By 3 p.m. the red-carpet paparazzi were getting itchy. "It's athletes only so far," said a waif-ish People magazine reporter into her cell phone. "I'm like, please, let there be a celebrity. I don't think a bunch of football players is gonna cut it."
Saturday afternoon. San Diego Zoo. Sports agents Leigh Steinberg and Jeffrey Moorad's Assante Superbowl Party. Promised guests: Jim Belushi, Tara Reid, Hef and his Bunnies, Vanessa Williams, Jessie Ventura (spelled "Venturar" on the press release), Coolio, Geena Lee Nolan, Dean Cain, Andy Dick, Rick Fox.
Who actually showed up: Shannon Elizabeth and Nadjia Bjorlin from American Pie, a number of "Hey isn't that..." B-list celebs, and lots and lots of football and baseball players. Different versions of the following exchange were ubiquitous.
"Isn't that Ashanti?"
People mag chick into her cell phone: "Gotta go-a celeb just showed up."
People mag chick to the E! camera crew next to her: "Who's that?"
"It's Christina Millian."
"Is she a singer?"
"I'll pull her over and you can ask her."
Unexpected arrival that saved Moorad and Steinberg's cred: Lance Bass and Joey Fatone from *NSync, who posed with two of the zoo's porcupines. "At least some singer I know," gushed one media chickie. "Lance and J.C. made the day!" echoed her companion.
It was the 17th such annual event sponsored by the obscenely rich sports-agent duo. The party was free, but the guest list was limited to invite-only. Most of the people walking the red carpet were, in fact, "normals"-several hundred guests who crammed into about 5,000 square feet of tent space to nibble on cheese cubes, crackers, fruit, chips and salsa, shrimp cocktail and the largest amount of mini fruit tarts (the only dessert offered) ever assembled. The celebrities and sports figures, grossly outnumbered by the normals, were more like party decorations than anything else.
The scarcity of celeb photo ops made the horde of sports and entertainment media ravenous for anyone they could get their lenses on. "Where's the booze?" wondered Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell after his turn down the carpet.
The motley assemblage of media folks stayed glued to the edges of the red carpet, hoping desperately that someone, anyone, photo-worthy would show up. When Steinberg and Moorad's cadre of Gucci-sunglassed handlers got word, via earpiece, that someone with a name was at the check-in desk, they'd signal a zoo-provided Caribbean band to strike up the music and offer up the arriving star to the media line to see if there were any takers: "Brad Penny, pitcher with the Florida Marlins."
People mag chick gossiped with a burly (presumably female) photographer standing next to her who'd pause every now and then to alternately coo at anyone stopping before her camera: "Hey Brad, are you ready for your close-up, handsome?" and then growl at anyone coming within one foot of her allotted rope space. (Later that night, at the Playboy Party, she behaved similarly, barking at a CityBeat photographer who made the grave mistake of standing behind her and belittling his small, digital camera one moment and sweetly telling Carmen Electra how sexy she was the next.)
At 3:15, the handlers got word that American Pie vixen Shannon Elizabeth had arrived. The band kicked in with Bob Marley's "Jammin'" and photographers pushed up, two deep to the rope. For the next 20 minutes the bone-thin, rosey-cheeked starlet posed for photos with some sort of mini-marsupial with a penchant for munching on orchids."Somewhere in all this, I know there's a football game," quipped Steinberg to an E! news crew.