MIAMI — Greetings from Miami! After holding its last four Super Bowls in Detroit, Jacksonville, Houston and Kazakhstan, the NFL switched gears and moved the game to a marquee destination people enjoy visiting. Sure, it’s a radical idea to have the world’s biggest sporting event in a desirable location that features warm weather, dozens of luxury hotels, an endless array of hopping nightclubs and restaurants, a gorgeous beach scene, enough strippers and hookers to wear down Charlie Sheen, high-class shopping and a major airport that flies direct to every city, but give the NFL credit for taking such an enormous gamble.
For years and years, I’ve been arguing for a switch to the “Big Three,” where we’d hand the Super Bowl exclusively to Miami, San Diego and New Orleans (rotating every three years) and ban every other city from having it … well, unless they build a 75,000-seat football stadium in Las Vegas, and we expand the concept to a “Big Four.” Either way, the Super Bowl should be given only to cities that double as bachelor party destinations or feasible destinations for a “Real World” season. Think about it. If you were a best man throwing a bachelor party, you’d never say the words, “Hey, guys, we’re going to Jacksonville!” If you were an MTV executive planning a “Real World” season, you’d never say, “Hey, what about Houston?” So why would we hold the Super Bowl in those places? Isn’t Super Bowl week supposed to be fun?
Until recently, the NFL agreed with me. You could always count on the big game to take place in Miami, New Orleans, San Diego or Tampa (a poor man’s Miami). Then they started handing out Super Bowls as rewards for owners who built state-of-the-art stadiums, which defeated the whole purpose of the event. Shouldn’t this be a vacation? Shouldn’t it be a memorable week for just about everyone on both teams, as well as a seminal experience for any fans who travel to support their team? For instance, one of my friends (a Seahawks fan) voyaged to Detroit to see Seattle’s first-ever appearance and is still griping about it 12 months later: “I waited all those years for my team to make it, and they do, and then it’s in freaking Detroit in the dead of winter?” Exactly.
You won’t hear the Colts and Bears fans complaining this week. Here’s a place that definitely passes my Movie Test, especially when you’re driving from the airport to South Beach and having about 145 “Miami Vice,” “Scarface” and “Grand Theft Auto” flashbacks. (The weirdest thing about Miami is that I haven’t been here in 16 years but I feel like I know the place inside and out. And sure, I feel that way because of two Ferrari-driving TV detectives, a megalomaniacal Cuban coke dealer and a video game that allowed you to run over pedestrians and shoot cops, but still.) Everyone uses the words “decadent” and “swank” to describe Miami, and even though those words sound like porn magazines, I can’t quibble with either description. Even on a Sunday night, the famous stretch of hotels along Collins Avenue (right along the strip in South Beach) was hopping with gorgeous women, overdressed foreigners, club hoppers and older guys wearing blue blazers and looking like they just showed up for the Judge Smails Look-Alike Contest. I met a friend for a drink at the Raleigh Hotel, where the bar was tucked behind the hotel and hugged along the pool, replete with tiki huts and lava lamps and cabanas and soft couches, and it stretched as long as a football field. If you closed your eyes, you could even hear the ocean humming in the distance. Now this was a scene.
And frankly, much like Rex Grossman and the Bears, I’m just happy to be here. See, Super Bowl week isn’t about the game. We like to pretend it is, but it’s not. It’s about letting off steam and having a good time. It’s about blowing stuff out of proportion and creating stories that aren’t there. It’s about staging a ridiculous, exploitative event called “Media Day” just to complain about how ridiculous and exploitative it is. It’s about mainstream Web sites, newspapers, magazines, radio stations and TV stations sending their best people to “capture” an event that can’t possibly be captured, and it’s about the elite players in the sports industry calling in favors and connections for the best hotel rooms, best restaurants and best tickets. It’s about the elite party throwers trying to one-up one another with the most extravagant bashes possible, and the elite scalpers and ticket brokers battling to find the best available tickets. It’s about two fortunate fan bases trickling in throughout the week to support their teams, and how much fun it is to live vicariously through them, to see the gleam in their eyes and the hop in their collective step, because there’s absolutely nothing like seeing your team play in the Super Bowl for the first time.
Most of all, it’s about energy. And that’s what was missing in Jacksonville and Houston (and Detroit, apparently): There wasn’t that ongoing sense that something special was happening, that we were lucky to be there, that we were experiencing something that couldn’t be properly explained. On the Friday night before the Pats-Rams Super Bowl, when Bourbon Street was swarming with people — really, it was complete chaos — and everything seemed to be teetering out of control, there was a barely visible line between “revelry” and “riot” that everyone successfully straddled throughout the night, and I remember thinking to myself over and over again, “Now this is a Super Bowl weekend!” Actually, I think that was my last coherent thought before the Hurricanes kicked in. But you get the point — I felt exceptionally fortunate to be there, like the moment was bigger than all of us. You should always feel that way during the Super Bowl, right?
We’re headed back in the right direction with Miami. Heading into the week, I tried to avoid doing too much research, hoping to experience the city’s strengths and weaknesses in one fell swoop. The only thing I checked was the weather, which apparently vacillates in the winter between the high 70s (day) and the low 50s (night). I ended up packing two pairs of shorts, three pairs of jeans, two light jackets, a summer suit, two hooded sweatshirts, a bathing suit, sunglasses and a bulletproof vest to be safe.
(Which reminds me, the people I know with Miami experience recommended the following tips for Super Bowl week: Keep your wallet in your front pocket at all times; don’t tell anyone your room number; don’t get on I-95 unless someone is holding a revolver to your head; hold your drink at all times; don’t wear an expensive watch or expensive jewelry; double-lock your room door at night; look both ways as you’re exiting an ATM; and if you hear what sounds like a car backfiring in a nightclub, lower your head and start running. Good times! Nothing gets the creative juices going like the ongoing threat of physical danger. I’m not even kidding.)
So what will be the running Super Bowl themes this week? In no particular order:
1. The near certainty of a celebrity/athlete late-night arrest along the lines of Stanley Wilson and Eugene Robinson, coupled with Cincinnati’s improbable, once-in-a-lifetime quest to have 10 Bengals arrested during a season (the team is one away). There should be a way to wager on this online.
2. For the first time, we have two African-American coaches in the same game (Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith). That’s going to lead to a series of columns and features about the significance of this fact, followed by a series of columns claiming that it’s 2007 and we’ll have truly broken down the race barrier when two blacks can coach in the Super Bowl without anyone mentioning this, followed by a series of columns excoriating the previous series of columns for belittling the significance of two black Super Bowl coaches in a league that clearly has been afraid to hire black head coaches. Sadly, all this stuff will overshadow the biggest story involving an African-American NFL coach — that the Steelers just hired Omar Epps to replace Bill Cowher.
3. Everyone seems to be overly concerned about where everyone else is staying. People staying in South Beach seem exceedingly excited to tell you they’re staying in South Beach, and people who aren’t staying in South Beach have the same slightly disgruntled/envious look airline passengers have as they’re passing through first class. It’s the kind of have/have-not dynamic that gives the Super Bowl an extra edge.
4. A celebration/coronation of the NFL’s version of the royal family, the Manning family, which includes Peyton (playing in his first Super Bowl), brother Eli (a decent bet to make the trip and end up having a drunken photo posted on a sports blog) and father Ricky Manning Sr.
5. The Maxim party and the Playboy party going head-to-head this weekend. Kind of like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI” battling it out Thursday nights, only with more cleavage and more dead hookers.
6. Lots of Nick Saban bashing. They hate him in Miami. He even earned the nickname “O-Saban Bin Lying.” I’m not making this up. If he steps foot in Miami this week, it could be the greatest return of a Miami villain since Calderon.
7. That reminds me, at some point this week, I’m slapping on one of Sonny Crockett’s white linen suits and forcing Jemele Hill to dress up like Tubbs, then we’re going to rent a black Ferrari and drive around Miami for a few hours. Oh, and you think I’m kidding?
8. Grossman’s remarkable quest to give every die-hard Bears fan a quadruple-bypass before the end of the season. You could see a record number of defibrillators at the game Sunday.
9. Some good news on the weather front: We aren’t expecting any hurricanes or tropical storms this week except for a rumored visit from Tara Reid.
10. “The Craig Ferguson Show” is here all week! You heard me right! It’s Craig Ferguson! We’re all going to be in the same city as Craig Ferguson!
11. Jamie Foxx, Shaq, Dwyane Wade and Jay-Z are throwing what’s rumored to be the biggest party in Super Bowl history.
(Note: I made that up. Just hoping to plant the seed so this actually happens.)
12. An inordinate amount of celebs and athletes who probably will show up just because it’s fun to hang out in Miami, which means more photos of slutty female celebs climbing into limos without underwear and the outside possibility of the first-ever athlete/female celeb sex tape (I have $25 down for 250-to-1 odds on a threesome with the Barber twins and Heidi Montag).
13. A number of records could and should be broken this week, including …
- A. “Most links to Super Bowl columns and features on ESPN.com’s main page at the same time that would take more hours to read than we have in a 24-hour day” (the current mark is 75,323 links).
B. “The shortest sports DVD of all time,” expected to be shattered when NFL Films releases “Marvin Harrison’s Greatest Playoff Moments” (which lasts exactly 53 seconds, including opening and closing credits).
C. “Most mustaches from a group of football fans in one Super Bowl weekend,” currently held by the Eagles fans in Jacksonville and expected to be demolished by the Chicago fans in Miami.
D. “Most terrifying Media Day interview ever,” originally Ray Lewis, but Tank Johnson could jump him if everything breaks right.
E. “Strangest stunt by a local sports radio show,” which goes to Dan LeBatard for hosting his show from the Versace Mansion later this week. Has there ever been a sports city quite like Miami? First, the Heat fans start dressing up in all white for playoff games, now they’re holding live radio shows from a slain designer’s mansion? And why am I desperately hoping for an invite? Would it be weird if I did my guest spot dressed like Andrew Cunanan?
F. “Most times the Will Smith song ‘Miami’ was played in public in one week” (previous record: 0).
G. “Most fans who have absolutely no qualms about wearing ‘Conference Champs’ T-shirts around town for an entire Super Bowl week,” expected to be blown out of the water by Indy’s fan base.
And if that’s not enough, did I mention that Indy and Chicago are playing Sunday? We have the rest of the week to discuss that one. In the meantime, here’s one final story to get you fired up for Super Bowl week:
When the Sports Gal dropped me off at the airport Sunday, we hugged goodbye and she gave me one of those “You’d better not get into trouble” smiles, the ones where they (and by “they,” I’m referring to any wife or girlfriend) keep the stare for an extra second and radiate 10,000 waves of guilt throughout your body, almost like it’s a Jedi mind trick, all while keeping the aforementioned smile intact. It’s an evil ploy, and I’m convinced they teach it in some sort of secret school, which is definitely the same school where they teach women never to go to the bathroom until after they’re married. And normally, I can’t stand the “You’d better not get into trouble” smile, but I have to admit … I didn’t mind seeing one this week. Staying out of trouble won’t be a problem. I’m just glad somebody feels as though Super Bowl week might actually lead to trouble.
Just like old times, you know?
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book “Now I Can Die In Peace” is available in paperback.