Posted: 9:45 a.m.
MIAMI BEACH - Really, the whole thing began 15 days ago.
One minute I am in the back of a bus on Central Parkway in Cincinnati writing about the surreal scene of Chad Ochocinco leading 10 random fans into the kitchen of the Freestore Foodbank so they can help prepare lunch for needy school children.
The next thing I know it is Friday night on the ocean and Spike Lee is looking at me as we talk about Red Sox and racism and how his Jets dismantled my Bengals the last two weeks of the season.
You already know if you hook up with Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, anything can and will happen.
But this is game, set, match.
Spike Lee, for goodness sake's, wearing a Yankees hat teeming the years of all 27 world titles. The best storyteller of his generation has hooked up with the NFL's biggest storyteller.
Game, set, match.
The Ocho's invitation says a Friday night Super Bowl party in a mansion (not his) on the water with an A list of celebrities.
Big expectations shoved in an envelope. Throw in a long drive from Lauderdale, off-and-on rain, Saturday is an early day, and how many of these things have you seen disappoint and end in a diner at 2 a.m.?
But one minute you are meeting the American icon of "Do The Right Thing," and the next you are watching the slinky "Sugar and Spice" dancers from New York not doing much right of anything.
This is cable not Disney because one minute you are talking to two Palm Beach movers and shakers who are drop dead gorgeous, not to mention marketing strategists for a Fortune 500 company. And the next you are talking to the producer of a reality TV show on VH1.
The party is in the back out by the pool, an Olympic-sized bathtub bookended by the mansion's terrace and a deejay's stage. It's just dark enough to make you squint.
"There are women here looking for their 'Mrs.' not their 'MBAs,' " says one of the marketers who has the MBA and the other who is studying to get it.
Fast crowd. Faster than Central Parkway. Young crowd. To them, Cris Collinsworth is the old thin guy on TV.
You need to find a familiar face and you get it. Bengals safety Chinedum Ndukwe checks in. Bengals backup quarterback Jordan Palmer slaps you on the back. Palmer is the founder of Rock Software, a company that creates applications for the iPhone, iPod Touch, Blackberry, Android and Windows Mobile for pro athletes and entertainers. His company is one of the party's sponsors.
Naturally, The Ocho was one of his first clients.
"Everyone wants a piece of Chad, everybody loves him," Palmer is saying. "And I'm here to support a teammate. I'm a big Chad fan. You know how he is. You spend a week around him and you love him. He's done a great job the last couple of weeks. He's wanted to raise attention to himself and to charities and he's done both."
The whole thing started 15 days ago on that Chad Ochocinco's Soldiers For Giving bus tour from Cincinnati to Miami that raised money and awareness for local causes in Cincy and Miami, as well as the other stops in Atlanta and Orlando, Fla. Ten fans were chosen off his Web site and then they were off on the trip of their lives. What was supposed to be a three-day tour turned into five with The Ocho and his sponsors picking up the tab.
Two Super Bowls ago the only thing Ochocinco was giving back was grief as he harassed Bengals president Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis for a trade. Now you catch a glimpse of Lewis on the terrace offering The Ocho his support and he shakes his head.
"There is no question he has matured," says Lewis, who starts looking at you and you start looking at him and you realize you are men of a certain age dressed in Masters-like blazers in a crowd you swear has its share of designer T-shirts.
"Hey, you want to go see Spike Lee?" I ask him, since we are men of a certain age.
"Wow. Yeah. Where is he?" Lewis asks and we are back in the game.
Lewis met Lee once when he visited the Ravens during the week of their Super Bowl victory nine years ago. Lee lights up when he sees Lewis.
"Coach!" he says, and takes him by the shoulder and they are lost for about 15 minutes in a bunch of topics. They talk football and sports and, like men of a certain age, they talk about the young athletes today that both amaze them and worry them.
The Host Ocho himself doesn't show up until about 1 a.m. A-Rod is supposed to be here and Jennifer Lopez and Bernard Hopkins, but The Ocho only has eyes for Terrell Owens. On the roof of the mansion is scrawled their uniform numbers, The Ocho's 85 and Owens' 81. They are wearing matching brown shirts and The Ocho is still talking about the Bengals getting T.O. in free agency, a theme he started pounding Thursday.
"We matched the shirts for a reason," says The Ocho, who then grabs the mike and gives a special shout out to Lewis.
He thanks "Coach Lew," and declares, "I gave him a full head of gray hair this season." Then he says, "I've got T.O., Coach. Can we do the paperwork?"
Lewis, being a man of a certain age, knows this all reeks of tampering. In fact Owens, who knows all about bringing controversy, says into the mike, "Coach, is that tampering?" The look on his face will tell you that it could be but it is all in fun for a good cause. Lewis, who has the most successful foundation in Cincinnati, knows all about that.
T.O. then says if he signs with the Bengals, he'll change his name to Ocho Uno.
"Coach, you won't be able to walk by the end of the season," T.O. says.
Later, Owens shakes his head. "Chad can get the controversy going," says T.O., who should know.
T.O. sees another familiar face in the crowd. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who knows Owens from their Dallas days, introduces him to his two daughters and he takes a picture of them. His daughters like T.O., but they love Chad and their night is made when he comes over for a kiss and they talk before Zimmer takes another picture.
Once this season his daughters took the gruff-and-tobacco-chewing Zimmer to get a pedicure and one of them noted after that he now had the best looking hands on the team. Except for Chad.
And people will see them. Gone With The Wind was shot with fewer cameras. There are no less than four film crews deployed across the property. Supposedly some footage is going to appear on VH1's "Basketball Wives," a reality show about current and former NBA wives. Some of them are standing on the terrace as if they're getting ready for the talent portion of Miss America.
It is social networking meeting the networks meeting networking.
David Katz, founder and CEO of SportsFanLive.com, has seen his organization get credentialed for all events and parties this week, validating the valuable trench work by his army of bloggers and showing just how powerful instant information has become. Ocho has literally Twittered his way into the social conscience.
"Ochocinco gets it," Katz says. "He's one of the guys that understands sports are also entertainment and he's got that connection to the fans."
The Ocho also seems to get that honey gets more than vinegar. He said it Thursday as he breezed through Radio Row. He's at peace. Plus, the more events he does, the more he can raise for charities while also expanding his name. At $200 per ticket, $300 per VIPs and cabanas, along with donations from sponsors and athletes, he is raising a healthy amount for Haiti.
"This is all about branding," says one of the marketers. "We have a brand and he has a brand. It's the same thing."
The marketers, who know little about sports, would like to meet Ochocinco and after they do one of them offers, "He's nice. Personable. Funny. He's smaller than I thought he'd be."
I am looking at Spike Lee and I know that he is old school sports. His Knicks of Frazier and Monroe. His Jets of Joe Willie and Don Maynard. His Yankees of Reggie and Munson.
"You're an old school guy. Do you like Chad?" I ask.
"I like him," he says. "I like him."
After 15 days and finally out here by the pool, the storyteller summed it all up for us.
With The Ocho, you just never know.