Do not go to the Super Bowl looking for football. It has about as much to do with football now as Banana Republic has to do with fruit.
The Super Bowl is about one thing and one thing only--celebrities. That became official last year in Houston, at Supe XXXVIII, when Jerry Rice was stopped at an entrance to The Galleria mall. "We got too many celebrities in there," a security guard at one of the doors told him. " Janet Jackson and Paris Hilton. It's too crazy."
"What?" Rice said. "You can't keep me from shopping!"
To prove that the Super Bowl is more about glitz than blitz, I want you to take my Celebrity Schmooze Challenge in Jacksonville. See if you can break my 2004 record of 50 celebrities schmoozed, which broke a record once owned by Larry King. Two rules: 1) You must touch the celeb and 2) sports celebs don't count. (At a Super Bowl sports celebrities rank with Wal-Mart greeters.)
Here's how I finagled my Fab 50.
Thursday morning The media hotel lobby is always like the last day of Saigon, but I walk straight into actor Omar Epps, hyping a boxing movie. One. Next I meet Yanni. Or was it Zamfir? Don't care. That's two.
I sneak into the halftime show press conference and meet Nelly (shorter than you think), Kid Rock (taller than you think) and chopper builder Jesse James (scarier than you think). Five.
I spy Joe Montana, who doesn't count, but who did give the Super Bowl its first great celebrity gawking moment when, just before his game-winning drive against Cincinnati in Supe XXIII, he said to his huddle, "Isn't that John Candy?"
Searching for stars along the Jabber Walk--a line of more than 100 talk-radio hosts set up outside the Super Bowl press center--is like shooting celebs in a phone booth. I knock off The Rock, Jay Mohr, Mike O'Malley and a guy who looks a lot like William H. Macy. "We have a rule at the Super Bowl," agent Leigh Steinberg says. "If it looks like the guy, it's probably him." Fine. That's nine.
Thursday night The movie Barbershop 2 premieres ( Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer and Run from Run DMC--that's 12), even though it has zippo to do with football. "But it's about community, just like a Super Bowl," says a publicity man. Gag me.