By Jason McIntyre
Special to Page 3
JACKSONVILLE -- Under a large outdoor canopy at the Hawaiian Tropic party Friday night, a man wearing a rumpled shirt and his girlfriend with luminous long black hair take their spot directly in front of me. While I'm scanning the crowd for celebrities like Owen Wilson, Katie Holmes and other Hollywood-types, I notice all eyes are staring at the couple.
Why? I ask myself. He's somewhat balding. It must be the woman with the ample bosom and striking face. Is that Krista Allen, the former Baywatch girl who was linked to David Spade and George Clooney?
The guy next to me, seemingly on his ninth beer, mutters "playmate." Then as the balding fellow slowly turns around, I recognize him.
Leave it to former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly to announce who he is. "Jeff, what's up, man!"
And then, it clicks. The couple is Cleveland Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia and his girlfriend, Carmella DeCesare.
As they move to a different part of the room, questions start running through my head as to how I should conduct my interview. How do I ask how they met? Should I bring up the allegations that Carmella beat up his ex-girlfriend?
I walk over to Jeff and Carmella, who takes a seat in a chair.
"Hey Jeff, what brings you to Jacksonville?" I ask with a bright smile.
The pained look on his face tells me he has no interest in talking to me. Garcia clocked $500,000 last year and is slated to make $4.5 million next year. His girlfriend is a Playmate. How can life be that bad for him, I wonder.
"We're here to have fun," said Garcia. "I had an appearance today, my girlfriend [also] had an appearance. We're here to enjoy ourselves, the festivities and to get out before the madness hits on Sunday."
"So, how's the offseason treating you?" I continue to ask.
"The offseason has been fairly relaxing," said Garcia. "I'm rehabbing a knee injury and waiting to see who the new coach of the Browns is going to be and see which direction we're going to go with that."
"So, not as interesting as your time off the field with the Browns this season?" I boldly ask with a laugh, trying to set the tone for what's next.
"Off the field, it was a pretty interesting season, ... more interesting than I care to discuss," said Garcia with an uninterested tone. "I think it's all been out there. Let's keep it quiet and keep our personal lives personal."
As much as we care about his form on an 8-yard out to Kellen Winslow II or his ability to call an audible, he's dating a celebrity that could captivate the audience of Jerry Springer. I gather enough courage to ask him about the drama surrounding his love life.
"You were on Court TV recently. Did you get any friends or relatives making jokes about it?" again, I ask with another cheesy laugh.
"I had people say they had seen me on Court TV, but it isn't something I really want to discuss," replied Garcia.
At this point, I can sense Carmella glaring at me and she didn't appear happy as to what I was asking about.
Soon after, the interview quickly ended. Scouting around, I noticed Deion Sanders working the room, as were the Indianapolis cheerleaders and the 42 Hawaiian Tropic girls, one wearing less than the next. Yet people still had their eye on the Cleveland Brown quarterback with his stunning girlfriend. And they weren't the only ones, John Rocker, looking like a lumberjack with shoulder-length hair, got more than a few looks too.
More gossip from Friday night's party scene:
Supposedly, the split happened in recent weeks and was amicable. Neither were in Jacksonville and according to rumors, Zito was playing with his sister's band somewhere along the West Coast. If you're tracking the lovelife of the actress at home, Milano has now struck out with Carl Pavano, formerly of the Florida Marlins and Zito. Will she hit a home run with the third pitcher?
Owen Wilson hid under a hat and sat on a leather sofa largely unnoticed, except for a few women who cozied up next to him for pictures. Despite his playboy status, Gordon strangely atttracted no attention. Perhaps it was because Lachey commandeered a whole corner and needed two massive bodyguards to keep the crush of ladies at bay.
Sneaking into Lachey's circle were former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit and Pittsburgh Steelers signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger. Ben was sans girlfriend, golfer Natalie Gulbis. I caught up with him later in the evening.
"Hanging out with superstars like Nick Lachey, life sure has changed for you in a year, huh Ben?"
"I've known Nick for while, he's a good friend," Roethlisberger replied. "His mom used to teach at Miami of Ohio where I went [to school] and he's a Cincinnati guy, which is right down the road."
Our conversation was cut short by his bodyguards and his two cell phones ringing.
Jason McIntyre covers sports and entertainment in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.