The ‘Never Miss a Super Bowl Club’ arrives in Atlanta

Don Crisman began one of the more impressive streaks in sports fandom – a record of having attended every Super Bowl – because some friends were trying to get rid of tickets to the game in 1967.

“They worked for a bank in Denver that was involved in a sponsorship with the Broncos, and five tickets were given to the bank,” Crisman recalled. “Nobody wanted them.”

So he took some tickets off his friends’ hands and headed to Los Angeles for what eventually became known as Super Bowl I.

He has been going to the big game ever since and now is in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.

His streak puts him in rare company. A few years ago, the NFL counted only 16 people who had attended every Super Bowl. Three of them – Crisman, Gregory Eaton and Tom Henschel – gathered for lunch Friday at the invitation of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. They wore matching shirts emblazoned with the words “Never Miss a Super Bowl Club.”

“I miss weddings. I miss funerals. But I’ve never missed Super Bowls,” Eaton said.

Crisman, 82, lives in Kennebunk Beach, Maine, and has been a New England Patriots fan since the franchise’s inception. Eaton, 79, lives in Lansing, Mich., and is a loyal fan of the Detroit Lions, who have never played in the Super Bowl. Henschel, 77, splits his time between Pittsburgh and Tampa, Fla., and is a long-time Steelers fan. They met each other after many years of attending Super Bowls.

It doesn’t matter who’s playing in the big game; these men are always there, as they have been since their 20s.

Henschel’s streak started when he got tickets to the first few Super Bowls from NFL players who frequented a Chicago bar where he worked part-time in the late 1960s. His full-time job was as an airline gate and ticket agent, “so I could fly to the Super Bowl for nothing.”

“After the fourth or fifth one, it became a must-thing for me. I had to go,” Henschel said. “I’ve saved all my ticket stubs, all my programs. ... I’d rather go the Super Bowl than to New Year’s and Fourth of July (celebrations) put together. It’s so much fun.”

Eaton’s streak began when he got tickets to the first two Super Bowls through a friend, a former Michigan State player, who was in the games with the Green Bay Packers.

“One led to the next and the next. I got on a roll, and I just kept going,” said Eaton, who owns a large ground-transportation company, Detroit-based Metro Cars. “It just kind of snowballed.

“Anyone in my family knows not to plan anything that week because I’m gone.”

Because of health problems last summer, Crisman thought he’d miss the trip to Atlanta. “I thought I had seen my last Super Bowl,” Crisman said. “But I have made a comeback.”

In their 53 years of attending Super Bowls, Crisman, Eaton and Henschel have seen ticket prices rise from $12 into the thousands of dollars. (In recent years, Crisman and Henschel have bought their tickets directly from the NFL at face value, a privilege afforded them for their longevity.  Eaton said he has never gone through the NFL for tickets, getting his through his own contacts.)

These Super Bowl regulars certainly didn’t expect in 1967 how massive the event would become.

“The Super Bowl could have been a bust,” said Crisman, whose career was in telecommunications, “if it wasn’t for Joe Namath in Super Bowl III.”

Crisman and Henschel appeared in a Visa commercial in 2010 along with another fan, now deceased, who had attended every Super Bowl. They met Eaton later, and Friday’s lunch started their annual reunion.

“God bless us,” Eaton said as he warmly greeted Henschel. “We made it another year.”

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