By Steve Keating
INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - An NFL season that began under a dark cloud was heading towards a brilliant finish as the Super Bowl party raged under sunny skies on Sunday with the New England Patriot and New York Giants preparing for the opening kickoff.
Once known as Naptown, Indianapolis has shed its sleepy image and proven to be a worthy Super Bowl host as close to one million fans, many wearing Giants, Patriots and Colts jerseys, filled the downtown area during a week of partying.
Staging America's biggest sporting party in one of the league's smallest markets was a roll of the dice for the NFL but it turned into a winning bet as Indianapolis basked in rave reviews, wiping away any lingering thoughts of a bitter labor dispute that nearly scuttled the city's Super Bowl dream.
Sunny skies and warm temperatures on Super Bowl Sunday brought fans out early as restaurants and bars, that have been packed all week, prepared for one final football blast.
But if you want to be part of the Super Bowl fun be prepared to pay.
Touts and ticket resellers were asking close to $2,000 for a seat ticket three hours before kickoff while bars and restaurants around Lucas Oil Stadium were demanding a $50 entry fee in the morning, warning prices would double later in the afternoon.
The hottest ticket in Indianapolis, however, may well be to get a ride on the zip line that sends fans -- some who camped out over night for a chance to experience a unique Super Bowl thrill -- speeding above the jam-packed Super Bowl village.
Parking close to the stadium was going for $300 while souvenir vendors were also doing brisk business.
Celebrities from Madonna, who will headline the Super Bowl halftime show, to titans of business like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban have jetted in to join the fun.
The influx of celebrities has created a logjam at the local airport with reports of as many as 1,000 private jets looking for places to unload and pickup their VIP cargo.
Security, now as much a part of the Super Bowl experience as high prices, was tight with officials issuing the now familiar warning to fans, to arrive early and expect long lines as they passed through airport style inspections and metal detectors.
Bomb sniffing dogs could be seen patrolling the grounds while helicopters hovering above the stadium.
The final countdown to the big game appeared to be going smoothly with no sign of any of problems such as the missing seats fiasco that disrupted last year's Super Bowl in Dallas.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)