January 25, 2012 - Many years ago at a family party, my soon-to-be wife introduced me to her Uncle Tom. She told me I had something in common with him since he enjoyed football.
That was an understatement. There are football fans and then there are super fans. Uncle Tom fits in the latter category.
In fact, I think he probably deserves his own perch on top of super fandom.
My wife's uncle is one of only three people in the world, aside from a handful of sportswriters, who have attended every Super Bowl. The streak started in 1967 when the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in a half-full Los Angeles Coliseum.
A ticket to that game cost $10 and Uncle Tom was actually given two by a Chicago Bears player who he befriended while moonlighting at a bar in the Windy City. During the day, he worked for Eastern Airlines. The football player could not go to the first Super Bowl, and knowing the bartender could fly for free, he gave him his tickets.
Another player gave Uncle Tom tickets to the second game. It was the third Super Bowl, however, where the underdog New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts that convinced Uncle Tom this was a great sporting event that could not be missed.
There have been some close calls along the way. His wife sent a poem to the owner of his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers about his streak and he ended up with a pair of tickets waiting for him at a hotel during one of the 1970s Super Bowls.
Then there was the time Uncle Tom woke up in a New Orleans hospital bed a couple hours before game time. He had a bad asthma attack the night before, most assurdely triggered by plenty of French Quarter partying.
The Catholic nurse told him to stay in bed but he pulled out his IV and scrambed to the game.
In 1982, with Oakland County under seige by an ice storm and roads closed everywhere, he walked a mile across the frozen tundra near the Pontiac Silverdome to get to the game.
Uncle Tom's family also has played a key role in keeping the streak alive over the years. They regularly entered their names into the Super Bowl ticket lottery on his behalf and were selected a couple of times. He also has paid ticket scalpers, although he is coy about the most he has spent to secure his seat.
Back in the 1980s, he made a poster of all his ticket stubs to make some money. The NFL caught wind of it and put the hammer down on his entreprenerial effort. The stubs, by the way, are stored in a safe deposit box; he also has mint copies of every game program.
A while back, the NFL began reserving a ticket for him and the other guys who had been to every Super Bowl - at face value. How generous of them.
As you can imagine, Uncle Tom is a bit of a celebrity this time of year. Numerous stories have been written about him and he has appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America and ESPN in the days and hours leading up to the football championship.
In 2006, I took Uncle Tom on a media tour of Detroit. My oldest daughter and I got to watch him share his stories on the set of ESPN at the Renaissance Center. Standing next to us were a number of NFL players. They too, thought the streak was very cool.
Uncle Tom was the guest of honor at a blowout party at the St. Henry house the night before the 2006 Super Bowl. His Steelers were playing and quite a few family members from Pittsburgh stayed with us. Let's just say it was a lot of fun. So much so, Uncle Tom missed a late-morning live interview on ESPN on Super Bowl Sunday. His wife, however, dragged him to mass to undoubtedly pray for a Steeler victory (it worked).
You may have seen his face and tickets on a VISA advertising campaign last year, along with the other guys in the brotherhood. Retired now, he enjoyed the attention and the royalties that came with the campaign.
VISA also is giving him two tickets to the Super Bowl for as long as he can go. Uncle Tom is the youngest of the super fans, so he thinks he has a good chance of being the last man standing. (One of the guys sadly passed away just before the game last year.) He would like to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Super Bowl by flipping the coin at midfield. I think he has a very good chance, but I guess it will be up to the NFL.
Uncle Tom will be driving to Indianapolis next week for the big game with his brother Jim, who has only been to 35 or so of the games. There, he will meet up with his remaining two friends who have been to every game.
He has promised me that if the Detroit Lions ever make it to the Super Bowl, I will be going to the game with him. After this season, I know there is hope.
Until then, long live Uncle Tom and his super streak.