- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2001

TAMPA, Fla. Supermodels, Playmates and hot tubs. Oxygen bars, nitrogen fog and coral-reef bars. Flaming volcanoes and earthquakes. There's even a football game.

More than 2 billion people will watch Super Bowl XXXV on Sunday, but the game between the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants is an afterthought to many of the beautiful people in town for a week of parties that makes Mardi Gras look like a religious retreat.

The National Football League's stars dim around so many famous faces and odd attractions. There is Aerosmith performing alongside the Backstreet Boys, a rolling version of the Playboy mansion and a pirate festival.

More than 50 parties and events in four dizzying days leave few people with the desire to drive the 90 minutes to Disney World. Who needs Minnie Mouse when you have Daisy Fuentes?

"I'm not naive enough to think we're the reason everybody's here," said Giants tight ends coach Mike Pope. "There's so many things going on with the dot-com companies and the entertainment. The game used to be the thing. Now it's just a three-hour part. Whatever happens [in the game] won't make a lot of difference to people after 9 o'clock."

Former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle began courting corporations to come to the game in the early 1970s. What began as a single soiree turned into a few black-tie affairs and is now an endless string of parties.

The Super Bowl is a mecca for celebrity fun-seekers and, for those with corporate accounts, a chance to practice another American pastime: the write-off. More than half those attending the game deduct the weekend as a business expense.

"It's all part of America, and we're a slice of America," Giants Chairman Bob Tisch said. "Corporations are a part of it."

Plenty of business gets discussed over drinks or on the golf course. Octagon Vice President Jeff Sperbeck's company represents 30 NFL players, including Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer. The week is a chance to meet clients, coaches and general managers. If they're not discussing contracts, it's a chance to feel each other out before meeting at the negotiating table.

"It's a good opportunity because not too many venues have everyone coming to one place," Mr. Sperbeck said. "You talk to people on the phone all year, but here you can visit them face to face and have dinner."

Ybor City is party central.

This fashionable old section of Tampa offers disco, two-step and even flamenco dancing.

The former "Cigar Capital of the World" will host "Bud Bowl" parties, where rock band Cheap Trick headlines the entertainment and models wearing skintight dresses made of beer cans give new meaning to "walking billboards."

Sports agent Leigh Steinberg has the hottest private party.

Mr. Steinberg, the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire," is throwing an invitation-only affair attended just by those who either hold a seven-figure bank account or have appeared in People magazine.

There's plenty of access to players at the Players Gala, Comedy Bash, Players Masquerade party and the nightly party at club 989 with Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa as co-host. The Ravens don't have a curfew, but the Giants are lights out by 12:30 a.m.

The must-see outdoor party for the masses is Gasparilla. The annual re-enactment of the 19th-century pirate invasion along the waterfront is Treasure Island meets Disney, a combination of parades, street performers and amusements.

Want to get really crazy? Ricky Martin performs "Livin' La Vida Loca" inside an aircraft hangar at the local Air Force base.

Pick a venue, and you'll spot a celebrity. Magic Johnson is partying at the aquarium. Evander Holyfield is hanging out at the new restaurant of former Tampa Bay Buccaneer great Lee Roy Selmon. Denzel Washington and supermodel Niki Taylor are featured at nightspots. Celebrities and players are in heavy demand for charitable events because they bring in the money.

"Corporations are looking for guys to differentiate their hospitality suite," Mr. Sperbeck said. "The more players they can have around helps them. It's a mutual-admiration society. The players want to talk to the CEOs."

Maxim magazine's "Pure Rush" party tomorrow features natural settings much like the ones in the photos of its pages. Models will wear only fig leaves when they're not in the 10-person hot tubs, that is. There are thunder-and-lightning shows, simulated earthquakes, volcanoes and nitrogen fog. Admission is $250.

There are natural settings, and there are settings that are au naturel.

Admission is free at the Lake Como Family Nudist Camp, just 20 miles from the Super Bowl site. On Saturday, the camp will stage a football game of its own between the Bare Buns and the Totally Tans no uniforms or protective gear, please.

Smirnoff's party for its new line of flavored vodkas is "futuristic Middle Eastern." Partygoers enter an Arabian casbah with Cirque du Soleil-like acrobats in black-and-neon bodysuits dancing in midair.

Playboy.com's party is at the Rain Lounge, but even Hugh Hefner isn't coming. They can't all be 10s.

Not every party is about debauchery. Former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs hosts the Super Bowl breakfast for $1,000 a table. The NFL Experience lets anyone kick field goals, catch passes and don pads.

Hungry? There's a 10-foot bowl of "Super Paella" that offers a spicy blend of Spanish rice, sausages and shrimp.

There is something for everyone, even those left out of the game itself.

A "Super Bowl of Parties" on Sunday allows fans without tickets to watch the game amid a covey of video games for $15 about 1 percent of what a decent seat costs at the real event.

After all, you don't have to spend a lot to party, but it usually helps at the Super Bowl.


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