Visit Indy without a Super Bowl game ticket

The Wedge, at the NCAA Hall of Champions, Indianapolis.

The next best thing to following your favorite NFL team to the 2012 Super Bowl is shadowing the pre-game action in Indianapolis, which hosts the event.

Fans who visit up to one week before the Feb. 5 game will get far closer to the players and playing field than they would by buying a $2,600 end zone seat and paying $400 per night for a budget motel room 12 miles from Lucas Oil Stadium.

How does this happen?

– A $25 ticket provides access to the Jan. 31 Super Bowl Media Day, to watch player interviews and team photo shoots at the stadium. Up to 5,000 fans can attend this first-time Super Bowl event.

– Another $25, for extended stadium tours, lets you walk the field, inspect team locker rooms and see behind-the-scene game preparations.

– Pay another $25 for admission to the NFL Experience, which opens Jan. 27 at the city’s three-block-wide convention center. Learn game fundamentals, collect free athlete autographs, watch football production and listen to NFL Network interviews as they happen. Games test kids’ sports skills. Exhibits trace Super Bowl highlights.

– Tickets are free to watch ongoing interviews of athletes at the event’s 5,000-seat headquarters for media, inside the world’s largest Marriott hotel, which opened earlier this year.

The winter sports party stretches in other unexpected ways. Consider the four 80-foot-high and 650-foot-long zip lines to be erected downtown, between the convention center and Conseco Fieldhouse. Cost to ride: $10.

The zipping begins Jan. 27 over three-block Georgia Street, which turns into a pedestrian mall of music, food, beer and many overhead heat lamps.

Jimmy Fallon tapes his NBC-TV late show Feb. 1-3 at Hilbert Circle Theatre and broadcasts live after the Super Bowl. The venue seats almost 1,800.

Multi-performer concerts are all about soul at Madame Walker Art Center on Jan. 28, Latin music at the convention center on Feb. 1, country to rock at the State Fairgrounds on Feb. 2 and gospel at Butler University on Feb. 3.

Consult www.superbowl.com and www.indianapolissuperbowl.com for details.

What else does sports-minded Indy have going for it during the dead of winter?

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay shares more than NFL memorabilia in “Chaos is a Friend of Mine,” an exhibit that opens Jan. 27 at the Indiana State Museum. In his personal collection is Keith Richards’ first guitar, Thomas Jefferson’s last correspondence with Thomas Paine, Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” manuscript and more. See www.indianamuseum.org.

Inside the NCAA Hall of Champions are videos of championship games, sports trivia challenges, a video about collegiate athletes, outlets for exercise, artifacts and awards. See www.ncaahallofchampions.org.

Admission is free to the National Art Museum of Sport, where hundreds of sculptures to paintings depict passion and purpose in at least 40 sports. See www.namos.iupui.edu.

Race car engines remain off during winter, but the Indy 500’s museum stays open all year. Grounds tours happen during Super Bowl week only if snow and ice don’t cover the oval track. See www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com.

Hardcore basketball fans head to the 1928 Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University, where the final scene of “Hoosiers” was filmed. The men’s team plays Wright State on Feb. 2. See www.butlersports.com.

A late start to the NBA season might mean better ticket availability for Indiana Pacer games at Conseco Fieldhouse. See www.nba.com/pacers.

Shaved horseradish heats the shrimp cocktail at Harry & Izzy’s. Peyton Manning is a co-owner of the downtown restaurant and frequents it. See www.harryandizzys.com.

Also downtown is the newly opened Indianapolis Colts Grille, a roomy sports bar with 66 high-definition TVs and an ostrich, bison, kobe beef, elk and llama burger menu. See www.indianapoliscoltsgrille.com.

Perhaps most important: Indoor skywalks connect 12 downtown hotels to a major shopping mall, the state capitol, convention center and football stadium. Click on “maps” at www.indydt.com.

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Want to act like a local in Indy? Do this:

Order Wee Mac Scottish Ale from Sun King Brewery. The local beer is not hard to find on tap. See www.sunkingbrewing.com.

Park yourself at Tastings, a wine bar, to watch for celebrities staying at the adjacent Conrad hotel. See www.awineexperience.com.

Savor schnitzel at the Rathskeller, in the basement of the 1890s Athenaeum building. Acoustic rock to oompah polkas accompany the Bavarian menu. See www.rathskeller.com.

Veer to Massachusetts Avenue – aka “Mass Ave” – for truffles and turtles at Best Chocolate in Town, table coasters to wall-length paintings at the Art Bank. See www.discovermassave.com.

Visit chef Regina Mehallick, whose R Bistro serves a tight (as in five starters, five entrees, five desserts) menu that changes weekly. The James Beard award semi-finalist was among the first to invest in Mass Ave when it was a ragged part of Indy. See www.rbistro.com.

Learn where the ghosts of native son and “Slaughterhouse-Five” author Kurt Vonnegut reside. They include the downtown library and a bigger-than-life mural of him on Mass Ave. See www.vonnegutlibrary.org.