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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
For Iowa, the Road to the Final Four starts with a 5-mile bus ride from downtown Indianapolis to a venue unlike any it has played in this season.
It's not a cathedral of college basketball, like Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse. It's no modern-era NBA arena, like downtown Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It's no NFL stadium, like downtown Indy's Lucas Oil Stadium. Those are three of Indianapolis' four NCAA tourney sites this year.
The fourth is where the Hawkeyes will face Grand Canyon Saturday. It's on the grounds of the Indiana State Fairgrounds & Event Center. Iowa and Illinois are both playing their first-round games in an arena called Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Imagine that.
It's a 6,800-seat venue. Several pro hockey teams have played there, including the current Indy Fuel of the ECHL, the pro hockey league that will welcome Coralville's new franchise later this year.
This month's Horizon League men's and women's basketball tournaments were held there. It's the home arena of the Division I IUPUI Jaguars.
The Coliseum was the home of the Indiana Pacers for their first seven years of existence in the American Basketball Association, starting in late 1960s. One of the Pacers' stars was Bob Netolicky, who grew up in Cedar Rapids and played at Drake. He owned a nightclub in the Meadows Shopping Center called Neto's in the Meadows, a short drive from the Coliseum and a postgame favorite of players and fans.
In 'Loose Balls,' Terry Pluto's highly entertaining oral history about the ABA, Netolicky said 'The bar was definitely a den of inequity. It was sort of a psychedelic place modeled after Joe Namath's bar in New York City. Some fans would leave our games at the half and walk the four blocks to get in line so they could get a good place at the bar.'
Netolicky was a ballplayer, though, a four-time ABA All-Star and member of two of the Pacers' three championship teams. He had almost 10,000 career points and is on the 30-player ABA All-Time Team.
The Coliseum has a lot of non-sports history since its 1939 opening. Then-candidates John Kennedy and Donald Trump held presidential campaign rallies there in 1960 and 2016, respectively.
On Halloween night in 1963, there was an explosion in the Coliseum during a Holiday on Ice performance. In a room where pre-popped popcorn was kept warm, propane leaked from a faulty valve. An explosion from beneath a seating area killed 74 people.
News accounts said bodies flew up to 60 feet, with the victims either burned to death or crushed by concrete. Victims and survivors received about $4.6 million in settlements.
The Coliseum was renovated in time for a Beatles concert there in September 1964.
'Indianapolis was good,' George Harrison wrote in the 'Beatles Anthology' book. 'As we were leaving, on the way to the airport, they took us round the Indy circuit, the 500 oval, in a Cadillac. It was fantastic. I couldn't believe how long the straightway was; and to be on the banking and see all the grandstands was great.'
Others who played at the Coliseum included the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, the Who, Ike and Tina Turner, the Beach Boys and Johnny Cash.
The reason the NCAA is holding tournament games in the Coliseum is that a $53 million renovation was finished in 2014. Which was 53 times the cost of the original structure.
Iowa played in the 1980 Final Four at Indianapolis' Market Square Arena, which opened in 1974 and was demolished in 2001. The Hawkeyes' other NCAA tourney appearance in Indy was in 2005 at the RCA Dome, which opened in 1984 and was demolished in 2008.
Now the Hawkeyes are coming to a building that opened in 1939 as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and still is in use 82 years later.
Not to fear, you relatively small number of Hawkeye fans who will be in attendance Saturday. The arena has a modern video board and a perfectly good sound system. And if you listen very closely, you may hear the last chords of 'A Hard Day's Night.'
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