The road to the Super Bowl runs through Hoagieville.
At least it does on this bizarre junket. In a supreme lapse of common sense, I agreed to leave the comfort of my home, lovely wife and two adoring children for a week to be part of the prize in a radio station Super Bowl contest.
The lucky winner gets to ride 1,500 miles with me and the station’s happy-go-lucky wheelman, Jason Valentine. We road warriors are headed for Sunday’s NFL finale between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Tempe, Ariz.
The first - although certainly not the only hitch - is that we are Arizona bound via Butte, Mont.
Not since the Jews took their wayward walk in the wilderness has a journey seemed more labored. Everywhere we go we meet with abuse from the bewildered Montana mountain folk who greet us with smirks and blank stares.
“You’re going to Phoenix through Butte?” they ask. “What’s with that?”
Jason defends his route, but I believe this is because of Hoagieville, a low-cost, high-fat dive in Missoula. He’s a wonderful guy, but Jason has a serious jones for salty Hoagieville tacos ($1.20) and a fetching waitress named Kim.
Should our goal be a Seahawks game at Seattle’s Kingdome, I fear Jason would take the same Hoagieville detour.
Of course, five or six extra tailbone-numbing highway hours in this cramped Chevy Blazer the color of a raspberry Fruit Loop is the least of my concerns.
The contest is sponsored by a Spokane pop station you’ve no doubt heard of: K-something-something-something or other.
I’m sure the call letters will come to me. Like maybe when my bloody SUPER BOWL TICKET SHOWS UP.
Book me some extended couch time. Rent me a rubber room.
Hard to believe, but I’m bound to America’s premiere sporting event without a magic key to the front gates.
A word of sobering advice: Next time a radio station huckster offers you a Super Bowl package, call a lawyer. Check the fine print.
Should the offer come from an impish 6-foot-5 madman named Mike Ellis, hang up the telephone.
Tie garlic around your neck. Beg a priest for an exorcism.
This is, after all, a man who once hid rock concert tickets in a funeral home as part of an unholy scavenger hunt. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot the best part: He forgot to clue in the undertaker.
Just last Friday, Mike ran buck naked around the station’s office building to raise money for a charity. “I want to be known as a guy who’ll take off his clothes for any worthy cause,” says Mike.
So I should have known better. Lots better.
But Mike caught me on a cold afternoon. I was weak. A Super Bowl in sunny, cactus-filled Arizona beckoned as a compelling way to break up the January monotony.
He never actually guaranteed a ticket. Mike is way too slick for that. He just made it sound like a ticket was just a telephone call to Jerry Jones away. “Oh that shouldn’t be a problem,” he says.”I have lots of contacts.”
So does Legionnaire’s Disease.
Now we’re headed down the snow-packed interstate.
Contest winner James Chicalo, 28, of Calgary, has a ticket, compliments of K-something-something … Jason, as huge a Steelers’ fan as he is a fan of Hoagieville, plans to pay $900 of his own money to a scalper for a ticket.
Which leaves me with one last hope, shimmering in the sand like rhinestones on an Elvis imitator’s jumpsuit: Viva Las Vegas.
I will arm wrestle Lady Luck and win enough money for a Super Bowl seat of my own. Craps. Blackjack. Roulette … Lemme at ‘em. One spin on fate’s fickle wheel is all I need. It’s either that or spend Super Sunday in the Sun Devil Stadium parking lot, watching the game on Jason’s miniature Sony.
Stay tuned. Whoa, baby, I feel a hot streak coming on.