St. Petersburg Times: Super Bowl XXXV
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Super Bowl XXXV Tampa, Florida 2001
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    Daunte mixes mall with NFL parties

    [Times photos: Dirk Shadd]
    The party heats up at the Cuban Club in Ybor City.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2001

    TAMPA -- Daunte Culpepper is struggling. He is a fortress of a man, about 6-foot-5 and more than 250 pounds, but he is stopped dead in his tracks by a nerdy-looking dweeb from Washington D.C.

    Buc running back Warrick Dunn, left, talks to supermodel Tyson Beckford.
    Culpepper is thinking. No, he tells himself, it's not Benjamin Franklin. It's not Alexander Graham Bell.

    Think, Daunte, think.

    The voice on the other end of the phone wants to know who invented the light bulb, and Culpepper is drawing a complete blank.

    Finally, he gives up and is told it's Thomas Edison. "I knew it," he says, "but I just couldn't think of his name."

    Culpepper, the Vikings' standout quarterback from UCF, is as sharp as they come among NFL quarterbacks, but his brain isn't used to functioning like this at 9 a.m. He doesn't have a choice because his agent booked this radio appearance with WJFK-FM in Washington well in advance.

    Culpepper is going through his closet looking for something to wear to a private NFL players party later that night, but first he has media obligations. He likes to get them out of the way, then start his day.

    He does a couple more stations from cities he can't even remember, then slips out of his north Tampa hotel and heads to the mall. He purposely is not staying at one of the swank downtown Tampa hotels for privacy reasons. All he will allow me to tell you is his hotel is in north Tampa off Fowler Avenue.

    Culpepper is as hot as they come in the NFL these days, but he refuses to be a prisoner this week. So, he drives over to the mall. University Mall, if you can believe it. The idea is to maybe pick up something for Thursday night's exclusive party at the Cuban Club in Ybor City.

    You would think with a five-year contract worth about $20-million, he would find something, but Culpepper leaves empty-handed.

    "I didn't see anything I wanted," he says.

    It's about 7 when Culpepper arrives at the Cuban Club. The scene is like at the Oscars. There are limos lined out front. Searchlights crisscross in the sky. Security guards dressed in black and wearing headsets block every entrance.

    Culpepper enters through the VIP entrance. He is led down a back staircase to the party. Walkie-talkies crackle. When Culpepper walks in, everyone wants to say hello, and everyone wants to ask about what Culpepper calls "the bling-bling." The diamonds.

    He's wearing a diamond-crusted watch on his left wrist, a diamond-studded bracelet on his right wrist, and a diamond ring on his right ring finger.

    Culpepper just smiles.

    An hour into the party, Culpepper is just another face in the crowd. There are enough NFL superstars here to put together a Pro Bowl team. Emmitt Smith. Kurt Warner. Curtis Martin. Stephen Davis. Marshall Faulk. Derrick Brooks. Warrick Dunn.

    They all mingle with the crowd while managing to always stand out. Martin is by the bar munching on crab cakes. Warner is doing a radio interview. Dunn is outside talking with Tyson the male supermodel (I hate to break this to you, ladies, but he's a lot shorter in person). And Culpepper is playing around at the pool table.

    They own this place. When a server passes Smith with a tray of sweet-smelling ribs, the Cowboys star drags his wife to the kitchen to get a plate of his own.

    Here's the thing about star athletes. They love to mingle at parties like this, but they rarely hang around for a long time. Smith isn't here an hour before he's ducking out the VIP entrance, guards flanking him at every step. Brooks and Dunn cut out early, too. So do Warner and Davis.

    When you're a star, your departure is almost as important as your entrance.

    Culpepper, who hasn't had a drink or anything to eat all night, is ready to move on as well. He hears that football commentator John Madden is having a party nearby at the Green Iguana. Somebody else mentions that ESPN The Magazine is throwing a big bash at Rain nightclub in downtown Tampa.

    Culpepper shakes hands with everyone, motions to his agent to head for the door and leaves some of his companions behind (including me). He won't say where he's headed, only that it's time to leave.

    Presumably, he was going somewhere other than back to the mall.

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