FEATURE: Super Bowl XLI: VIP Confidential

Dave Pedra

“It’s not what you know, but who you know.” If there is one statement that really encapsulates my four-day weekend in Miami for the Super Bowl, that would be it. Don’t get the wrong idea – I’m not saying that the “knowing someone” and the resulting hook-up and kickback system which dominates every major sporting event is entirely bad; frankly, without it I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to Miami at all. But when you are sharing a 10-block strip of beach/bar paradise with the richest celebs and athletes, it becomes apparent that you are a nobody possessing as much credibility as Tom Cruise’s marriage.

I should first explain how a broke college kid ended up going to the Super Bowl and affording a vacation in a city whose prices for basic amenities are only lower than Disney World’s. The answer is that I know someone. My best friend’s 21st birthday present was two tickets to the game, a hotel room and the chance to invite one friend. Enter this kid jumping around his room on West two weeks ago, like a UC-something girl picked for “The Price is Right.” My friend’s dad used to work for Reebok (official sponsor of the NFL) and not only got us tickets but also invitations to a Hawaiian Tropic supermodel party Friday night and passes to the NFL tailgate before the game. Now that you’re probably jealous (rightfully so, but I totally lucked out with this) and are thinking if you have any friends with this kind of network, I’ll lay out my weekend out for you.

Once I landed in Ft. Lauderdale (it was way cheaper than flying to Miami thanks to being “free to move about the country”), I knew that the weekend was going to be an extravagant one. On every pane of glass or naked wall in the airport, there had been plastered a SBXLI logo, every employee had on some pin or shirt bearing that same logo and there was a guy with a giant, plastic Don Shula head harassing people and handing out Motorola coupons. He currently is taking up space in my cell phone picture gallery. Several hours later, we started our first night out and head to Miami Beach.

For those who have never been to Miami, I’ll break it down for you. Miami has a downtown area characterized by a modest skyline, American Airlines Arena and a puzzling number of condos under construction. Miami Beach is over the bridge from the city, and in Miami Beach is South Beach. Washington, Collins and Ocean are the three streets in Miami Beach that feature the best bars, clubs and hotels.

The first party of our trip was on Thursday night at the Boost Mobile Mansion. Stars of the Super Bowl and music industry were going in and out of the party all night. We spotted Eli Manning, Mike Irvin, Mike Wilbon, Bernard Hopkins and Joey Fatone (he was in *NSYNC – yeah, I recognized him but my sisters loved that band so you can’t blame me). I think Young Jeezy and Common were inside because I heard the DJ introduce them, but I cannot personally verify their appearance. After bar hopping at the few places we could get into (that means there was a cover under $20), we called it a night and headed back to the Radisson downtown.

Day two was, by far, the longest day of the trip, but still a contender for best day ever. Everyone got to Miami on Friday. It was impossible to move when walking along “The Mile,” a closed off portion of Ocean Street. People were everywhere. It was 85 degrees outside, and the sun was out, beating down on all the people who obviously have no jobs since they must spend their lives in the gym. On a side note, I have never been so fearful that I might get myself snapped in half. It was like the beach was hosting a McGwire and Bonds look-alike contest. It was comforting though to see that the same dedication to personal fitness and good looks was present in the population of the opposite sex. This assertion is the largest understatement I think I’ve ever made. After entering a sleep-like state of “iPod land” on the beach for a couple hours, we walked up and down Ocean Street for a while just looking around. We spotted the No.1-spot holder himself, Ludacris, walking down the street, and we couldn’t miss a 6-foot-4-inch (or possibly taller) Brooke Hogan and her mom sticking out in the crowd. We grabbed a bite to eat for dinner after seeing the real Don Shula and got ready for the night.

Want to know another reason why Miami is better than anywhere I’ve been on the East Coast? The bars don’t close until 5 a.m. That means nobody thinks about going out until midnight at the earliest. No problem. We needed the extra time that night anyway, since I was looking for my wife at the party we had invitations to. Somehow, my friend scored invites to the Hawaiian?” We got there a bit after midnight to not look like total amateurs and basically spent the night trying to remember what team certain guys were on and brainstorming pickup lines for the models. The place was a pretty elaborate club with two floors and tons of modern furniture enclosing the dance floor. The invitations also included an open bar, which was an added bonus to say the least. We were two of the last people to leave the club and walked down to Johnny Rockets for some late night chili-cheese fries. Another convenient perk of Miami is that restaurants stay open late too.

Saturday, I watched the ‘Nova game from my hotel room while I waited for my friend to wake up. Our day didn’t start until 3 p.m. On our way out of the hotel, however, there was an absurd Rolls Royce sitting in the driveway of the hotel. Needless to say we looked into the car that was worth more than our combined existence to see Mike Vick in the backseat smoking a stogie with a friend accompanied by a blonde female with supermodel looks riding shotgun. No big deal to us, so we walked by coolly then flipped out as we rounded the corner. As I mentioned before, my friend’s dad used to work for Reebok; so we spent the early part of the afternoon at the Reebok hospitality suite that had been set up in downtown Miami. The Reebok party was in a warehouse that was converted into a club and could be rented. Reebok decked the whole place out in white and put all their new NFL gear and promos on display. This was the place where athletes could come and hang out with retailers, other Reebok execs and … us, of course. Since my friend slept in, we missed meeting the athletes by under an hour. No worries though, we still got to chill there for a while and again enjoy free food and drinks. This trip was really getting to be ridiculously inexpensive.

We headed back to Miami Beach for the rest of the evening. Traffic was backed up for miles, but luckily the bus ran right by our hotel so we took public transportation to the closed off end of Ocean Avenue. There were twice as many people as there were on Friday, if that were possible. In addition to all the people littering South Beach, there was a huge tent party on the beach taunting every passerby like second graders feel after not being invited to the popular kid’s birthday, (yeah Danny, I still remember). The fenced-in party was the size of two football fields with a stage and two huge hospitality tents. The fence was covered so outsiders couldn’t see through it, and guards were posted all around the outside so people couldn’t jump up and take pictures. Sunday, on ESPN, everyone was talking about a huge beach party from the night before, I’m assuming that I was looking at it. We met up with a mutual friend from high school who goes to “The U,” also known as Miami (or Thug U depending on your feelings toward the ‘Canes). She took us to Coconut Grove, the upscale downtown area where all the Miami kids go to the bars if they don’t feel like venturing to the beach. We asked to be taken to a “dive bar” with more college kids. She took us to her version of a dive bar. These kids obviously haven’t been to Philly or crammed into the Grog or Maloney’s. The place called Moe’s was built like a hunting lodge paneled with wood and was the size of an Outback restaurant with a bar in the middle. Drinks weren’t cheap since it was a Saturday, but they have all the same specials we do during the week, so Miami wins again. After paying too much for terrible nachos (to be fair, we ordered them 10 minutes before the kitchen closed. So if you saw the movie “Waiting,” I can only imagine what they did to them) we headed back to the hotel.

Sunday … Game Day: After checking my e-mail in the hotel lobby alongside Woody Paige, John Clayton and Bob Ryan (he writes for The Boston Globe – not a nice guy), I got my friend out of bed early enough to catch the charter bus to the stadium. Oh, I guess I forgot to mention in addition to all the free stuff and tickets we got, Reebok also gave us passes to the official NFL tailgate. Since we were staying at an NFL host hotel, a charter bus picked us up and drove us to the stadium. It was overcast and misting a little outside, but the rain was holding out … for now. The tailgate was amazing. The second we walked into the gate, we were handed a free tailgate hat and just stood there trying to decide where to go first. To our right were free hair braiding (pass), henna tattoos (pass), face paint (pass), airbrush tattoos (ok, I got one on my arm; it was free) and the first of several bars. To our left was the main tailgate area. The largest pavilion had a small stage, about 20 brand new pool tables, a bar and tons of HDTVs broadcasting the NFL Network. By the way, NFL Network made huge strides this year. They seemed to be sponsoring or involved in every aspect of the game and whoever thought to air the original broadcast of past Super Bowls should be nominated for a Nobel Prize. After walking through the first pavilion there was an outdoor stage where Stevie Nicks, Chris Isaak and a couple other bands I didn’t see performed. To either side of the stage were huge pavilions offering tons of foods that are Miami’s traditions, for example: Chorizo, rice and beans, shrimp, flan, Jamaican beef pastries, ribs, Cuban sandwiches, pulled pork and much more. I had a bit of everything, just to make sure I got the full experience. They also had free massages and an oxygen bar, where I ran into Mr. “Hot Pockets” himself, Jim Gaffigan. I grabbed a picture with the Sierra Mist man and grabbed as many brews I could, then we headed into the game.

So far, I’ve spent this entire article raving about my trip, and I haven’t even mentioned the game. Super Bowl week had little to do with football, with the exception of all the reporters there to cover it and the drunken Bears fans screaming “Da Bears” anytime they see another Bears fans or, worse, a Colts fan. But, I went to see the game, and here’s how it went down.

Our seats were upper deck on the 45-yard line. The place was packed. The flyover almost clipped the insane jumbotrons. Billy Joel proved why he is still my boy. It started raining at kickoff. First, a low drizzle. Hester returned one for a touchdown. Then, the rain really came down. Interception of Manning – finally he does something wrong to end a week of praising the guy. My friend and I were soaked through every layer by the second quarter. The vendors sold out of ponchos halfway into the first quarter. Then I went down into the concourse area to find that all the vendors, with the exception of the ones built into the stadium, were shut down because their credit card machines and registers were fried. After a while, the majority of the stadium seemed to be watching the game from the concourse area under the stands. Somehow, I stole an industrial clear trash bag and made it into a poncho. Then, I asked a vendor for a trash bag for my friend, instead, he gave my friend an extra poncho for free (I had to do it the hard way). I’m convinced nobody watched the Halftime Show. Everyone was either in line for the bathrooms or watching it on the TVs under the stadium seats. We could hear Prince and see the fireworks over our heads, but that was the extent of my involvement with Purple Rain. Second half, Rex Grossman made his case for Colts MVP, and the Bears fans began to trickle out of Dolphin Stadium as fast as the storm moved in. We stayed the whole game and watched most of the celebration before we got sick of the “monkey off Peyton’s back talk.” (I’m at Pats fan, so forgive me if I don’t care about him winning one – try three with little superstar talent, then get back to me.) Nonetheless, the game was an awesome experience. People go their entire lives without going to a Super Bowl, and I went to one for free. I was overwhelmed by a sense that I didn’t deserve this kind of treatment and that I had to enjoy every aspect of it, including the rain. I made my friend take a picture in the rain; he wasn’t happy, but it’s the Super Bowl, and I know he’s going to want that shot, no matter how miserable he looks.

There is not much left to my Super Bowl story. We left the stadium, got on a bus, went to bed after a few hours of TV and room service and left at 5 a.m. the next morning. Miami was awesome. Miami Beach was absurd. The Super Bowl was more than I expected. You really don’t get a sense of the expansiveness of this event even from watching the 12,000,000 hours of pre-game coverage. The entire city was taken over with fans, some of football, but most of them were just seeking a good party. And a good party they found, because all of South Beach was an endless celebration from Thursday until the game on Sunday. I could not be more grateful for this trip and the things I got to see and do. My only wish is that all of you get to experience this someday and, to top it off, maybe your team will be playing in it. Regardless of who is playing though, it’s the Super Bowl, and there is nothing like it, anywhere. I’m a lucky guy to have been on this trip. All I have left to is say thanks, so thank you to my friend and to his father, thank you so much. I will never forget it.

Gratefully yours,

Dave Pedra