013, leading 12-0 in the first quarter before losing 34-28. It was one of only three losses for Seattle that season. Indianapolis leads the regular-season series 7-5. The home team has won the last four games between the teams.

Dining: The Slippery Noodle Inn (372 Meridian St., (317) 631-6974) tops the list of potential haunted sites in Indianapolis, but don’t let that intimidate you. It’s a two-story brick building steeped in history with a tasty pub menu. If you’re looking for something upscale, St. Elmo Steakhouse (127 South Illinois Street, (317) 635-0636) is an absolute institution dating back to 1902 with a “World Famous Shrimp Cocktail” that is actually world famous. It was named an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation in 2012.