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.
At the Madden EA party I see Anthony Anderson, then P. Diddy arrives with a squad car, three motorcycle cops and a three-SUV posse. That's 14. A member of Diddy's entourage pushes me out of the way--it's Reggie Jackson. Hey, you know you're big when your stooges are celebs.
Friday night The Super Bowl has more celeb parties than Donald Trump has hairstylists. At one I meet Pauly Shore, then blow him off for Playboy's 50th-anniversary playmate, Colleen Shannon, who's having a very hard time picking a team. "You don't know who's playing, do you?" I finally ask.
"Uh, no," she admits. Don't care. Sixteen.
I see Adam Carolla (17), who explains the Super Celebrity phenomenon. "If one celebrity does something, we all do it," he says. "If celebrities started jumping off a cliff, we'd all do that. I just think it'd be great if Ben Affleck and Alec Baldwin did it first."
The Maxim party is so lousy with celebs you get tan off the minicam lights. I check off so many that I just have to go to smaller type: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Johnny Knoxville, Janet Jackson, Dave Navarro, Joey Fatone (did you know, if you don't rearrange the letters, it spells "fat one"?), the Joe Millionaire guy, Pamela Anderson and the geeky guy from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. O.K., I didn't actually meet them all, but Larry King can't read type this small. That's 26.
Saturday night Tickets to the Playboy party--at which guests can paint feathers on nude models--are going for $1,300. Ticket to the game: $500. Still, I get Jimmy Fallon, Tara Reid, Jaime Pressly and Michelle Branch. That's 30.
Sports Illustrated's party would make Nero blush, though, sadly, no girls are wearing Benjamin Moore. Still, I click off Jay-Z, Beyoncé, LL Cool J, Bill O'Reilly (when's the last time you saw those names in a row?), Roshumba, Petra Nemcova, Molly Sims and Michael Chiklis. That's 38.
Sunday afternoon At the Cadillac Celebrity Go-Kart Race I get David Arquette, Billy Bush and Paris Hilton, who gets a roll in the hay when Jimmy Kimmel slams his runaway kart into the hay bale she's standing on, flipping her elbow over inheritance. That's 42.
At a lunch I meet Steven Tyler (43) and his four bandmates, who must be famous to somebody, right (47)? O.K., so I'm getting desperate. I count two people who've been famous for only 14 minutes: Leon, the spoiled jock from the Budweiser commercials, and the My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé guy (49), who seems as surprised as anyone to be having a free week at the Super Bowl.
One more for 50. It's nearly kickoff. And that's when I see him, leaning against a pillar, talking to nobody, the Yugo of celebrities: Kato Kaelin.
Five-oh. Super Bowl L. I dare you to break it this weekend.
And no fair counting Star Jones as two.
• If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Super Bowl is about one thing--celebrities, so take my Celebrity Schmooze Challenge in Jacksonville.
PETER READ MILLER