Forty-five years ago, a business acquaintance asked Larry McDonald if he wanted to join a few friends on a lark and fly cross-country to catch a football game in Los Angeles.
No big deal. Green Bay was playing Kansas City, in something called the AFL-NFL Championship Game. Tickets were plentiful at 12 bucks apiece. Hotels were wide open. The volume of the game was turned down low, as the lordly Packers were expected to spank the Chiefs before the eventual merger of their competing leagues.
Sure, why not, McDonald shrugged.
“We all had such fun. At dinner afterward, somebody said, ‘Why don’t we do it again next year?’” McDonald recalled.
The years stacked one upon another. McDonald rode the crests and troughs of the construction business before retiring back home in Georgia. And he kept going back to that same game every year with the same crew of slowly graying buddies until the lark became almost a holy obligation.
“I don’t want to be the first to drop out, let’s say that,” he smiled.
They are in Indianapolis this weekend, the group that calls itself the Super Bowl Five, dressed in their game jackets, wearing their Super Bowl Five rings, attending their 46th version of a game that has become a very big deal.
An NFL spokesman said the league has no clue how many fans have attended every Super Bowl, but consider how rare it is to be able to proclaim:
I was there before the game was Super, before the roman numerals were surgically attached (1969).
I was there when Joe Namath became the most famous quarterback to never throw a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl.
I was there when Jackie Smith dropped his pass, when Scott Norwood missed his kick, when Thurman Thomas misplaced his helmet and Bill Belichick fell a game short of perfection.
I was there when Up With People was the saccharin halftime staple and when Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunctioned.
From I to XLV, McDonald, 77, and his four friends have seen it all. He left his Reynold’s Plantation home for No. XLVI a little late this year – on Saturday – because, well, what’s the hurry to get to Indianapolis?
Ranging in age from late 70s to early 80s, the Super Bowl Five unanimously agree this game should always be held at a warm-weather site. Asked his least favorite Super Bowl location, McDonald immediately answered: Minneapolis (1992).
If he has to be indoors watching a game, he’d much rather the stadium be surrounded by New Orleans. His favorite outdoor stadium, the Rose Bowl, hasn’t been in the rotation since 1993.
Besides wanting to go somewhere warm, there are other Super Bowl preferences shared by men of a certain age.
They’d like the experience to be more substance, less fluff. In the end, the hype doesn’t carry the day, the game does. McDonald can’t remember the build-up to the last time the Giants played New England, but will always remember David Tyree’s catch upside his helmet that kept alive the Giants game-winning drive at the end of the 2008 game. “That’s the most gung-ho we’ve been for a game,” he said. (The bulk of the group is from New York).
They’d like to better understand the halftime acts. Last year in Dallas, when the Black Eyed Peas, Usher and Slash came out to entertain, “We all sat there and looked at each other, asking, ‘What is that?’” McDonald said.
And they wouldn’t mind turning back the clock a couple decades so they could attack the Super Bowl weekend like they used to. Their pace of play is a little slower now, certainly than when they stayed up late that one distant night in New Orleans playing liars poker with some visiting NFL players.
“We used to have a ball, used to really, really have fun. Now we sit around and talk about what we used to do,” McDonald said.
Wives stay home
A 2010 Visa ad featured a group of four fans that had attended every Super Bowl. No TV spots for the Super Bowl Five. They celebrate their uniqueness among themselves, wearing Super Bowl Five blazers to dinner and customized jackets to the game and otherwise keeping it low key.
None of their wives goes to the game with them — it is a stubbornly stag thing. The men did take them all once to a Grey Cup game, the Canadian Football League’s sort-of Super Bowl.
McDonald became the fifth member of the Super Bowl Five after selling some golf course property to a developer named Harvey Rothenberg in 1966. At the closing, Rothenberg asked him to come along on a trip with his friends to what would be Super Bowl I. Just a Presbyterian from College Park and four Jewish guys who grew up in New York, bonding around the last pro game of the season.
“[McDonald] adds a Southern softness to the group,” joked another member of the group, Al Schragis.
Schragis is the master planner – he’s nicknamed “The Prez” – arranging for the tickets, the lodging, the meals, the transportation. As the game as grown, so have the logistical tangles. But he always manages to line up good seats for the game. Basically, he knows people, having made many NFL contacts back when he ran Miami’s Doral Resort.
Schragis also is the one most committed to keeping their game streak alive. Back in the mid-70s, when the construction business was bottoming out and McDonald said he couldn’t afford the Super Bowl trip, Schragis practically ordered him to come, offering to pay his expenses.
No matter the difficulties, “Once we get there and get together, it’s all worth it because we have such a good time,” McDonald said.
“That has been a very, very good thing to happen in my life,” he added.
There is no way to know how many Super Bowls are left in them. But they sure would like to be there for No. 50 in 2016, McDonald noted.
“And more beyond that,” declared Schragis.
Persistence is an important trait among the Super Bowl Five. Optimism is another.
Super Bowl I
Date: Jan. 16, 1967.
Place: Los Angeles Coliseum
Attendance: 61.946 (40,000 below capacity)
Ticket price: $12
Television viewership: 51 million
Cost of 30-second TV ad: $42,000
Halftime: University of Arizona and Grambling State marching bands.
Super Bowl XLVI
Date: Feb. 5, 2012
Place: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.
Attendance: 68,000 (capacity expanded by 5,000)
Ticket price: $900
Television viewership: 111 million tuned in for Super Bowl XLV, and expectations are for more of the same.
Price for 30-second TV ad: $3.5 million