It was still an hour away from the opening kickoff of the big Edison-Dana Hills game, but Jim Collins was ready for some football.
While playing a waiting game, Collins studied the opposition warming up, taking note of it all in reserved silence. He then turned his attention to his team, Edison, becoming fully engrossed in its pregame rituals.
Again, watching in silence.
But Collins isn't a player on the field. He's a fan in the stands. No, make that a "Super Booster."
Collins is 90 years old but going on 70. Youthful, engaging and gregarious, he's been a fixture at Edison football practices and games, no matter the location, for the past 35 years.
"I love going to the games, supporting the team," he said. "It's just something I really enjoy."
He sure does. In 35 years, Collins has only missed eleven games. Three of those misses came last year when he went out of town with his wife, Lorrie, to attend her 60-year high school reunion in Chicago. That's 11 misses, both home and away. That's 10 or more games to attend a season. Counting three games into the current season, that's 403 games.
Collins was 65 when he began his run.
"Talk about a super fan, Jim's a 'Super Fan,' " Edison Coach Dave White said. "His grandson played here and he's been to nearly every game and practice. He even goes to Hawaii when we play there. Jim's just a super, super guy who is very supportive of our program."
Even the players appreciate his presence.
"Mr. Collins is a just a great person, really," senior defensive end Charles Burks said. "He's out there supporting us every day, when things are good and when they go bad, no matter what. That's a true supporter. It's really cool that his has our backs."
On this particular Thursday evening at Huntington Beach High's Sheue Field, Collins sits among longtime Edison supporters, a group of about "eight or nine guys," he said, that he and Lorrie Collins call the Back Row Boys. The group is stationed at the top row of the home stands, perched at midfield under the press box. No matter what the stadium, home or away, it's the same spot and row where you'll generally find him watching an Edison game.
"I figure if I can't get a decent seat, whether it be at a ballgame or the theater, I'd rather stay home," he said.
"I'm the president of the Back Row Boys because I'm the only woman who sits with them" said Lorrie, his wife of nearly 16 years. It's the second marriage for both who lost spouses six weeks apart in 1990.
"We met through a mutual friend," Jim Collins said. "We dated three years before we got married."
"Four," Lorrie, who will be 80 in January, corrected him with a smile.
"We go to a lot of the games together," Jim Collins continued. "We have a great time."
Collins, who lives about a down-and-out route away from the Edison campus, has ties to the program that run deep. He has previously worked with the football booster club and in recent seasons has helped hand out gear to the players at the start of the season and collect it at season's end. But what he's most proud of is that one of his grandchildren, Jim Collins II, played for Coach Bill Workman's final Edison team and was a senior nose guard on the 1985 squad that shared the CIF Big 5 championship with Long Beach Poly. It was the third Southern Section championship in seven years for the program.
"That's a special memory for me," he said. "All the games are great in one way or another, but for me, it doesn't get much better than that."
Despite his love for the game, Jim Collins never played football in high school. He never had the chance.
"I never went to high school a day in my life. I grew up during the Depression," he said. "I'm originally an old farm boy from Canada and still a farm boy at heart. I grew up in New Jersey in the Newark area and went into the service in 1942. That's how I got my U.S. citizenship, when I entered the U.S. Army."
Collins was a master jumper and one of the original paratroopers with the U.S. Army during World War II. A jumping injury prevented him from going overseas. He left the service on a medical discharge.
"I got in 21 jumps and saw a lot, but didn't get into combat because of an injury I received during maneuvers," he said. "My outfit did go over, and many of them didn't come back."
It was during his time in the service that Collins got his first taste of playing football.
"I played two years in the military," he said. "I was approached by one of our master sergeants who at the time was an assistant coach at Georgia Tech. He asked if I'd ever played and I said, 'no.' Heck, I never played football a day in my life. He convinced me to give it a try — you can't say no to a superior — and that's how I started playing football."
The 6-foot-1 Collins said he was at his top weight, 205 pounds, during his military days. He played halfback and when his military career ended, he went on to play two years of semi-pro football with the Newark Bears.
Collins is the proud owner of an Edison letterman's jacket that he received from the school a few years ago. On one shoulder is stitched the years, "1942-45," commemorating Collins' playing days.
"I really enjoyed the experience," said Collins who is still fit today at 190 pounds. "You played in the league because you enjoyed it. Back in those days, you didn't make much money playing football."
Collins, who went on to work in contracts for 37 years with the Douglas Aircraft Co. (now McDonnell Douglas), can be seen walking the track early mornings at Edison High, the same track where he used to run a mile each morning until a few years ago. In the afternoons, he heads back over to the school to observe football practice.
"I stay off the field and watch them work out nearby," he said. "Either Coach White or one of the other coaches will come over and say 'hi.' Some of the kids also come over and we shake hands, exchange some words. Last year, Jordan Zumwalt, who now is playing at UCLA, always stopped for a visit. He was the nicest young man.
"After a while, you get to know the coaches and staff. In 35 years, I think that this is as good a bunch of people I've ever been around. That's really what makes this fun, to go out there and support these kids, then watch them grow up and become men."
Collins, who along with Lorrie enjoys traveling and farming vegetables in their backyard, says he plans to continue to attend every Edison game on the near horizon. Collins is his own driver to the game, chauffeuring Lorrie in style in their 2009 Cadillac.
"I was a Chrysler man for 60 years," he said. "Now I drive a Cadillac. But that doesn't matter. I'll keep going to the games so long as I'm able to get there."
Collins, once again, will be "there" Friday, at Cerritos College in Norwalk, to root on No. 5 Edison in its big showdown with No. 2 Servite.