There are millions of football fans annually keeping traditions that revolve around the Super Bowl, but only four men have witnessed the sport’s most important event live every year since the first championship game was played in 1967.
The men, who began their odysseys individually as strangers from different regions of the country, are now friends and the only members of an elite “super” group – the Never Miss a Super Bowl Club. This Sunday, the foursome has no plans to stop now.
Robert Cook, a Green Bay Packers fan from Brown Deer, Wis. and Tom Henschel, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan who splits his time between Tampa, Fla., and Natrone Heights, Penn., will be sitting side-by-side in Dallas when their teams face-off in Super Bowl XLV.
Despite their team loyalties, the men say they’ll still be friends after the game is over. “We’ve got to keep it civil,” Henschel says.
The pair will be joined inside Cowboys Stadium by Don Crisman, a New England Patriots fan, and Larry Jacobson, a 49ers fan. The faithful foursome began sitting together about 10 years ago, around the time that the NFL recognized their achievement, which was featured in a Sports Illustrated story.
Attending all 44 games is an amazing feat, but what these guys have overcome and given up to get to the Super Bowl is perhaps more spectacular.
It’s one thing to pass up a party or miss a wedding, anniversary or even a funeral, but Jacobson, 71, of San Francisco, tells the tale of giving up the chance to adopt a child.
Jacobson and his wife were participating in an open adoption in the 1970s and he says the birth mother’s only prerequisite was that the adoptive parents be present for the birth of the baby. The problem was that the baby was due on Super Bowl weekend.
“I said it’s no problem,” he recalls. “I’ll take the red-eye (flight), watch the game and take the red-eye back. That was fine with my wife, but it wasn’t with the mother.”
Because of Larry’s growing obsession, he and his wife passed on that adoption but later adopted two biological sisters, neither of which knew until recently the story of the abandoned adoption.
“My daughter said she was glad about the Super Bowl,” Jacobson says. “If we’d gotten that child, we wouldn’t have gotten our daughters. So they think the Super Bowl is a good thing.”
Getting to the game
Most football fans would think Super Bowl tickets would be hard to come by, but for the first 10 to 15 years, the men say that wasn’t the case at all. However, as the game’s popularity increased so did the demand – and cost – for tickets.
Cook, 79, who admits these days he has trouble remembering names and dates, knows exactly how he got his ticket to the first game in 1967.
“I just bought it for $10 at the stadium,” he says. That’s a lot easier than the most expensive ticket he bought for $2,100 from a scalper about 10 years ago.
The $2,100 price tag is the most any of the guys have paid for a single ticket. Henschel and his brother each paid $1,500 for tickets to Super Bowl XXX in Tempe, Ariz.
How has Cook managed to get tickets each year? “Every which way,” he says. “I’ve begged and borrowed, just not stolen.”
Just like a team that loses in the playoffs, Crisman, who lives in Kennebunk, Maine, thought his attendance streak was about to end at Super Bowl XXXII. At 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 25, 1998, Crisman was in San Diego but he did not have a ticket to that day’s game between the Packers and Denver Broncos.
“I pinned a three-by-five card on my shirt that read: “I’ve been to all 31, I need Super Bowl ticket,’ ” he recalls. “At breakfast I got a lot of comments and laughs, but no offers.”
Crisman said he had just about given up when a man stepping off the hotel elevator noticed his sign and asked him if he was really going to the game. The man, a doctor from North Carolina, said the fourth member of his group had canceled and he had an extra ticket.
“At first they insisted I stay with them until the game to prove I was going,” he says. “But I got a briefcase of memorabilia and newspaper clippings and gave them some history and finally convinced them that I was really going.” He got the ticket.
The passion for the game these men display, and the obstacles they’ve overcome along the way, has been well documented in a series of nationally televised Visa commercials.
In one spot, Henschel, 69, who says he grew up with “football in his blood,” describes how he pulled out his IV, then slipped out of a New Orleans hospital to get to the big game.
“The Super Bowl is like the Fourth of July and New Year’s put together,” he says. “I just feel like a little kid again.”
But Robert Cook may say it best: “Nothing’s more important than the Super Bowl.”