What would happen if the greatest Super Bowl of all time was played in the greatest host city of all time and no one was talking about it just one day later? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened this year. But rather than dwell on the halftime program with its inappropriate dancing and loud music and distasteful lyrics and “patriotic” outfits and obscene hand gestures and alleged accidental stripping (just when did I become my parents?), let’s focus on the “week that was” in Houston, Texas.
I must admit I was extremely enthusiastic about Houston hosting the Big Game this year. And even though I realized that the $1,800 scalper price for the worst seat in the house at Reliant Stadium was a tad bit out of my price range, I vowed to participate in the accompanying festivities to the fullest. And for that week, I acted like a kid in a candy store (a 41 year old kid), soaking up the atmosphere, checking out the venues, stalking my lifelong sports (and hip hop) idols, crashing parties, and generally experiencing the sights and sounds of the Super Bowl (sans the game itself). And despite my lofty expectations for a great week, I was not disappointed in the least. In fact, the week may have been just one “boob” away from being perfect (and I’m not anti-boob, mind you).
MY WEEK’S ACTIVITIES
For the first time in Super Bowl history, Houston organized an Opening Ceremonies which was hosted by CBS sportscaster and Houston native, Jim Nantz, and included a tribute to our City’s greatest sports legends. I sat in awe as my hometown heroes, the very people I idolized for so long, appeared on one stage together: Nolan Ryan, Earl Campbell, Clyde Drexler, Roger Clemens, George Foreman, Mary Lou Retton and so many more. Some looked like they could still perform at their peak levels; sadly, others have aged considerably and appeared worn down from one too many hits on the field. I couldn’t help but wonder if Hebrew School had not interfered with my Little League practice schedule, perhaps, I too would be standing on that stage. Also seated in an adjacent VIP box were such dignitaries as former President and Barbara Bush, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Mayor Bill White, Mark Elias, and Texan QB David Carr. The event was a tremendous way to kick off the week and will be hard pressed to be matched in future years.
Later in the week, I attended a Super Bowl party sponsored by sports marketing firm, Tri-Star Productions, as the guest of local celebrity, Michael Garfield, (you know him as the High-Tech Texan). Again, I was transformed into stalking mode as I sought autographs from the likes of Elvin Bethea, Mike Rozier, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, former Bellaire High School standout Frank Karkowsky, the “Fridge” (no relation to Karkowsky), Joe DeLamielleure (what was he doing there?) and Roger Clemens. Only Herschel Walker played that arrogant ballplayer and refused to sign autographs, proving that his time in Big D must have rubbed off on him.
MORE CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS
I also went to the opening of a new comedy club which featured the comedic (and filthy) antics of Jay Mohr (Bob Sugar from Jerry Maguire) who regularly appears on national sports shows. Though I was disappointed that his friend, Jim Rome, was not in the audience, I found out later that those hilarious guys from TV mega hit “Yes, Dear” were present. (Just where was my autograph book when I needed it?) Even more significant (if that’s possible), a Hawaiian Tropics party took place directly next door to the comedy club and featured some lovely and “well endowed” young ladies, many of whom I recognized from my wild barhopping days. (See, I told you, I’m not anti-boob.) Unfortunately, none of them seemed to remember me (or they’re still playing hard to get). I assumed I would see some of them again at the Maxim, Playboy, and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit parties, but extra tight security kept the riff raff (and me) out of those sought after affairs.
Throughout the week, I (along with everyone else I know) wandered through the City’s main hotels, restaurants, malls, and downtown streets seeking out the “who’s who” of the celebrity world. (I believe there now may be a restraining order keeping me out of the downtown Hilton Americas.) I dined next to Steve Young (and his family) and had drinks with Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Don Shula (of course, they didn’t realize we are having drinks together). I watched Jim Kelly eat fajitas at Pappasitos and learned that I barely missed J-Lo at another restaurant. I talked football strategy with Coach Marv Levy (though he didn’t strategize back) and followed my sister’s hunch that big-time celebrities eat deli when they are in town. Unfortunately, no ballplayers were at Kenny & Ziggy’s at the time, but Marketing Exec David Goldstein was dining with son, Miles. (Talk about intimidating.) From a distance I saw both P-Diddy and Puff Daddy (I’m not sure I can tell them apart) watching a Rockets’ basketball game along with my personal favorite entertainers Big Mo, Nelly, Jermaine Dupri, Yanni, Adam Sandler, and a lady from some show called “The View.”
Throughout the week, our typically calm downtown was transformed into a (somewhat tamer) Bourbon Street of sorts as literally thousands of locals and visitors packed the city blocks for evenings filled with star gazing (celebrity not celestial) and good natured revelry. While some fights broke out and drunken incidents did occur, they were rare in number and none of Ray Lewis’ entourage seemed to be involved. Our new light rail trains serviced far more riders than had been anticipated. Traffic seemingly flowed even more smoothly than normal. Our new sports venues were praised by all who attended.
While I’m not a PhD in economics (just a MBA and CPA), I can’t help but think the economic impact for our City will prove to be significant. Hotels and restaurant were sold out; the airports were busier than on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving; corporate execs met with our convention professionals to discuss future outings for businesses and trade groups. Visitors realized that Houston has the Galleria and NASA and fine museums and theaters and amazing restaurants and a thriving downtown and outstanding sports facilities and incredibly hospitable people. Further, the City offers close proximity to beaches and cruise ships.
Heading into the week, many people were pessimistic about Houston’s ability to effectively host the game; they were concerned about weather, transportation problems, construction issues, and entertainment options. Reporters wrote unfair disparaging articles about our fair city. Based on some of their comments, many were written prior to their arrival as they were littered with preconceived notions of a sticky heat (it never surpassed 60 degrees), a cowboy mentality, and an oil town in the midst of recession. I hope we proved them wrong, and if not, good riddance. And as far the game itself? An unexpected offensive shootout by two teams with few superstars; a last second game winning field goal; two gutsy and classy performances that epitomize sportsmanship; and all we can talk about is that R-rated halftime show. Perhaps, I should have paid that $1,800 after all?