INDIANAPOLIS — More than three decades ago, then-Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut issued a challenge, a la Field of Dreams: "Built it, and they will come."
That "it," it turned out, was the Hoosier Dome. And, in 1984, Hudnut's vision officially played out: the facility, which would later be renamed the RCA Dome, was instrumental in bringing the Indianapolis Colts to town.
Over the next 32 years, Hudnut's forethought would turn Indianapolis into a major sports town, a fact confirmed no more than when the city hosted Super Bowl XLVI in 2012.
On Sunday, Hudnut's family announced, the former four-term mayor of Indianapolis had passed away. He was 84.
Colts Owner Jim Irsay on Sunday remembered Hudnut as a "kind and generous" man who "never knew a stranger."
"Bill never failed to stop and speak to anyone who stopped him while he was walking on the street, in the stands watching a Colts game or enjoying a cup of coffee anywhere in town," Irsay said in a statement. "He sometimes seemed larger than life riding the snowplow during the blizzard of 1979 or strutting down the street as an overgrown (leprechaun) in the St. Patrick's Day Parade."
Hudnut knew he was taking a major risk in 1980, when city officials began plans on a brand new, 57,000-seat domed multipurpose downtown stadium, which was sold to the public as a major, needed addition to the Indianapolis Convention Center.
But Hudnut also had other plans in mind for the facility: an NFL franchise in Indianapolis.
Known as a racing city within a basketball-crazed state, Hudnut hoped the city and the state would one day embrace football, as well, and as the Hoosier Dome was nearing its completion, the mayor began negotiations with Baltimore Colts ownership in February 1984 about moving their franchise to Indianapolis.
Things moved quickly from there. By March 29, the Baltimore Colts had packed up overnight and started moving west, and the city of Indianapolis officially had its NFL football franchise.
A few days later, in front of a crowd of 20,000 at the Hoosier Dome, Hudnut had given Colts owner Robert Irsay and head coach Frank Kush keys to the city of Indianapolis, and, according to the Associated Press, proclaimed it, "One of the greatest days in the history of this city."
When Hudnut left office in 1993, the dome was just a few years away from hitting its stride. In 1998, the Colts selected quarterback Peyton Manning with the No. 1-overall pick in the NFL Draft, and by the early 2000s, the RCA Dome — with its fans silent with the Colts on offense and bursting at the seams when the team's defense took the field — had become one of the best home field advantages in the NFL.
In 2008, the Dome was demolished and the Colts moved into their current facility, Lucas Oil Stadium, but Hudnut's vision in the early 1980s, as well as his negotiations to bring the Colts' franchise into Indianapolis, will never be forgotten.
"For all Colts fans, he was instrumental in bringing the Colts to Indianapolis and I will always remember the smile on his face when he walked across the floor of the Hoosier Dome to announce the arrival of the Indianapolis Colts to this great city," Jim Irsay said. "We all offer his wife, Beverly, their son, Christoper, and the entire Hudnut family our comfort and support during this difficult time."
Several city and state officials and others tweeted their thoughts on Hudnut's passing and his legacy on Sunday morning: