XLVI games yield Cs of memories


While 12 men have walked on the moon, only three have witnessed every Super Bowl from the press box. This is a statement of fact. It is not to suggest that eating free food and writing down what Terry Bradshaw has to say is more difficult than flying that lunar module thing.

That said, not even Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could have made Super Bowl XXIV - San Francisco 55, Denver 10 - sound interesting. Small steps and giant leaps ain't gonna cut it when Joe Montana's firing retrorockets.

This was something I had planned to discuss with Jerry Izenberg, one of the three to bravely have gone where no man had gone before (or since): to the Detroit suburbs, in the dead of winter, to cover Super Bowl XVI - as well as the XV Super Bowls before, and the XXX Super Bowls after, without missing a single one.

Sunday's game, Ravens vs. 49ers in New Orleans, will make it XLVII consecutive Super Bowls for Izenberg, sports columnist emeritus for the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger, who semi-retired to Henderson in 2008. For Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald and Jerry Green of the Detroit News, too.

Nine more, and they'll catch DiMaggio.

Jerry Izenberg is 82. I met him and Aileen, his wife of 36 years, at the Omelet House on Boulder Highway in Henderson on Saturday. They were leaving for New Orleans the next day. It was cold and damp and raining outside. Izenberg was wearing a white cap, with the Super Bowl XL logo on the crown. And a black sweatshirt commemorating the CXXXVIIIth running of the Kentucky Derby. And a windbreaker.

Before we even wriggled into our booth, he started talking about this book he's writing, "Who Will Tell the Children?" It's the story of baseball's Negro Leagues, told "Field of Dreams" style through the eyes of the ghost of Josh Gibson of the old Homestead Grays.

Izenberg said he didn't want to give too much away. But then he gave away the first 200 pages.

My bacon was gone; what was left of the scrambled eggs was getting cold; Izenberg's favorite waitress, whom he had summoned from the back, had come and gone with an update on her budding singing/acting career. And Jerry just now was getting to the part about Satchel Paige and fried meats that angry up the blood.

It was going to be awhile before I'd get to ask about covering all those Super Bowls.

But by then, it didn't matter. I didn't care. I was having fun listening to Izenberg tell stories. I think I might even have been enthralled.

Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move. That was ol' Satch's Rule 3 for Keeping Young. It was much too crowded in the breakfast nook to jangle around gently, but Izenberg's yarns and tales were keeping the juices inside my head flowing.

And then, just like that, he apologized. He brought it back to football. He said he still enjoys covering the Super Bowl for the folks back home in Jersey. He still likes New Orleans, he said. Still likes to travel. That he had been to England, France and Germany covering sports, that he was going back to Ireland soon.

I told him that my wife and I always have talked about going to Ireland.

And then, just like that, he was chatting up the Cliffs of Moher. As only Jerry Izenberg can.

I was reminded of what one of his colleagues at the Star-Ledger once said, that Jerry "writes like he talks, minus the swear words." We were talking about Ireland and the Irish people, so there were a lot of swear words.

By then, the waitress had taken away everybody's plate. But the Willis Reed-sized stack of wheat toast was down only to Dave DeBusschere height, so there still was time to talk about all those Super Bowls.

Izenberg has seen so many it's hard to keep them straight. He refers to them as if they were "Friends" episodes.

Best Super Bowl: the one with the guy on the Giants who caught the ball on his helmet (Super Bowl XLII). Honorable mention: the one with Montana driving them down the field (Super Bowl XXIII). Worst Super Bowl: the one with the ice, near Detroit, where the shuttle bus carrying the sports writers had to pull over because Vice President Bush was coming to the game, and the shuttle bus got stuck in ice and snow and muck, and the sports writers wound up walking the rest of the way, in the muck, and the sports writers nearly froze to death (Super Bowl XVI).

I got to hear about when Izenberg was having breakfast - having breakfast! - with Chiefs center/linebacker E.J. Holub two days before Super Bowl I, and how Holub's palms were sweating profusely, because on Sunday they were going to give the winners $15,000 each, and that was a ton of money.

And then, one more poignant: about how Pete Rozelle was dying before one of those Super Bowls, when he got the sports writers who had seen every one, and the people from the NFL office, too, on a conference call. The commissioner's voice was so weak, you hardly could hear it. But he spoke an anecdote about each one of them - that there must have been 25 or more then - and as he addressed each by name, his voice got stronger.

By then the wheat toast stack had inched to "Clyde" Frazier size, so Izenberg insisted he pick up the check - a dead giveaway that he's now a semi-retired sports writer, not a full-time freeloading one. He did say he enjoys being part of "the club," one of only three men to have witnessed every Super Bowl from the press box - but only because he cares so much for Ed Pope and Jerry Green.

On the way out of the Omelet House, he said he had written 13 books but that I probably should read only the one called "Through My Eyes," a memoir spanning his (then 58) years as a sports writer. The one with a picture of him and his dad on front. He seemed pretty proud of that one.

Jerry Izenberg said if I ordered a copy through Amazon.com, he'd sign it for me.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

 

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