MIAMI – By the time the city overflowed with scalpers and starlets, hookers and lookers, by the time a table – and a tiny one at that – was going for $3,000 at Club Mynt in South Beach, by the time Maxim party tickets were being scalped for $4,000 – all while ticket brokers were complaining about a collapse in prices for the actual football game – by the time the city was overrun with "cocktail hours" with names such as "Playboys Big Game Bikini Bash" (five words that work well together, don't you think?), you could pretty much say the Super Bowl had returned to all that it could be.
The party has shown up here in a town that is quite comfortable hosting it. The football game? Ah, that was of little concern on manic South Beach, far from the outskirt hotels actual fans from the Midwest were stuck in.
And after three Super Bowls in cities – Detroit, Jacksonville, Fla., Houston – that are fine places but hardly the choice of the jet-set, party-chic crowd, all bets are off at what might happen in Miami this weekend.
"When the Super Bowl comes to Miami, you've got to take your game up a notch," said Jeremy Westin, executive vice president of business development for Playboy Entertainment. "We always have the one big party [so big Playboy rented out American Airlines Arena for Saturday] but this time the competition was so great we added more events and made it more of a weekend."
Miami was officially on full blast by Friday afternoon as the crowds arrived. It's not just fans of the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, who will meet Sunday up in Fort Lauderdale, it's the celebrities, the corporate crowd, the fun seekers who have turned this city of decadence and danger into an even more rollicking, rowdy and racy place.
In fact, the early demand to come here and party was so great that most hotel rooms and flights were sold out long before the Colts and Bears qualified for the big game.
Here on South Beach, actual fans of the teams are few and far between and ticket brokers say the expected high price for tickets that should come from two popular, championship-starved teams hasn't materialized because the regular Joe couldn't get rooms down here.
"Ive lost a ton," said one, out trying to hawk business in South Beach Wednesday. "I bought too high. The Bears fans havent turned out."
They never had a chance. The Miami host committee estimates the weekend will draw 120,000 visitors and $350 million in non-game revenue. Then there are the locals, who are more than comfortable filling booming nightclubs, trendy restaurants and beach and pool parties even without a football game.
The pent up demand from the party crowd can't be underestimated. The Super Bowl hasn't really rocked since 2003 when it was held in San Diego. Since then it was corporate Houston, conservative Jacksonville and cold Detroit – the NFL on a crusade to reward communities that built new stadiums.
Each city had a great time, but those are mom and pop towns. This is a place you might not reveal what you do to mom and pop.
"We were pleasantly surprised with the turnout in Detroit," said Theresa Hennessey, publicity manager for Playboy's events. "But in terms of celebrity and media demand this is much, much greater."
Miami has now hosted the event a record-tying ninth time (New Orleans) but the city has transformed itself since its last one in 1999.
Almost gone are the memories of tourist murders, the drug king pin reputation and even the street murder of Gianni Versace, who was gunned down outside his South Beach mansion. In has come a condo boom, world class restaurants and clubs on every corner, a restoration of art deco hotels and a throng of celebrity citizens.
Shaquille ONeal – the self-proclaimed "King of South Beach" – even held a party Thursday at the Versace mansion which was, as he said, "big and sexy, just like me."
It might as well be the motto of the city.
We won't offer an opinion on the relative hotness of the men but considering this a capital for the modeling industry, we're pretty sure there are plenty who could blow the cast of Grey's Anatomy out of the water.
As for the women, well, beauty is all about personal preference but if your "type" happens to be really pretty ones who are in great physical condition – and know how to salsa dance to boot – then this place can hook you up.
So, you can see why Miami was about to combust with party goers as the game approached. And why it will return as soon as 2010.
By Friday, the traffic along Collins Ave. in South Beach was bumper to bumper. If you weren't Enrique Iglesias and Anna Kournikova, you couldn't dream of getting a reservation at the hottest restaurants such as Prime One Twelve or Barton G's. And even the models were five deep trying to get into certain clubs.
And this wasn't even the weekend, yet. It was just the start of the return to the Super Bowl as all it could be.