San Diego super fan Gushue reaches 500 NFL games … and counting

Super fan Brian Gushue at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on November 24, 2015. On Monday night in Green Bay, Wis., Gushue attended his 500th NFL game, a 30-17 win by the Detroit Lions. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

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Super fan Brian Gushue at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on November 24, 2015. On Monday night in Green Bay, Wis., Gushue attended his 500th NFL game, a 30-17 win by the Detroit Lions. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

The shoulder pad-crunching mountain has been summited ... 2,000 quarters worth of hot dogs and Hail Marys, the kickoffs and crack-back blocks, the crisp routes and cringe-worthy routs, crisscrossing America from San Francisco Bay to the ice box known as Buffalo.

Brian Gushue did it. The San Diego man, 52, made it to 500 NFL games, a quest that began Dec. 4, 1977, when the Chargers bruised the Browns 37-14.

More than 600,000 miles and $150,000 later, the wild and whimsical target of a boy with cerebral palsy became reality Monday as temps hovered around freezing and the Lions danced past the Packers 30-17 at Lambeau Field.

What's next for the NFL's ultimate super fan?

Well, No. 501 of course.

"Why not?" Gushue said this week. "A PGA golfer doesn't stop just because he hits 50, he goes to the Senior Tour. I'm still going to be going to games, I'm just going to a lot fewer. I can't give it up. I'm just slowing down."

Gushue made headlines in November 2015 as he crept to within 46 games of the black-and-blue benchmark, explaining how playing quarterback as a kid during Nerf games delivered an essential sense of belonging.

The story opened the door to meet childhood idol Bob Griese, during a Dolphins-Chargers game at Qualcomm Stadium. It produced a signed football from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. It sparked a friendship with Hall of Fame receiver James Lofton.

At Lambeau, ESPN's "Monday Night Countdown" devoted a 6-minute, 45-second segment to Gushue and his relentless devotion to a game that helped shape some of the most important corners of his life.

"It was absolutely marvelous," Gushue said of the night. "The fans couldn't have been nicer. It reminded me why it's my favorite place in the NFL. The atmosphere was electric."

The Packers, less electric.

No matter: This was about a finish line decades and endless credit card payments in the making.

Lofton assisted in Gushue's effort to ensure No. 500 unfolded at a place as iconic and revered as Lambeau. The former Packers star, who saw a story about Gushue, made a call to free up some seats in a place known for endless waiting lists.

"I saw it on the local Fox station, who I do an NFL report for," Lofton said. "When it aired, I just called in and said, 'Geez, I'd be willing to do whatever I can.' It's always nice when you have a connection you can use for a good purpose."

Lofton and Gushue arranged a lunch, with the NFL veteran who piled up 14,004 yards and 75 receiving touchdowns in 16 seasons popping for lunch and a birthday slice of key lime pie. Then he invited Gushue into the radio booth for his call of the 2016 season opener as the Patriots visited the Cardinals.

Wrapping his mind around the travel and logistics involved in 500 games bewilders, Lofton said.

"When Jerry Jones got inducted (into the most recent Hall of Fame class), he made a point to say his wife attended (597 straight games since 1989)," said Lofton, who traveled to less than half of Gushue's total, 233, during his storied career. "I wanted to yell, 'Hey, I've got a buddy who's going to 500 this year.'

"It's amazing, really. I've done back-to-back games as a broadcaster on Sunday night and Monday night, Christmas Eve and Christmas. It wears you out, just in terms of getting there and back."

The journey leaned heavily on Gushue's hometown Chargers. He's attended 226 of their games in all, with 176 of those in San Diego — and two (boo!) in Carson, Calif. When the Bolts loaded the U-Hauls for hazy L.A., he switched allegiances. The Chiefs, and Alex Smith, moved into the slot reserved for his favorite AFC West team.

One loyalty remains unwavering, though.

On Monday, Gushue wore a hat shouting "San Diego" to anyone watching the ESPN cameras.

"I want anybody who sees me to not forget San Diego," he said. "I don't want the NFL to forget us. If the Chargers don't come back, that's fine. But I still want San Diego to become an NFL city again someday."

Eight more games are scheduled for this season, starting with No. 501 on Sunday in Santa Clara at an aptly-named stadium.

"I'm going to go to the nearest Gap and get a pair of (501) jeans," Gushue said. "Then I'm going to wear them to Levi's Stadium."

Cathy Hendrie, a friend from who used to work with Gushue at the North County Times, made the trip with her boyfriend — lighting a parking-lot cake signifying 500 with laces made of frosting.

A fan who had seen the "Monday Night Countdown" story before walking into Lambeau asked Gushue for a picture. Another fan recognized Gushue at the airport Tuesday as he began to navigate his way back to San Diego.

"I don't regret a cent of it," he said. "It was all worth it."

No replay official needed.