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Thanks, Detroit

Monday, Feb. 6

DETROIT—I've been traveling with a book my aunt bought me for Christmas called, "1,000 Places to See Before You Die." On my flight in, I looked. Detroit is nowhere on the list. I checked and checked again. But under U.S., right between Chicago and Essex, Mass., is … nothing. A comma. Blank space. According to the authors of this text, it is completely acceptable to pass into the otherworld having never set foot in Ford Field, laid eyes on Comerica Park or danced the night away at the Vault. (Do not, however, step into oncoming traffic before trekking to Tiradentes or Tikal.)

Detroit may not have been the most glamorous choice to host Super Bowl XL. It might not be the most equipped for the influx of folks. But the people were welcoming, the nights were fun, and even devout Lions fans were humbled watching their hometown hero make good on a season-long promise to leave the game with a Super Bowl ring. So on my flight back to NYC this morning, I grabbed my red pen and amended the book. It now reads, "1,001 Places to See Before You Die."

Thanks, Detroit.

Steelers … time to start working on that other hand.


Sunday, February 5

You know that feeling you get when you wake up on your wedding day? The butterflies, the anxious excitement, the need to call everyone you know so they can share in the thrill? Well, me neither. But this MUST be what it feels like.

On my way to dinner last night, my fairy footballmother (We'll call her Lynn from ESPN) apparated, Harry Potter-style, on my Blackberry. "Your lucky day!" she said. "I have a ticket for you." I feel like Charlie and Ford Field is my Chocolate Factory. I am going to see my Steelers win the Super Bowl! Confident? Forget four: I gave my friend Paul 10 points in a side bet. Serves him right for taking Seattle. You too, Clayton.

I meet up with my friend and Super Bowl seatmate Curt back at the ESPN house. We skip the shave and massage, grab a few Absolutails and talk game. Curt, like too many fans who will fill Ford Field, is neither a Steelers nor a Seahawks fan. He's a Cowboys fan ("They're America's team!"), but says he "likes both teams." I prepare him. "Sorry, man. You must have drawn the short straw. I hope you're prepared to stand the entire game and duck when my towel starts swinging. It's going to be a fun night. And I have a suspicion I'll have many reasons for wringing that towel. Maybe we should stretch first."

Some thoughts from the game …

• The way tickets are dispersed sandwiched me between a few distinct seat-filler scenarios. Some made me sad.

1. Fans (with Kevin Bacon-like connections or a fat piggy bank) find a way. To my right: Jeff, a die-hard Seahawks fan who flew in from Seattle, booked a hotel room in Canada and paid $600 (face value) for a ticket he got through his, "friend's friend, who's a VP at Red Lobster, who sponsored a party and had a stack of tickets." My findings: the Super Bowl not only is not about the game (If I heard one more reporter refer to covering "the event", I was turning in my voice recorder for good.), it's not about the fans.

2. Corporate America doesn't care who wins the game, but they wish you would sit the hell down. Behind me: A row of black-clad middle-aged men I assumed were Steelers fans. Wrong. They were "football fans" who "paid a lot of money for these seats" and "can't see when you're jumping up and down and waving that towel."

3. To my left: my friend Curt, the don't-care-who-wins guy. It was like sitting next to John Kerry: "Hines Ward is growing on me. I like the Steelers!" … "Alexander must have 100 yards by now. Go Seahawks!" Seriously. There was so much flip-flopping, I thought I was at the beach. He works for ESPN, so he has a ticket. The Seahawks season-ticket holder who's been to every home game for the past 12 years lost out in the lottery. (Still had fun sitting with you, Curt.)

• If the Super Bowl were a Sega game, there would be no momentum indicator. There's a commercial (INSIDE THE STADIUM!) every three plays. There's no chance for a team to build any momentum, and it's a constant buzzkill for the fans. Example: About four minutes into the second quarter, the Steelers scored their first first-down. Followed by their second. Then ... time out. Time for "Super Bowl XL trivia, brought to you by Freddie Prince, Jr." Huh? Who?

• The pre- and halftime shows were a welcome change from squealing teenie boppers with wardrobe and microphone malfunctions. Stevie Wonder, Joss Stone, India.Arie … the Four Tops serenaded you on the way into the stadium … Aretha Franklin and Aaron Neville sang "The National Anthem" ... and the Stones. Oldies but goodies.

• I couldn't have had more fun than I did spending the game with a Seahawks fan. We made side bets: "I bet you 10 bucks Hasselbeck will answer with a touchdown on this drive." (Jeff ... One-third of my new "Steelers, Super Bowl Champions" hat thanks you.) We swapped towels. We swapped sarcasm. We had the most fun. In the end, I asked him if he'd do it all over again knowing his team would fall 11 points short. "In a heartbeat," he said. "I'd pay $2,000." That is what this game should be about.

• Nothing tops watching your team win a championship. In 1996, I watched my Gators win the Sugar Bowl (52-20 over FSU) and the National Championship. Today, I watched my Steelers win the Super Bowl. I watched the Bus complete his full-circle ride. I watched a 23-year-old QB win a ring in his second season. I watched a TD scored on one of my favorite trick plays. Best Sunday ever.

As I leave the stadium, my phone rings. It's my new friend Franco Harris (yes, that Franco), calling to celebrate: "I said, 'I have to call Alyssa. She must be freaking out!'" You know you're a Steelers fan when the MVP of Super Bowl IX calls to calm you down. His take: "I think Seattle outplayed us ... gave me quite a scare ... thank god for trick plays and defense." My thoughts exactly, Franco.

How I became friends with my childhood hero, well, that's for another blog. (Maybe I'll tell you over a beer and massage at the ESPN house.) But I will tell you a few things he's taught me in the past few weeks …

1. That immaculate reception. Call up Momma Harris and say thank you. She's fairly certain she had more to do with it than Franco.

2. Jerry Rice is the second-best dancer who will land in the NFL Hall of Fame.

3. We dish out the terms "idol", "hero" and "role model" with too much ease. But some people are truly deserving of these prefixes. I've always been wary of meeting the few people I hold in this esteem on a personal level. People rarely live up to the image in your mind and meeting them is like finding out Santa Clause is not only not real, he's also rude, won't shake your hand and is too busy to say hello. Not this time. I truly believe if Franco Harris had never played a down of football, he'd still be a hero to kids somewhere, for something.


Saturday evening, February 4

I came to a realization while sitting in turtle traffic on the media bus Saturday night. I spend a lot of time exploring U.S. cities in their most unnatural state.

Two weeks ago, I watched Park City, Utah, transform from a quiet, quaint, ski town best known for hosting the 2002 Olympics into a beehive of balloon-headed pseudo celebrities who've swarmed the city under the guise of attending Sundance. A few days later, I arrived in Aspen, home of the Winter X Games since 2004. Any of the other 51 weeks of the year, I doubt I would hear a vacationer remark, "Wow. Aspen is beautiful. Especially the pink-and-purple neon lighting the Buttermilk halfpipe."

And now, Detroit. On another weekend, my sneaking suspicion is that downtown Detroit is a lot less black-and-gold, you can actually drive 30 miles in 30 minutes or less and Saturday nights are rarely spent deciding between attending the Playboy or Penthouse party. (I chose the latter.)

What's next? Mardi Gras at Yellowstone?

But since I'm here, I thought I'd take advantage of the XL excess, so I grabbed my friend Meredith and headed over to the ESPN house at the Centaur. The rumor: "It's seven floors of free fun." We hear it's like spending a day in the athlete's village at the Olympics. Well, minus the chance to hit the beer bong with Bode.

For the lucky credentialed few (and by few, I mean hundreds of people I have never seen before), the house swirls with sponsor-offered swag, girls on roller skates and, yes!, even a few folks we know. Three minutes in, we grabbed house honcho Brynn and asked, "Why the hell haven't we been here all week? This is great!" Free massages, manicures, swag, girls in silver spandex doling out free shaves (our friend Andy bit on that offer), and enough booze to send even this crowd well on their way to an XL hangover.

And drunk folks are a great place to continue my ticket search. Excuse me. I have a few people I'd like to buy a free beer.


Saturday afternoon, February 4

It's 4:00 on Saturday afternoon, and time for me to spend a little time, myself, in the ol' black-and-gold confessional. To reveal the real reason I'm here in Detroit and to answer the question clouding the minds of most of my co-workers: "Why the hell is Alyssa here?" I mean, what reason could the magazine possibly have to send an action-sports editor to the Super Bowl? Oh, right. To report on the fusion of celebrity and sports cultures. To give Cindy Adams a run for her star-spotting money.

Hardly.

Anyone who knows me is getting a good chuckle out of that last line. Just two weeks ago I made the astonishing discovery that Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Garner are, in fact, three different women. Who knew?

I'm here for one reason, and one reason alone. To find a ticket to the game. To finagle my way into Ford Field to watch my Steelers win one for the thumb. To watch the smothering Pittsburgh D chew up and spit out Matt Hasselbeck the same way they did Peyton Manning (as a Gator, as well, that was especially tasty) and Jake Plummer. To wave the Terrible Towel my parents bought me on their last trip home to Sarver, a tiny sliver of a town northeast of Steel City where I spent my first nine years in a black-and-gold tossel cap.

Hell, I knew the names Franco and Terry before Bert and Ernie. Do you know how many times I threw a terrible towel into the air and pretended Mean Joe Green had just tossed it to me, Coke-commercial style?

I was one month shy of my third birthday the last time the black-and-gold won a Super Bowl, so the details are a bit cloudy. But I remember clearly the Dallas loss in Super Bowl XXX (and the pre-game "I called tails!" debacle) and the AFC Championship game losses (Damn you, San Diego!) that have haunted my team for the past decade. So this will be fun. The story's too stacked in Pittsburgh's favor to end in anything but storybook, they-won-happily-ever-after fashion. They're the Marlins, Lightning and Sox all rolled into one and I am going to be there to see them win it all.

I have some calls to make.


Friday, February 3

Talk about late to the party.

After a 26-hour Aspen-to-Detroit trip caused by a Colorado blizzard and two delayed flights, I arrived in Motor City Friday night fairly certain that although I was late by original-plan standards, I was still a bit early for the celebrations surrounding Sunday's game. Man, was I wrong. Early happened sometime around Monday, when most journalists, photographers, A- and B-listers, and fans turned Motor City and its suburbs into XL HQ. And XL it is. After a quick downtown jaunt, I am convinced this is the only sporting event visible from space.

My job for the week: Hang at the parties, drop by the ESPN The Magazine house a few times a day, and see who shows up. We tried the same thing at the Winter X Games last week, but the closest thing to a celebrity spotting I experienced was overhearing an 18-year-old guy at the snow skate park yell, "Hey, guys! I just heard Don Johnson's in the lobby! ... Does anyone know who Don Johnson is?"

On the flight from Denver to Detroit, I had my first encounter. Amidst a sea of travelers sporting black-and-gold sweaters, scarves, jerseys, hats, pins, puffies and face paint (How do Steelers fans manage to dress themselves out of season?), I spotted Denver safety John Lynch two seats away, in Economy Plus, squished between the two lone Seahawks fans on the flight. In what I can only imagine was some sort of just-lost-to-the Steelers, soul-atoning ritual, Lynch spent the entire flight reading, "It's Only A Game," by Terry Bradshaw. I started imagining a post-game Lynch ducking into an orange-and-blue confessional booth ("Forgive me, Coach, for I dropped into double coverage too often, didn't pressure Big Ben …) and being ordered by his football deities to, "attempt five Hail Mary's and read from The Good Book."

Back to reality and safely on the ground, I arrived in Detroit (OK, Livonia, a suburb about a half hour away) with 30 minutes to check in, change and bolt to the main event: the ESPN The Magazine NEXT party at the Colony Club. Since this is my first time to Detroit, I headed over, carpool style, with a local D-Town celeb, Mag writer Eric Adelson, who informed me this would be the biggest party Detroit's ever seen—until the Lions win the Super Bowl, that is. Right.

The doors opened sharply at 9:00, and this time, I wasn't late. I was first in line. Bring on the A-Listers.

My first snag: A backwards-baseball-cap, red-tracksuit-wearing Will Ferrell, the first red-carpet walker of the night. While Ferrell twirled and swirled for the cameras and my 100 favorite Anchorman lines began running through my head, a cross-country team ran through the first floor of the party and across the red carpet. (This seemed less strange as the night wore on, and the runners were joined by a party-roaming soccer team, a gymnast performing a pseudo balance-beam routine on the second floor and a boxer and bikini-clad ring girl pacing the VIP room.)

Next in, ESPN personality Dan Patrick surrounded by media-credentialed men wanting to know if he would, "Sign this for my son. He loves you." Made me think of the Peyton Manning commercials where he asks the grocery store clerk to sign a loaf of bread for his brother.

Speaking of Eli, the Giants QB showed up around midnight and grabbed himself quite a crowd. That is, until Tom Brady and Matt Leinart arrived (separately) and the hive buzzed on. Leinart rolled up to the fourth floor with the biggest entourage this side of P-Diddy, who, by the way, threw his own bash at the Diddy House across town. And you can't have an XL, er, Giant, party without NYC's favorite bachelor, Jesse Palmer. (Right about this time, my best friend Lisa, my own personal IMDB and an editor at EntertainmentWeekly.com, called to inform me that Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow were breaking up. "Put that in your blog!")

The earliest Super Bowl castoff to arrive was Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, fresh from a Nike party and sans bodyguards. Nice guy. And, to my surprise, a huge X Games fan. He says he spent the weekend watching the Winter Games and loves, "that red-headed snowmobile racer, Blair ..." Morgan. "Right." Also a big fan of freestyle motocross and skateboarding. "Those guys are crazy! We're not crazy. Skateboarders are crazy." I asked him why a player who'd come thisclose to the Big Game would fly to Detroit just to watch. Seems masochistic. "Nike commitments." Ahh. Will he go to the game? "Hell no. I will never go to a Super Bowl until I am playing in it. I'm out on Saturday."

The A-List List

  • Dylan McDermott spent the early part of the evening granting TV interviews and chatting up singer Joss Stone. I checked. She was wearing shoes.

  • The last person to walk the red carpet, and apparently the final guest to arrive at the party, was Usher, who quickly saddled up to actress Jessica Alba, then spent about an hour shaking hands and greeting guests.

  • Author James Frey spent the evening slamming tequila shots at the bar with two ESPN photographers. Or maybe he didn't. It's all kinda fuzzy.

  • Analyst John Clayton apparently has a theory Seahawks fans will be happy to hear. His hypothesis: Roethlisberger has a sore thumb. The game ball has a rather large "XL" near his grip. The combination will impede his throwing ability and impair the Steelers' offense. That sounds about as reasonable as Hines Ward's "we're not getting respect because we're favored" BS.

  • Also spotted, some by me: talking heads Tom Arnold, Michael Wilbon, Mike Golic, Sean Salisbury (Tuck your damn shirt in, Salisbury) and the Playmate of the Year. But not necessarily in that order.