It was the morning after the pro football conference championships, and a gravelly voice from New Jersey was coming through loud and clear via speakerphone.
Jerry Izenberg had not called to chat about the resurgence of Rutgers’ men’s basketball team.
After bearing witness to and chronicling Super Bowls I through LIII, the hall of fame sportswriter said he would be sitting out LIV.
Well, not exactly sitting it out. More like sitting in a booth at the Sunset Station sportsbook in his adopted hometown of Henderson. And writing about LIV from there as sports columnist emeritus for the Newark Star-Ledger.
It probably won’t be as memorable as watching Jim McMahon moon that helicopter before XX in New Orleans. Then again, who knows what kind of hijinks might ensue among those who wager on the pregame coin toss and which way the wind might blow?
Izenberg is one of only two men who have covered Super Bowls I through LIII, consecutively, from the press box, along with Jerry Green of The Detroit News.
He was asked if he and the other Jerry had talked.
They had, he said.
What did they talk about?
“About me not going, and about him going.”
So I wasn’t the first one he told about sitting out LIV. But I still sort of felt like Baltimore Orioles manager Ray Miller the day Cal Ripken walked into his office after playing in 2,632 consecutive games and quietly said, “Skip, it’s time.”
Izenberg said it is like what his father told him when Mel Ott retired: The legs are the first to go.
“I should have thought about this years ago,” said the 89-year-old scribe, which is what people called sportswriters when he started doing it. “I’m not bustin’ my (behind), I’m not getting on buses, I’m not running and slipping … one time I cracked a rib and it hurt like a son of a (gun).”
“Plus, I owe it to Mrs. Izenberg.” That’s Jerry’s wife, Aileen.
Izenberg’s skill in writing about sports is surpassed only by his ability to tell stories about them. You’ve heard about Billy Preston being the fifth Beatle? When it comes to telling stories, Jerry Izenberg is the third Brother Grimm.
LIII memories and counting
So why not start where it began?
Super Bowl I — Chiefs vs. Packers in Los Angeles, when the Super Bowl still was officially known as the AFL-NFL World Championship game, and one interviewed the participants by going to their hotel rooms.
“Now they’ll shoot you before you can even get on the elevator,” said Izenberg, who in addition to all those Super Bowls covered every NFL and AFL championship game between 1957 and 1966.
He recalled an initial kibitz with E.J. Holub, who played center and middle linebacker for Kansas City — this was 1967, when guys sometimes still played football on both sides of one.
Holub was in his hotel room. He held out his palms. Izenberg said they were sweating.
“Is it because you guys have a chance to prove you can play with the other league?” he asked. He was only 36 then, still prone to asking the obvious question.
Holub said no, that wasn’t it.
“If we win this game, we get a $15,000 bonus,” Holub told him. “My wife has already spent mine.”
Somehow I knew his favorite Super Bowl stories wouldn’t be about Joe Namath guaranteeing the Jets would beat the Colts, or David Tyree catching that ball on top of his helmet, or even the punky QB known as McMahon mooning that chopper while he Super Bowl-shuffled.
He shared one about Japanese actors dressed as aliens invading the press room while shooting a low-budget movie. He said the Super Bowl writers and broadcasters barely looked up from their stories and scripts.
“No, no, no,” Izenberg said, doing an impression of a frustrated director of a low-budget Japanese horror flick. “Look afraid. Look puzzled. Look angry.”
Izenberg said a Super Bowl writer struggling to write his lead looked up from the blinking cursor on an otherwise blank screen.
“You want angry, one more sound out of you and you’re going to see what anger really is.”
Jerry Izenberg said he doesn’t expect to see many little green men with horns coming out of their heads and tails wielding tridents at the Sunset Station sportsbook on Sunday.
But should it happen, his cursor won’t be blinking on a blank screen for very long.