More Than a Sunshine Patriot
Once upon a time Bill Leonard seemed to be the Benedict Arnold
of sports fanatics; now, it seems, he's just plain smart.
Twenty-eight years ago, when Robert Irsay purchased the
Baltimore Colts, Leonard--afraid that the new owner would move
Leonard's beloved hometown team--disavowed his lifelong
allegiance, trading in the Colts for a hated AFC rival, the New
England Patriots. Why New England? "I like the foliage," says
Leonard. "And they had season tickets available."
Since switching teams, Leonard has been the fanatic to end all
long-distance fanatics. He has not missed a Patriots home game
since 1975 (or any Patriots game since '93), which means for 25
years Leonard has made at least eight 17-hour round trippers to
Foxboro from his White Hall, Md., home. His 1982 Camaro rolled
up 517,000 miles before it expired four years ago. His current
vehicle, a '96 Chevy Blazer, checks in with a puny 243,000.
A Well-Aged Cheesehead
"In my opinion," says Paul Mazzoleni, the onetime owner of Paul's
Standard Service in Green Bay, "Don Hutson was the greatest
Packer of all time." Mazzoleni ought to know better than anyone
living or dead. He saw the team's very first game, in 1919, when
he was six, and served as a water boy in 1921 and '22.
This 87-year-old Cheesehead even followed the ups and downs of
the Pack during World War II, while he was fighting in North
Africa. He compares chasing Rommel to Packers' opponents trying
to block Ray Nitschke. "They were both too elusive," he says.
John Franzen's apartment in Milwaukee would be unexceptional if
not for the hundreds of books of scoresheets that spill out of
his closet. Since the Brewers franchise came to town in 1970, the
now retired postal clerk has attended more than 2,600 games,
including a Ripkenesque 14-year string of 1,090 home games. Often
seen in a T-shirt that says NO. 1 BREWERS FAN, he occupied the
same County Stadium seat (eight rows behind home plate) for 28
Next year, in the new Miller Park stadium, he'll be moving back
to a front-row box in the loge level. "There will be nobody in
front of me," Franzen exults. "Can you imagine anything better
than an unobstructed view of the Brewers?" --F.L.
Earning His Wings
Throughout the 1980s, Joe Brown annually attended Philadelphia
Eagles training camps, dressed from head to toe in green,
screaming encouragement for everyone from the biggest star to the
scrawniest scrub. Then, in 1988, the call came. "Joe," said a
ball boy, "Coach wants to see you."
Brown was led to Buddy Ryan, the Eagles' coach at the time and
the roughest, toughest, most intimidating S.O.B. in the game.
"Buddy hands me a sideline pass," recalls Brown, who attended
his first Philadelphia game in 1959. "Then he said to me,
'Welcome to the field.'"
Ever since that day Eagle Joe has had all-access privileges to
the team's training facilities. Every summer he takes three
weeks off from his job as a cashier at an Acme supermarket,
drives to Lehigh, Pa., and roams the sidelines. At his home in
Exton, Pa., Brown, 50, keeps the dozens upon dozens of photo
albums from his years with the Eagles. "It bothers me, the way
everyone makes personal attacks if a player isn't doing well,"
says Brown. "To me they're athletes second, people first." --J.P.
The Busman's Holidays
"I sorta get immersed in things," says Thornton Sterling, Baylor
class of '36. Sorta? Since 1974, Sterling, 87, a retired IRS
employee living in Waco, Texas, has traveled--by bus--to 35 states
to watch his alma mater compete in all manner of sports, though
he has a particular passion for football, baseball and track.
(Longest trip: 59 hours to and from Eugene, Ore.) During that
time he has missed fewer than a dozen baseball games and only six
football games, none in the past 17 years. "I didn't attend a
football game in Houston because the highway was covered in ice,"
says Sterling, a former Baylor centerfielder. "I like to think
that proves I'm not a fanatic." --J.P.
This Bender Never Stops
Patricia Bender, a 30-year-old computer programmer, has been
attending Dallas Mavericks games since the 1983-84 season. She
hasn't missed a home game in five years, which--in dog years--means
she hasn't missed one Shawn Bradley brick, one Dennis Rodman
flop, one Bruno Sundov...uh, well, what exactly did Bruno
Sundov do? To answer that question, you could go to her website
(www.dfw.net/~patricia/mavs.htm), which she started in 1995. So
detailed and accurate are her records and notes that the
Mavericks hired her to compile stats, search for trends and
identify team records. Despite her affection for the Mavs, she's
reluctant to make chitchat with Steve Nash or to ask Nellie for
an autograph. "I'm very shy," she says. "I wouldn't know what to
An Extended Courtship
Cheeks sunken and pallid, hair stringy and gray and pulled back
in a ponytail, Jim Goldstein is the Keith Richards of NBA fans in
Los Angeles. The 60ish real-estate mogul has been courtside for
the Lakers since his grad school days at UCLA in 1962 and for the
Clippers since they docked in L.A., in '84. "Sitting on the floor
makes me feel as if I'm in the game," says Goldstein, a onetime
beau of Jayne Mansfield's who got hooked on pro basketball in the
'50s while keeping stats for his hometown Milwaukee Hawks.
Goldstein says he often goes to Clippers games to see the
opposition. "I'm an NBA purist," he explains.
Not a masochist. --F.L.
Michigan State of Bliss
When it comes to born-again Michigan State football fans, nobody
is in Duane Vernon's league. In 1949, on a ride home from a
Spartans basketball game, the car in which Vernon was riding
skidded on ice and struck an oil tanker. He was hurled into the
windshield, and three of the five high school buddies with him
were killed. He was pronounced DOA at the hospital before a
faint pulse was detected and he was revived. Since then, the
1953 Michigan State alum has loved the Spartans with a passion
worthy of Spartacus. In the basement of his Lansing home,
Vernon's Spartan Room houses hundreds of Michigan State
artifacts, from flags and lamps to a milk can and a toilet-paper
roller that plays the Spartans' fight song. Though the
69-year-old plans to cheer on State for decades to come, he
has--just in case--picked out a green casket. --F.L.
The Iceman Cometh
Sixty years ago Tommy Gaston sat in a hospital bed, temporarily
blinded from an accident at the machine warehouse where he
worked. When he finally regained sight in his left eye (he
permanently lost vision in the right), the first man he saw was
Tom Gaston, his father. The second, standing at his bedside, was
Turk Broda, Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender. "That says everything
about the Maple Leafs," says Gaston. "They've been loyal to me
for a long time."
And vice versa. For 60 years Gaston, 84, has held Toronto season
tickets. He's known many of the players and, of course, the
ushers are his friends. On opening night of this season, his
picture adorned every ticket. The ticket he really wants to see,
though, is one for a Maple Leafs' Stanley Cup game. --J.P.
The Sunshine Statement
When his young son, Trent, got tuckered out by the 90-minute
drive from Palm Beach to Miami, Heat season-ticket holder (center
court, first row, four seats) Lester Woerner bought a $650,000
bus and retrofitted it with beds. Woerner, whose holding company
has a variety of investments, including one in a company that
grows grass for stadiums, leaves the driving to Robert Brasher,
whom he hired away from country music prodigy LeAnn Rimes. Trent
does his homework on the way to the game and sleeps on the way
back. "I told Trent he can keep going to weeknight games," says
Dad, "as long as he keeps all his grades up."
Dodger Blue, Through and Through
In 1977 Betty Chatwood's youngest son, Todd, died in a car
accident. Less than a week later she received a sympathy card,
signed by every member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. "That's the
way players were back then," she says. "They treated their fans
with love and respect. Especially me." Chatwood, 76, who didn't
miss a home game for more than 20 years, was known as Dodger Mom,
the nickname outfielder Dusty Baker gave her after she baked him
a pie. "I would bring sweets for all the guys," she says. "I
loved the Dodgers." And they loved her. Baker was always ready
with a hug, and Steve Yeager still keeps in touch. The ushers
escorted Chatwood to aisle 11, row L, seat 3, her spot from the
mid-'70s until 1998, when illness--as well as insane ticket
prices--drove her away. "I still watch on TV," says Chatwood. "But
they don't love me like they used to." --J.P.