Larry Jacobson proudly and unabashedly counts himself among a small number of dizzyingly devoted football fans: the Never Miss a Super Bowl Club.
Jacobson has attended all 44, starting with the debut of the NFL’s showcase event in 1967 at the Coliseum.
His streak of perfect pigskin pilgrimage, the former junior high school mathematics teacher notes, provides “an opener for conversations, an opener to make friendships.”
Jacobson, 71, has made a few — and not only at Super Bowls.
The lifelong San Franciscan says he also has attended the last 46 Rose Bowl games — “I’m practicing for when Cal goes,” the UC Berkeley graduate cracks — and the last 11 Summer Olympics, a streak that dates to the Mexico City Games in 1968.
“People say I’m a sports fan, but I’m not,” he says, grinning. “I don’t follow basketball. I don’t follow hockey.”
Everything else is in play.
A San Francisco 49ers season-ticket holder since the early 1950s and a former San Francisco Giants season-ticket holder, Jacobson took in a World Series game at AT&T Park in October only hours after his ophthalmologist dilated his eyes.
“I couldn’t focus,” he says, “until the seventh inning.”
But he was there.
Only his devotion to the Super Bowl, however, has brought Jacobson widespread attention.
After attending the first four or five, Jacobson vowed to keep his streak alive as long as possible, he jokes, “because I saw commercial opportunity in it.”
Forty years later, it’s here.
Jacobson and three others in the Never Miss club are featured in a national advertising campaign promoting Visa’s “Super Bowl Trip for Life” sweepstakes.
In one TV spot, Jacobson says of his Super Bowl obsession, “I’ve missed weddings, I have missed babies being born, but I have no intention of missing a Super Bowl — ever.”
During an interview at his hillside home in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, where souvenir footballs from the last 24 Super Bowls are displayed, Jacobson says he was trying to impress a date when he attended the inaugural Super Bowl.
In 1967, he notes, roundtrip airfare from San Francisco to Burbank on Pacific Southwest Airlines cost about $27. Tickets to the game went for $12 apiece, a car rental for $8.
“I pretty much brought it in for under $100,” he says.
But he didn’t get the girl.
“I always say she wasn’t impressed with football,” says Jacobson, married with two grown daughters, “but probably more than anything she wasn’t impressed with me.”
Jacobson, though, fell hard for the Super Bowl.
A year later, when the Oakland Raiders reached the championship game, he tagged along with a Raiders tour group.
“I was impressed with the Raiders,” Jacobson notes, “but not with the group with whom I traveled.”
Before Super Bowl III, also played in Miami, a friend from Baltimore invited Jacobson to join him.
“I thought that game was so great,” Jacobson says of the New York Jets’ famous Joe Namath-led upset of the Baltimore Colts, “I decided I had to go to Super Bowl IV.”
And so it continued.
Jacobson says he’s never had a problem finding tickets, buying them for years through a friend who was an NFL game official and later directly from the league.
Not that he lands prime seats.
“Go to any stadium, search for what look like really lousy seats,” Jacobson says, “and we’re there.”
One year in Miami, he notes, he sat in a folding chair beneath a ladder that led up into the scoreboard.
Another time, at the Superdome in New Orleans, his seats were so low that he was blocked by the players on the sideline until he finally gave up and found empty seats in the upper deck.
“Later, I saw a video replay of the first quarter,” Jacobson says, “and I didn’t recognize it.”
Still, he wouldn’t dream of missing a Super Bowl. His favorites, of course, were the five won by the 49ers.
Jacobson met Tom Henschel of Tampa, Fla., Don Crisman of Kennebunk, Maine, and Stan Whitaker of Denver at Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami when the four were honored in the game program for their 33 years of perfect attendance.
These “Four Hoarse Men of the Apocalypse,” as Steve Rushin of Sports Illustrated dubbed them, met Robert Cook of Brown Deer, Wis., four years later and the Never Miss a Super Bowl Club was born. (Whitaker, in poor health, dropped out a few years ago.)
“We’ve had a couple of other folks who’ve suggested they’d been to them all,” Crisman says from Maine, “but over a beer you’d ask a few questions and figure out they hadn’t.”
The NFL now sells tickets to the four, who sit together at the game after meeting for lunch the day before.
“You think about the thousands of dollars they’ve spent over the years, it’s pretty impressive,” says NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, noting that the face value of most tickets for next month’s game is $900. “These four have truly seen it all.”
For Jacobson, watching at home is not an option.
“When I go into a coma,” he says, only half-kidding, “is when I’ll miss the Super Bowl. I told my wife, ‘If the Super Bowl comes around and I don’t realize it, it’s time to take me down.’”