Darren Rovell
Page 3 staff

HOUSTON -- The battlefields were drawn in the trampled mud at Regal Ranch in Stafford, Texas, and marked by the steel barricades enclosing The Corinthian on Franklin and Fannin streets in downtown Houston.

The fight for the ultimate bragging rights among testosterone-raging males ended early Sunday morning, just hours before the weekend's second most important event -- the Super Bowl -- was set to kickoff.

And in the showdown between the men's magazines for the title of Best Super Bowl Party, Maxim edged Playboy, 91-88 in Page 3's party rater. Hefner's crew might have a 43-year-old publishing advantage on the hip upstart winner, but the young guys know how to throw a heck of a party.

In honor of the bunnies, here's our tail of the tape.

Pre-Party Buzz:
Maxim: 10: Maxim produced plenty of buzzing by not disclosing its party location to the media, just saying it was going to be at some ranch west of Houston. Maxim's editor-in-chief, Keith Blanchard, said the location was kept quiet in part because they didn't want riot police to shut down the party, as they did in 1999 for the magazine's party in Los Angeles. Counterfeit tickets to their Super Bowl party two years ago only helped the Maxim legend.

Playboy: 10: Playboy always has been the hot brand name around Super Bowl parties since Hugh's crew started throwing them in 2000. Unlike Maxim, which didn't have tickets, Playboy's tickets were given to the party's sponsors. Some got out, and the going rate before the party on the streets was $1,000 each. Earlier in the day, some upper-level end-zone Super Bowl tickets were selling for $900 each.

Exclusivity:
Maxim: 10: Both parties were very difficult for the average Joe and Joanna to get into, with Maxim possibly being a bit tougher because partygoers needed to be on the list before getting on the bus to join the festivities. Both lists topped 1,000 guests, but that's not a lot for a Super Bowl party.

Playboy: 10: Because of spaced-out trips to the location, Maxim didn't quite have the physical display of mayhem that Playboy had in downtown Houston. Picture a disorganized line, with athletes like Cincinnati Reds slugger Adam Dunn and Oakland Raiders linebacker Napoleon Harris waiting in the back behind people who occupy the seats at their games. Hundreds were watching the red carpet across the street from the entrance.

Star Power:
Maxim: 9: Many of the well-publicized invited guests showed up. Although there wasn't one huge star who really got everyone in the party headed in one direction, Paris and Nikki Hilton and Nick Lachey (sans Jessica) certainly drew crowds. Other reality guests include Paris's sidekick in "The Simple Life," Nicole Richie, (who wore a hideous yellow top and a blue hat), and the guys from "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancée" and "Joe Millionaire II." Brooke Burns was the star of the red carpet, and the greatest surprise was seeing Regina King, who is best known to sports fans for her portrayal of Marcee, Rod Tidwell's wife in "Jerry Maguire."

Playboy: 8: Despite its downtown location, stars arrived a little later to the Playboy party. Maxim really didn't have a serious competitor Friday night, but Playboy was going up against Sports Illustrated's 40th anniversary of the Swimsuit Issue party and, in some cases, lost the battle for the A-list talent. Definite one-point deduction for Playboy for letting former Major League racist, uh, pitcher John Rocker on the guest list. Sports Illustrated should be the one giving him royal treatment -- his stupidity helped them sell thousands of magazines. Although one guest came in a bathrobe, Hef himself also did not show -- making last year's party in San Diego the only one of the company's five Super Bowl parties that he has attended. Don't know if this was planned, but Paris Hilton walked into both parties at 10:50 p.m. on the dot.

Venue:
Maxim: 10: Riding through Texas without a clue of our final destination made us wonder if we'd wind up in Junction to try out for Bear Bryant's Texas A&M football team. Pulling up in a cab to a location doesn't quite match arriving by bus in the middle of nowhere and seeing a big-top tent and a ferris wheel. Although the Wall Street Journal named Stafford "a Shangri-La for property owners" in 1995, the town's population is about 16,000.

    Me: "Is this the biggest thing to come to Stafford?"

    Stafford Fire and Rescue Dude: "Uh, we've been told not to comment on anything."

    Me: "I understand." (I start to walk away.)

    Stafford Fire and Rescue Dude: "But the answer is yes."

The main room carried out the "Circus Maximus" theme, with a stage that featured a sword swallower and a fire-eater. Other themed rooms included a saloon and a casino, where the competition to find a spot for blackjack or craps was tough. The food area outside the tent featured a mechanical bull.

Playboy: 7: The surroundings at Playboy were less creative, although the upstairs -- which was the heaven part of the party's "Heaven & Hell" theme was pretty well done with white everywhere. Other than the February issue of Playboy featuring party host Jamie Pressly, which was placed on every table in the huge facility, nothing else really stood out.

Food:
Maxim: 6: Like the "Barbershop 2" premiere party earlier in the week, the Maxim party went with the simple foods, instead of the fancy hors d' oeuvres. The popcorn, cotton candy, hot dogs and corn dogs were average. The two highlights were the burgers (with pickles and onions already on them) and the marshmallows on a stick, which could be toasted on one of many fire pits set up on the ground.

Playboy: 9: Playboy's selection of nourishment was excellent. Sauteed eggplant and couscous, caesar salad with extra peccorino romano shavings on the side, stuffed shells with ricotta and an unbelievable white chocolate cake highlighted the menu.

Drink:
Maxim: 6: Due to the fact that sponsors paid for the right to be at the bar and knock out their competitors, the selection of brands was embarrassingly sparse. Stoli, Maker's Mark, Sauza Tequila, Zima and Coors Light -- take your pick.

Playboy: 8: Playboy also had a sponsored bar, but the sponsoring company, Brown-Forman, best known as overseer of Jack Daniel's, had a little bit more to offer.

Music:
Maxim: 10: If there's a category where Maxim obliterated Playboy, this is it. Music selection throughout the night was perfect, and then came the mini concert by Camp Freddy, a rock group of all-stars including Dave Navarro (Carmen Electra's husband) of Jane's Addiction, Matt Sorum from Guns & Roses, Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Billy Morrison, Donovan Leitch and Steve Stevens, who recorded the theme song to "Top Gun." Navarro, who took off his shirt to expose his tattoos and pierced nipples, and Leitch were such good performers that if they passed around a hat following their set, I probably would have emptied my wallet.

Playboy: 6: Nothing memorable here. No big time live music.

Attire:
Maxim: 10: This is the section where we must mention the women. Both Maxim and Playboy had auditions for the eye candy at their parties. One insider told us that Maxim supposedly hired 50 girls to serve this purpose. But there were so many beautiful women in such revealing outfits that we weren't sure who was "working" and who had just come dolled up as a guest. Although these parties in the past have come to be known as male-dominated shindigs, Maxim somehow pulled off an incredible feat -- the male-to-female ratio appeared to be pretty even.

Playboy: 10: Gorgeous women, including 11 Playmates, circulated around the party in their outfits, some, of course, with bunny tails. But the amount of jackets and ties in the establishment -- at one point we counted 19 guys and no women standing at one of the bars -- was ridiculous. The competition to talk to the girls was pretty intense.

The saving grace that gave Playboy the perfect score? The women who were standing on tables while an artist painted "dresses" on their naked bodies. The women who had painted dresses on at the party two years ago in New Orleans were completely naked, but for the past two years, local law in San Diego and now in Houston has resulted in little patches of cover in the most pertinent areas.

Company's Bang For The Buck:
Maxim: 10: Although Blanchard wouldn't tell us how much Maxim spent, parties like this can only help Maxim's brand name.

Playboy: 10: Maxim has no problem staying young, since it started as a brand for young guys. But parties like this make sure that Playboy's name is ingrained in the mind of the future men of America.

X-Factors:
Maxim and Playboy: 10: We usually award different scores in this category since we're typically hopping around from party to party and have to account for showing up at different times, missing celebrities, music, etc. But we stayed long enough at both parties to know these two will be the high-profile affairs next year in Jacksonville.

Final Score: Maxim 91, Playboy 88.

Meanwhile, at other Super Bowl parties...

Leigh Steinberg's bash was once again the most lavish of all the sports agencies that put on parties during Super Bowl week. Steinberg had nearly 1,500 guests show up at the Downtown Aquarium for his 18th consecutive party, although it was his first without longtime partner Jeff Moorad serving as the co-host. Steinberg once again will win ESPN.com's best shrimp cocktail of the Super Bowl parties, and quite possibly picked the place with the best food all week. The menu included spicy tuna with wasabi mayo on a cracker, boneles buffalo wings with sweet and sour sauce and crab with a sprinkle of lime juice on a tortilla chip.

Guest we saw there that we didn't see anywhere else: Tampa Bay Buccaneers head honcho Jon Gruden. There was a rumor circulating around town that Michael Jackson might show up to Steinberg's party, but Jacko of course didn't show.

Octagon had their party on Friday afternoon at the most popular location for parties in downtown Houston -- the spanking new Hotel Icon. Anthony Anderson, who walked on at least four red carpets this week, and Ice Cube (decked out in a Tim Brown jersey) attended as did new Hall of Famer John Elway. SFX rounded out the group of sports agencies with parties. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Trent Green was getting the most attention at the event at one of Clyde Drexler's BBQ restaurants. Houston Texans cheerleaders cheered on guests as they walked through the door and girls in skimpy outfits, endorsing a new brand of alcoholic drinks, circled the room.

Sports Illustrated went head-to-head with Playboy on Saturday night. The magazine, which was celebrating its Swimsuit issue, had its party in a tent outside city hall in downtown Houston. The party was hosted by LL Cool J and supermodel Molly Sims and featured the likes of many that have graced the covers of the issue over the years. We saw Petra Nemcova, but no sightings of some of our favorites, including Tyra Banks, Elle MacPherson and Kathy Ireland. Jerry Rice, Beyonce and Roger Clemens all attended.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com and Super Bowl parties for Page 3, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.