One man battles snow, smokes cigars, and spies on celebrities in the days leading up to the biggest football game of the year.
There is an episode of King of Hill that shows the whole state of Texas going into an apocalyptic panic because an inch of snow fell. As it turns out, Mike Judge was underselling.
If you've been following the build-up to Super Bowl XLV, you know the weather in North Texas has been a nightmare. The week started with an ice storm and closed with five inches of snow. The highways are like skating rinks, the sidewalks are treacherous. Driving into town Thursday morning, the radio was talking about "rolling blackouts"—always fun when you have a few hundred thousand big spenders coming to town for the world's biggest single-day sporting event. The Prince concert was canceled, as were athlete appearances all over town. At one point, Love Field closed. Even the "Never Miss a Super Bowl Club" Visa guys might have trouble making this one.
You might have chuckled when you heard about the weather mess, because it feels like a disaster for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who built himself a billion-dollar stadium and pushed relentlessly to get a Super Bowl in it. Like the Yankees' George Steinbrenner in his heyday, there is no owner in sports that fans love to hate more. It's easy to see this week as a kind of comeuppance for Jones, or perhaps some sort of divine retribution. Maybe this is the Lord's way of telling Jerry that the world didn't need a football stadium with 160-foot wide HDTV screen suspended over the field.
Truthfully, part of me felt a little schadenfreude as well. Not towards Jones, though, but North Texas in general. A couple of weeks ago, I was looking on Craigslist for a place to stay this week, and found more than a little price-gouging. People were asking $2,000 and $3,000 for a single night's stay in a two-bedroom condo. That's Texas-sized jerkiness.
But there's no denying that the weather has caused real economic hardship ... You do have to feel for the people of this area, especially restaurants. Some had expected to do a million dollars' worth of business this week, but pulled in under $100,000. Friday, the mess got even more serious, when six people were injured, one seriously, by falling ice from the roof of Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Barely five minutes after getting to the hotel on Thursday in the distant and none-too-glamorous suburb of Plano, the roads were so incredibly slick there was no way to make the first event I'd planned to attend: the final round of the Bing National Tailgating Championship. Covering the 40-mile trip to Fort Worth would have taken all day. Instead of feasting, I ended up with a dinner of junk food from the hotel vending machine and did absolutely zilch the entire night except try to thaw in my room.
The next morning, meaning about noon, I managed to find a DART train—running late of course—and headed into the city center. Media HQ is a Sheraton hotel in downtown Dallas. In addition to free soda for reporters, the big attraction is Radio Row, a ballroom filled with reporters and DJs from all over the country. Celebrities and athletes walk from one table to the next wait to promote their new movie or latest product endorsement, or maybe even talk about football. I see a stunning woman at a photo booth set up by Sirius. She gets her pictures and walks off.
I walk up and mention to Gary at the booth that she is very attractive.
He stares at me for a second before telling it was Marisa Miller.
Oh. Well, that explains it. Sports Illustrated swimsuit models do tend to be on the attractive side.
Adam Sandler was probably the most famous entertainer there. Cowboy legends Michael Irvin and Daryl "Moose" Johnston were walking around, but I didn't really turn from reporter to fan until I saw Kevin Harlan, probably the best sportscaster in the business.
Yes, I am a huge nerd.
As media you are supposed to look disinterested and a little weary. You certainly aren't supposed to look like a fan—by, say, wearing anything with an NFL team logo. But I geeked out in Chiefs gear anyway, and was glad when some Kansas City radio folks spotted me and we got to chat for a while.
The DART was faster on the way back out to Plano. A very quick change and shower and it was time for the real point of Super Bowl week: parties.
This time, I drove downtown. I should have cabbed. Then again this city doesn't seem to have an abundance of cabbies—certainly not ones who know how to drive in the snow.
The first event was the GQ party, sponsored by Cadillac, Lacoste, and Patron Tequila. Nobody gave me a Caddy, but the Patron was free-flowing, and the Oliva Cigar cigars were very tasty. They even let me into the "gifting suite," which was really just a small room in the back of the party packed full of Lacoste merchandise. I swore that I would write honestly about the clothing, which I honestly love, and filled my bag with as much free crud as I could get away with—aka only slightly more than was appropriate. They even let me take one of those tennis shirts with the giant alligator, like Andy Roddick wears. No coincidence, he and Terrell Owens were the ostensible "hosts" of the GQ affair. Both actually hung out in the main room for a while, instead of vanishing into some super-VIP hideaway. Which was nice.
Trent Green and Kurt Warner were talking in a corner for a while. Just watching and trying to eavesdrop was way cool. Without question, the best conversation of the night was with Eric Dickerson. It wasn't especially profound. We talked about, duh, football. But he treated me like a person. It felt like he genuinely tried to make a connection—which is kind of rare at a glitzy party.
There was also this scruffy dude that people were taking tons of pictures with all night, but I had no clue who he was. Later, it turned out he was a Jonas Brother, so it's probably good that I didn't know. Hayden Panettiere, not for nothing, is way hotter in person than on TV.
On the way out, I was standing next to a guy who looked like Owen Wilson. It was Owen Wilson. He shook my hand but was kind of glum and wouldn't stop for a picture. He was at least nice about it, though. Thank goodness, or I'd never be able to enjoy Bottle Rocket again.
Then it was time to go downtown to the Bud Light Hotel, aka the Aloft Dallas, for the end of the Playboy party. Getting on I-30, though, it was crazy slick. There were wrecks everywhere—like every mile or so—and the prospect of driving through the clogged streets at the wee hours was not one I welcomed. Doubly so when I got off the highway, tried to stop at a light on Pearl Street, and spun, doing a slow 360 right through the intersection.
When the car finally stopped—and time restarted—I had one word in my head: "Home." Which, in this case, meant a white-knuckle drive back to the hotel. It left me so drained I fell asleep without even getting undressed, right down to sleeping with my boots on—Texas-style.