By Tom Spalding and Michele McNeil
He wasn't throwing touchdowns, but Colts quarterback Peyton Manning got cheers today for his part in a highly anticipated kickoff.
Manning, wearing a suit in stead of his Sunday uniform, was the surprise guest at a ground breaking ceremony for the new Indiana Stadium to open in 2008. "I promise I will throw a lot of touchdowns in the new stadium," Manning told the crowd of 1,500. Then Manning grabbed a shovel and joined five other dignitaries in digging dirt.
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"This new facility is going to be the jewel of the NFL," Manning said during a short speech. He said that although he grew up in New Orleans and went to college at the University of Tennessee, "Today, I'm truly proud to be a Hoosier. Go Colts!"
The outdoor ceremony -- which featured as many fans in Colts gear as well-dressed lawyers -- came after years of negotiations.
There was no mention of the fact that the deal has not yet been signed, although officials have verbally agreed to a 30-year lease for the stadium.
The project will cost nearly $1 billion and is expected to generate nearly $2.25 billion in revenue and 4,200 permanent jobs over a 10-year period, said Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson.
Gov. Mitch Daniels, Colts owner Jim Irsay, Indiana Black Expo CEO and President Joyce Rogers and NCAA President Myles Brand joined Peterson and Manning.
The six didn't actually break ground -- the dirt and sand mix was in an elevated, 24-foot-long box. It would have taken a jackhammer to pierce the asphalt parking lot.
Irsay joked with the crowd that he was so anxious, "I'd like to take one of these shovels and start digging for real."
The city hopes to regularly host the NCAA men's basketball Final Four and possibly a Super Bowl after 2010, said Brand, who praised the bi-partisan political leadership.
Once the stadium is built, the Indiana Convention Center will be expanded onto the current site of the RCA Dome, paving the way for larger conventions.
"This is not the easiest thing to get done," Brand said. "Way to go, guys. This was good. This was the big one."
Rogers said it would be a "showcase" project that would bring great stature to the city when it hosts cultural events, such as Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration.
Demolition as startedin the area south of the RCA Dome. Plans call for the new 63,000-seat retractable-roof stadium -- expandable to 70,000 seats -- to be completed by the start of the 2008 football season