By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Over the past three days, I attended 10 parties, ate four different types of egg rolls and three kinds of sushi, and braved the rain and snow in the name of watching topless women and listening to a private concert by Snoop Dogg himself.

But I do this all because I care. I do this all so that you don't have to.

Shady Records party
AP
Party-goers had to brave the wind and snow to get to bashes like the Shady Records Party.

Despite all the reports that corporations would stay away from Detroit in the name of doing it up in Las Vegas or saving up for next year's bash in Miami, this was the most competitive party atmosphere we've ever seen.

Saturday night mainstays Playboy and Maxim were joined by Penthouse. And a sure-fire underdog in trading-card company Upper Deck emerged as one of the week's most popular spots after the fire marshal shut down the FHM party a couple blocks away.

Due to the fact that an ESPN.com cloning project fell through at the last minute, I couldn't go to them all. But a reliable cab driver named Rob shuttled me around like Tom Cruise in "Collateral," ensuring the Nike and Gatorade bashes wouldn't prevent me from using my VIP ticket to Jenna Jameson's party.

If you're a big football fan, the best party for you might have been the Electronic Arts' 12th annual Madden Bowl. But you would have had to work your connections, because the only way you get a clear plastic ticket is to get on the list. On Thursday night, eight NFL players, including Marcus Trufant, Chad Johnson and Willis McGahee, did battle on the stage -- with Barry Sanders and Shaun Alexander watching on -- for the chance to become the 2006 Madden Bowl champ (Bucs tight end Alex Smith won). Although the crab rangoon was tasty, the drinks were a negative as one could only partake in the sponsor's alcohol -- that meant Miller, Sharp's and Absolut.

Our second stop Thursday was supposed to be the Gatorade party on the 71st floor of the General Motors Renaissance Center. I arrived at the party starving, so without looking around, I went straight for some unbelievable food in the form of rare ahi tuna and seaweed salad. When I was done, I had a piece of white chocolate bark with cranberries. No longer famished, I decided I'd go schmooze with some of the Gatorade executives. Then I began to get troubled that I didn't recognize anyone, and I came across this sign: Estilo Latino! Hispanic Scholarship Fund hosted by Jeff Garcia. The food was, without a doubt, the best I had all week, but that's probably because everyone else there gave large sums of money to put Hispanic kids through college.

FHM was next on the list. The magazine truly arrived on the map last year in Jacksonville, Fla., where its Thursday night party was attended by many of the Eagles players who were playing in the big game. As always, I try to arrive at the hottest list party first, because there are always people pushing and arguing their way onto the list. After giving my name to a gorgeous blonde named Heather, who was wearing an FHM shirt so small I was sure it was going to snap any minute, I was on the inside of Club Envy. I appreciated the effort to serve food -- the best appetizers were crab cakes and Asian chicken on a crispy wonton.

Jessica Alba
AP
Jessica Alba was among the celebrities making the party rounds in Detroit.

That positive was negated by the crowd which, less than an hour in, was already cumbersome. I knew there was something amiss. I've never seen this many locals at a Super Bowl party, and it was hard for me to believe that a hot list-only party like FHM would have had a list considerably bigger than the two-level club could ever fit. We were told Reggie Bush, Michael Strahan, Brian Urlacher, Ray Lewis, Stevie Wonder, Pete Coors and Vida Guerra were amongst the crowd, but I wouldn't even have been able to find Waldo. At around midnight, the music was shut off, the lights came up and the fire marshal dismissed the crowd. "We became a very popular party, and we're thrilled with that," FHM spokesperson Cathy O'Brien said. "But we have unresolved issues with the club management, capacity and list tampering."

FHM's loss was Upper Deck's gain. After sitting out last year's Super Bowl, the trading-card company had its coming-out party in Detroit. What made it so great? It started with a nice space, the Elysium Lounge. Then came a pretty tight guest list and plenty of creativity. That started with bussing in models, which ensured the female-to-male ratio was always above 5-to-1. Then, we couldn't help notice the two ice sculptures of the Lombardi Trophy, football-card packs to open at the bar and at the tables, California rolls with authentic crab, and the sweetest touch -- an airbrush tattoo artist named Rosemarie Rohelier, who spray-painted the initials "DMR" on my left forearm. Unfortunately, this branding faded when I decided it was a better priority to practice good hygiene. With FHM letting out a few blocks away, Upper Deck was in position to capitalize, and we saw more stars per square inch here -- Steve Smith, Bill Laimbeer, Eli Manning, Alex Smith and Tony Gonzalez -- than we did at any other party. On your way out? A mini bottle of Strawberry Stoli and lip balm.

I spent Friday evening at the Nike party, a low-key spot where Braylon Edwards, Brian Griese, Mike Alstott and other players sat at tables for privacy. I took some time in the back by the coat check munching on soft chocolate chip cookies.

Little did I know that that was my dinner, as my $1,000 VIP ticket to Jenna Jameson's Club Jenna Bowl bash didn't come with a morsel of food. I arrived at the Zoo Bar early, not ruining one of my few chances to review porn on company time. As I was paying $3 for the coat check, I noticed this sign:

Jenna Jameson
AP
Jenna Jameson showed up early, but didn't perform at her own party.

"By entering this establishment, I grant Rigid Video Inc. their legal representatives and assignors, including agency, client, network or publication, irrevocable permission to publish, profit, exploitation or publication all video and or photos taken of me."

Oh, great. I can't wait until my first hit on Google is "Darren Rovell ... as himself" in Super Bowl XXXL.

Soon after, I met Joe and Renee, a local couple who said they agreed to fork over $1,000 each after hearing Jameson's sexual suggestive appearance on Howard Stern's radio show earlier in the week. Until the true stars entered, the local "talent" strutted their stuff on either the main stage or around one of two poles on the upper VIP level.

To my surprise, Jameson walked into the place at 9:43 p.m. Although some of her cohorts, including Briana Banks, did participate in a sponsored lingerie show later in the evening, Jameson didn't make an appearance in front of the crowd. The crowd of 1,100 was impressive and included Lionel Ritchie and recent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Warren Moon. The attendees seemed pleased with the selection of topless women, the premium bar and the VIP gift bags, which included porn star trading cards, condoms and lingerie. But for an encore performance in Miami to be worthwhile, I say Jameson will have to take the stage.

On Saturday afternoon, I went over to agent Leigh Steinberg's party, which he is hosting for the 20th year. Steinberg's client, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger showed up, though he wasn't tempted to shave his beard before game day despite the fact that Gillette was offering free shaves upstairs. For the record, Roethlisberger didn't take part in the free manicure and massage, either. Other notables included recently named Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. While there wasn't much food, it was certainly different from anything we had seen so far -- hummus, tabouli and an unpredictable bratwurst with all the fix-ins on an upper floor.

As I was leaving the Steinberg party, the butterflies arrived in my stomach. The impending strain of evaluating the best of the best was already weighing on me. Saturday night is for the big boys, where the skin mags face off for the greatest extravagance.

I wanted to see Maxim first. For the past couple years, this party has been No. 1 in my ratings. In New Orleans, we witnessed counterfeit Maxim tickets that were going for more than Super Bowl tickets. In Houston, they had a big-top circus with mechanical bulls. Last year in Jacksonville, their wedding theme "Maximony" included men dressed in tuxedos and women in wedding gowns, and believe it or not, a real wedding took place. I arrived at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, to find hundreds of people waiting in line hoping to get in. I was not surprised to find this after learning earlier in the week that Maxim, which does not sell tickets to its event, had outsourced some of its guest list.

The following e-mail was sent by one of those outside contractors to a presumably attractive woman who was told she was on the list. It was leaked to the Detroit Free Press.

    Q: What should I wear?

    A: This is one of the hottest parties you will ever go to, and you're only getting in because you're a hot chick. ... Your job is to make Carmen Electra, Paris Hilton and Jessica Alba look bad.

    Q: I don't really look like the photo that I sent in, will that be a problem when I check-in?

    A: Yes ... we still retain the absolute right to refuse entrance to anyone we want. That means your girlfriend who is the "designated driver," the one that "offends spandex," the one that makes you look hotter and thinner ...

Maxim spokesperson Lewis Kay subsequently said he put a stop to the vendor's policy when he was made aware of it. But it still appeared way too many people thought they were getting in.

Those who we saw admitted included Jim Belushi, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis, and we were told about sightings of George Wendt, Jamie Lynn Sigler and Nikki Taylor. While there were little gimmicks -- the opportunity to get a Reebok T-shirt tagged with paint pen, a group of arcade games and a sprinkling of casino tables -- it immediately became apparent to me that Maxim was going to lose its crown. Last year, they didn't offer dessert. This year? Absolutely no food at all. In previous years, they carried out their theme to the hilt. In this year's "Rock City Opera," we expected to see fat ladies singing and Adam Sandler on stage giving a rendition of "Operaman."

I left the Maxim party -- right before Wyclef Jean performed three songs -- so I could give the newcomer a fair shake.

In late 2004, Marc Bell led a group of investors to get Penthouse out of bankruptcy. A little more than a year later, the skin mag's chief executive told me "the Super Bowl was definitely the place to relaunch the brand."

I didn't know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. The building, The Vault, easily housed the general-admission crowd, which paid $500 per ticket and a VIP crowd, which forked over $1,200 each. Regulars got a chance to take a photo with Penthouse pets, while VIPs had bars galore in an upstairs labyrinth. Though food was hard to find, my growling stomach led me to popcorn, Swedish meatballs and spicy crab sushi rolls. The greatest perk? Snoop Dogg rocked the place for almost an hour, though guests who heard rumblings Tommy Lee would hit the stage next were disappointed when he didn't show.

With the awful traffic, the snow pounding the Detroit streets and the Playboy party next on my list, I quickly realized I had no chance of getting to see the Bunnies at the Detroit City Airport. So I dispatched ESPN The Magazine's Chad Millman and Dave Fleming to help fill in all the details.

The two credited Playboy with pulling off its "Eight-Mile High Club" theme very well. The hangar was divided into several bars, including private booths where Kanye West, Matt Leinart and Jaime Pressley hung out. Minimally clad go-go girls were dancing on podiums, girls in body paint were getting cozy with the stripper pole, and former playmates were walking around in blue velvet stewardess outfits. The coolest thing might have been the stewardesses, who pushed carts offering peanuts, pretzels and shots of tequila. The food, which included baby lamb chops, sushi, smoked salmon and a dessert table with pastries and chocolate-covered strawberries, seemingly stretched the length of the hangar.

This year's top parties? Upper Deck. Playboy. Penthouse. And, who can forget, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.

It was an exhausting ride these past couple of days. I'm just glad my bosses will give me a year to rest for what will surely be a crazier party scene for Super Bowl XLI in Miami.

Darren Rovell has covered the parties for the past six Super Bowls. He can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.




Darren
Rovell
I DO IT FOR YOU