Five fans whohave attended every Super Bowl gathered for dinner in Detroit on Saturdaynight, former strangers whose shared achievement has made them, over the years,tighter than a John Elway spiral.
Their lives aremeasured in Roman numerals, but for these serial chillers, partying throughtheir 40th Super Bowl week, the only X's and IV's that come up in conversationare X-girlfriends and hospital IV drips.
Larry Jacobson ofSan Francisco flew to Super Bowl I in Los Angeles "to impress the hell outof a date," he says. "It was my first time in a jet airplane. The planetickets cost 25 bucks, round-trip. The game tickets cost 12 bucks. The Hertzrent-a-car cost seven bucks. But she wasn't impressed. She wasn't interested infootball, so we had nothing to talk about.
"I was 26then," sighs Jacobson. "I'm 66 now." He had one more date with thewoman, 39 more (and counting) with the Super Bowl.
All the men havehad near misses. Tom Henschel, a 64-year-old Pittsburgh native, woke up in aNew Orleans hospital the day of Super Bowl VI, suffering the twin ravages ofBourbon Street and bronchial asthma. When a nun told him he would be held 24hours for observation, he bolted from the bed and made for the game, escapingthe shackles of his oxygen and IV tubes.
In addition tonear misses, there have been near Mrs. (but not too near). Last week inDetroit, Stan Whitaker of Denver celebrated his 61st wedding anniversary."Eunice has been to 38 Super Bowls with me," says the 84-year-oldbefore conceding, "She's only been in the stadium for 30 of them. You can'talways get an extra ticket."
Forty years agoDon Crisman had a mortgage from Capital Federal Savings & Loan in Denver,where Whitaker was an insurance salesman. The two men went together to SuperBowl I. A year later Don moved to Maine, where he still lives, but he andWhitaker went together to Super Bowl II in Miami. "Life has its ups anddowns," says Crisman, now 69 and a retired telecommunications executive."There were years we thought, It's time to quit. I wanted to stop on around number like 30 or 35, but then my Patriots started making it to the SuperBowl." As with the Mafia, there is only one way out of this club of Superstars. Says Jacobson, who is retired from his job with the City of SanFrancisco, "I'll stop coming in my post-retirement years."
Before Super BowlXIV in Los Angeles, Whitaker and Crisman were walking to their cars afterseeing Johnny Carson tape The Tonight Show when they met Henschel, who, totheir astonishment, had also been to every Super Bowl. A Chicago-based ticketagent for Eastern Airlines in 1967, Henschel moonlighted as a bartender at SomeOther Place, a haven for stewardesses near O'Hare in the golden age of go-goair travel. "Everyone called it S.O.P.'s," says Henschel. "It was abig hangout for athletes, a boy-meets-girl kinda place." Because he knewHenschel could fly for free, S.O.P.'s owner gave him a $12 ticket to Super BowlI, which he had been given by an NFL player. "Then Jack Concannon of theBears gave me tickets to the second, fourth and fifth Super Bowls," saysHenschel, who now lives in Tampa.
Whitaker, Crismanand Henschel learned about Jacobson at Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami, where thefour of them were honored in the game program for their 33 years ofleather-lunged attendance. The four of them were now friends.
Finally, threeyears ago in San Diego, these Four Hoarse Men of the Apocalypse met Bob Cook ofMilwaukee. He, too, has a perfect attendance record. A reporter put Cook intouch with Whitaker, who introduced him to the others. The 75-year-old Cooksays, "I'm the only one of these guys to have brought two wives to theSuper Bowl," though not, alas, in the same year.
The NFL now sellsfive tickets to Whitaker every year. It is his responsibility to distributefour of them to Crisman, Henschel, Jacobson and Cook so that they can keeptheir records intact without ever again seeing scalpers. Thus their streakswill live as long as they do. Now grandfathers, they've been grandfathered in."I'll keep going," says Jacobson, "if I have to go in a MedEvacplane."
"God has beengood," says Crisman, speaking for all five of these men scattered from SanFrancisco to Maine, from Tampa to Denver to Milwaukee. "And we've allbecome friends."
Blood may bethicker than water, but nothing is thicker than stadium beer.
"My goal is50 Super Bowls," says Henschel, emboldened by his Steelers' win on Sunday."My dream is for all of us to walk out on the field and toss the coinbefore Super Bowl L." In which case, they've only just begun, and it's truewhat they say: Life begins at 40.
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Of five friends who have been to every Super Bowl,75-year-old Bob Cook notes, "I'm the only one to have brought twowives"--though not, alas, in the same year.