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Thursday, February 3, 2005
The Super Bowl on cruise control

By Wayne Drehs
ESPN.com

EDITOR'S NOTE: ESPN.com's Wayne Drehs is spending the week behind the scenes with the unsung people in Jacksonville who make the Super Bowl what it is -- the party planners, the limo drivers, the beer distributors and, yes, the bouncers who muscle the rest of us out of the really cool shindigs. His series on Super Bowl Lives continues with a crash course in American football for a cruise ship social host from England.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The lights never officially go out on a cruise ship. There's always caviar to eat, champagne to drink and some poor soul searching for a dance.

But each night over the course of the last three weeks, as the clock crawls further and further away from midnight, 26-year-old David Reid puts the partying behind him. The cruise ship singer leaves his friends in the bar, his girlfriend in her room and heads to his own cabin ... for school.

There, the teacher is a PlayStation 2. And the class is NFL football. While the rest of the crew spends its downtime mingling with millionaires or catching up on sleep, Reid huddles in his cabin and plays ESPN's 2K5 NFL football game in hopes of understanding what this Super Bowl business is all about.

"It's tough with all the rules and the combinations," Reid says. "I just don't get it. There's so much. The x's, the o's, the arrows, a guy running this way, a guy running that way. A lot of confusion."

SUPER BOWL LIVES
Wayne Drehs is spending the week with the unsung people in Jacksonville who make the Super Bowl what it is:

  • Day 1: The Beer Man
  • He has yet to reach a Super Bowl. Or the playoffs. Or even beat the computer. But give him a break. Reid is from London. His sport is soccer. His team is Chelsea.

    Spending the last five months at sea on the Radisson Seven Seas Navigator, he's worked as a singer in the Rock, Broadway and Big Band variety shows. In between, he's a social host, which requires him to mingle with strangers and cater to the needs of the unfathomably-rich individuals who book berths on the luxury liner.

    "I asked one guy not too far back how his day was, what he was up to," Reid says. "And he just nonchalantly told me he had just purchased a couple little companies for $10 million a piece. No big deal. My eyes about bugged out of my head."

    With a British accent, prickly spiked hair and a never-ending smile, he screams 'out-of -towner.' And yet, here he is this week, doing his song and dance at the epicenter of Super Bowl XXXIX.

    The city of Jacksonville, the Super Bowl host committee, the NFL ... they all point to the Seven Seas Navigator and other ships like it as the sole reason the Super Bowl is here. Without them, the city would fall short of the league's required minimum of 17,500 hotel rooms. The NFL told them not to bother even bidding. With them -- and the 3,667 rooms they bring -- the Super Bowl has a new city to call home. The smallest host city ever.

    Radisson Seven Seas Navigator
    The five cruise ships the host committee chartered had to be small enough to fit under the bridges of the St. Johns River, yet they still carry an imposing presence on the coastline.
    "It was a creative solution to an insurmountable problem," Jacksonville mayor John Peyton says. "We may be the smallest market to ever host a Super Bowl, but we think big."

    In each of the five ships lined up and down the St. Johns River, there are folks like Reid, unaware of the ultra-important role their carrier plays, unaware even of what American football is.

    "We have people from all over the world -- some 30 different countries -- and many of them are just like me and don't really know what to expect," Reid said. "We know it's going to be busy and exciting. We know there's going to be a lot of hustle and bustle. But that's about it."

    Reid himself has never watched a Super Bowl. The biggest sporting event he's ever attended? A regular-season Chelsea game in London. Attendance: 45,000. He's seen bits and pieces of American football games here and there, but most of what he knows is from movies like "Any Given Sunday" and "Remember the Titans."

    That's why a little over three weeks ago, when plans were finalized for his crew to come to Jacksonville for the game, he decided he needed to learn more. As the social host, he has to know what to say when a guest asks him what he thinks about the game. So he bought the NFL video game, called his friends into his room, opened the instruction manual and started pounding the buttons to see if he could figure it all out.

    Question No. 1: Why are they wearing pads?

    "We were like, 'Rugby, hello? No pads? What's wrong with these guys?'" Reid says. "But I guess they hit pretty hard. I mean, in American football, you can pretty much do whatever you want, right? You can punch a guy in the face."

    Well, not exactly. But perhaps that explains why Reid's buddies threw in the towel before they even finished that first night, leaving him all alone for the rest of his Football 101 sessions.

    "They're English as well," Reid says. "And they just didn't get it. They gave up quickly."

    On Wednesday, a cold, misty day better suited for a hot cup of coffee and a flannel blanket, a day where the Jacksonville skies are as gray as the Patriots' personalities, Reid's assigned task is to take members of the media on tours of the boat.

    He shows us the $20,000-a-night master suite stocked not only with champagne, but with full-size bottles of Smirnoff, Gordon's, Dewar's and Bacardi -- as well as Beethoven cued up in the CD player. He shows us the spa, the gym, the theatre, the cocktail lounge. And the library, which includes books written by everyone from Ann Coulter to Danielle Steele.

    The only time Reid freezes under the pressure? When a television reporter jams a camera, microphone and spotlight in his face and asks about security.

    Radisson Seven Seas Navigator crew
    The butlers wait for guest arrivals on one of the floors. Hardly the typical crew of NFL fans.
    Reid's three-word, ultra-serious response?

    "Yes. Security. Always."

    The guests staying aboard his ship -- and all the ships -- are primarily NFL sponsors and other corporate partners. The on-board rooms were not made available to the public, although breakfast, lunch and dinner packages (for up to $299 per person, per meal) are being sold.

    As for Reid, he's anxious to get off the boat and soak up what the biggest sporting event in America feels like. On Sunday, he'll watch the game on a big screen in the ship's massive theatre. Whether or not he'll know what's going on ... that remains to be seen.

    There are three days until his final exam. And right now he's ... well, behind.

    "I'm improving," he says. "I can beat somebody who's never played before."

    Uh-huh.

    "I can go sideline to sideline," he continues.

    Yep.

    "I can score endzones."

    You mean touchdowns?

    "Those, too."

    Maybe it's a good thing the lights never go out.

    Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com .