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Five fans who have attended every Super Bowl gathered for dinner in Detroit on Saturday night, former strangers whose shared achievement has made them, over the years, tighter than a John Elway spiral.
Their lives are measured in Roman numerals, but for these serial chillers, partying through their 40th Super Bowl week, the only X's and IV's that come up in conversation are X-girlfriends and hospital IV drips.
Larry Jacobson of San Francisco flew to Super Bowl I in Los Angeles "to impress the hell out of a date," he says. "It was my first time in a jet airplane. The plane tickets cost 25 bucks, round-trip. The game tickets cost 12 bucks. The Hertz rent-a-car cost seven bucks. But she wasn't impressed. She wasn't interested in football, so we had nothing to talk about.
"I was 26 then," sighs Jacobson. "I'm 66 now." He had one more date with the woman, 39 more (and counting) with the Super Bowl.
All the men have had near misses. Tom Henschel, a 64-year-old Pittsburgh native, woke up in a New Orleans hospital the day of Super Bowl VI, suffering the twin ravages of Bourbon Street and bronchial asthma. When a nun told him he would be held 24 hours for observation, he bolted from the bed and made for the game, escaping the shackles of his oxygen and IV tubes.
In addition to near misses, there have been near Mrs. (but not too near). Last week in Detroit, Stan Whitaker of Denver celebrated his 61st wedding anniversary. "Eunice has been to 38 Super Bowls with me," says the 84-year-old before conceding, "She's only been in the stadium for 30 of them. You can't always get an extra ticket."
Forty years ago Don Crisman had a mortgage from Capital Federal Savings & Loan in Denver, where Whitaker was an insurance salesman. The two men went together to Super Bowl I. A year later Don moved to Maine, where he still lives, but he and Whitaker went together to Super Bowl II in Miami. "Life has its ups and downs," says Crisman, now 69 and a retired telecommunications executive. "There were years we thought, It's time to quit. I wanted to stop on a round number like 30 or 35, but then my Patriots started making it to the Super Bowl." As with the Mafia, there is only one way out of this club of Super stars. Says Jacobson, who is retired from his job with the City of San Francisco, "I'll stop coming in my post-retirement years."
Before Super Bowl XIV in Los Angeles, Whitaker and Crisman were walking to their cars after seeing Johnny Carson tape The Tonight Show when they met Henschel, who, to their astonishment, had also been to every Super Bowl. A Chicago-based ticket agent for Eastern Airlines in 1967, Henschel moonlighted as a bartender at Some Other Place, a haven for stewardesses near O'Hare in the golden age of go-go air travel. "Everyone called it S.O.P.'s," says Henschel. "It was a big hangout for athletes, a boy-meets-girl kinda place." Because he knew Henschel could fly for free, S.O.P.'s owner gave him a $12 ticket to Super Bowl I, which he had been given by an NFL player. "Then Jack Concannon of the Bears gave me tickets to the second, fourth and fifth Super Bowls," says Henschel, who now lives in Tampa.
Whitaker, Crisman and Henschel learned about Jacobson at Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami, where the four of them were honored in the game program for their 33 years of leather-lunged attendance. The four of them were now friends.
Finally, three years ago in San Diego, these Four Hoarse Men of the Apocalypse met Bob Cook of Milwaukee. He, too, has a perfect attendance record. A reporter put Cook in touch with Whitaker, who introduced him to the others. The 75-year-old Cook says, "I'm the only one of these guys to have brought two wives to the Super Bowl," though not, alas, in the same year.