Perfect Attendance at the Super Bowls
When Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl title with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on February 7, 2021, Don Crisman was also beaming with pride about his own Super Bowl odyssey.
Despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 84-year-old Kennebunk man sat in the stands of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa and watched the Super Bowl. He has been present for every game since the first game was played in 1967. Don got both of his wishes granted for that special day this February. He kept his Super Bowl attendance streak alive. And Tom Brady added to his legendary status as the G.O.A.T., Greatest of All Time.
From the very first Super Bowl played in 1967 at the Los Angeles Coliseum (between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs) to the present, Don has watched all 55 NFL championship games live and in person. He is one of the few surviving members of the original Never Miss a Super Bowl Club. Two other members are Tom Henschel of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Gregory Eaton from Lansing, Michigan. Eaton was admitted to the club before Super Bowl 51, after it came to light via the Detroit Lions that Gregory has attended every Super Bowl game. Tom and Gregory were also awarded two tickets each in the same section as Don, but they could not sit together because of COVID-19 safety protocols.
(From another small group, the “Super Bowl Five,” two others attended their 55th Super Bowl game: Harvey Rothenberg, 87, of Boca Raton, Florida, and Sylvan Schefler, 82, of New York.)
What these men witnessed on February 7 was a vintage performance by the former New England Patriots star. Brady and another former Patriot, Rob Gronkowski, a.k.a. Gronk, dominated the Chiefs, 31-9. Seeing Brady win his seventh Super Bowl with a new team was special for Don, who vividly remembers a 24-year-old Tom Brady winning his first Super Bowl with the Patriots at the Superdome in New Orleans in 2002. That game was held just a few months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Super Bowl 55 at Raymond James Stadium was unlike any other Don attended. The pandemic forced fans to remain masked and to sit far apart. As during the regular NFL season, the stands of the giant arenas remained largely empty. Usually, the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl were full of entertainment, exhibits, and fan-friendly experiences, but not this year.
The pandemic limited attendance to 22,000 fans, including 7,500 healthcare workers who have been on the front lines, battling against the pandemic. The NFL had awarded the healthcare workers tickets to thank them for their devotion and hard work to save lives during the pandemic.
The NFL came through with a stunning experience that included special messages from President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, memorable performances before and during the half time show, plenty of fireworks, and Tom Brady’s feats on the gridiron.
“The COVID part of it was weird. We had these cardboard neighbors,” Don reflected a few days after he and Susan returned to Maine. Don brought home a cardboard cut-out fan that was positioned if front of him. It turned out to be a well-dressed dog. “He’s my new friend and a souvenir of one of the most unusual Super Bowls I’ll ever attend,” Don said.
Don couldn’t visit with his old friends during the game. The masks made it hard for them to talk to each other. One upside to the year, however, is that lines at the concessions and restrooms were not a problem, Don said. With so few people at the game, he could easily grab a hot dog and a beer or take a bathroom break without fighting through the crowds.
“There are advantages to having a smaller crowd for sure.”
Another thing that surprised Don was how much media attention he and the other two members of his club received before the Super Bowl. He was inundated with requests for interviews in person and via Zoom. “We had a media press conference with a luncheon on Friday, and usually we get a few people covering it. This year, we started at 11 a.m. and didn’t finish until 3:30 p.m,” Don said.
Getting the two tickets to attend the Super Bowl was a challenge. NFL officials notified Don on New Year’s Day that it would probably not be able to give him two tickets, as it has every year since 1999, due to the limited number of seat available. Then in mid-January, Don received a call from the NFL that he would indeed get his two tickets.
Don’s wife, Beverly, didn’t want him to go because of various health issues that Don has experienced in recent years. But Don said his daughter, Susan Crisman Metevier, accompanied him, and was a big help. They flew into Tampa on February 3 and did not attend any of the reduced pre-Super Bowl week festivities. Susan, who works as a nurse at Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford, received her two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Don received his first dose of the vaccine before they flew to Tampa. He was scheduled to receive his second vaccine dose shortly after he came home from Tampa.
So how did Don manage to attend every Super Bowl ever played? It began on a whim.
Don, originally from Rhode Island, said the streak began when he was working for a telecommunications company in Denver, Colorado. He and few friends attended college football games, and when the first Super Bowl title game was announced between the then NFL and AFL, Don said he and four friends decided to drive to L.A. and go. Tickets cost just $12 each.
The following year, they traveled to the Orange Bowl to see Super Bowl II, and so the attendance streak began. Over the years, three of the original members of the Never Miss a Super Bowl Club have passed away. Don said it has been a fantastic ride.
In 2010, Don joined fellow club members Larry Jacobson of San Francisco, Tom Henschel, and Robert Cook of Brown Deer, Wisconsin, in two VISA card commercials promoting the “Super Bowl for Life” sweepstakes. Larry and Robert have since passed away.
“All good things must come to an end,” Don said. “But I am going to try to go as often as I can.” Not even the COVID-19 pandemic could stop Don from keeping his streak alive.
He and his daughter Susan felt safe at the game, but afterwards, Tampa Bay fans started celebrating, crowds gathering outside the stadium, and the party was on. Don said he and Susan barely made it to the Uber lot to catch a ride back to their hotel.
If anyone ever doubted that Don has attended every Super Bowl game ever played, all they need to do is visit his Kennebunk home and view his extensive collection of memorabilia. Don has autographed footballs from many of the games, ticket stubs, jerseys, and items that date back to the first Super Bowl in 1967.
Over the years, he has had to sell some of his memorabilia, including 38 Super Bowl footballs signed by each Super Bowl MVP.
“Like my wife says, it won’t fit in the box. We just take it one year at a time,” Don said.
When asked if he plans on going to the Super Bowl next year, Don replied that he usually doesn’t make the decision until December when the NFL playoffs get underway. If the Patriots make it back to the big game, Don said he will go. As a lifelong Patriots fan, Don couldn’t resist seeing his team play on football’s greatest stage.
“Half of this is about the game, but the other half of this is about the guys.”