By Larry Fine
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An ironman contingent of fans, photographers and sports writers were honored by the NFL on Friday ahead of Super Bowl 50 as members of an exclusive club - people who have attended every one of the title games.
From its humble beginnings in 1967 under the unwieldy label of NFL-AFL World Championship in Los Angeles, to its status as a quasi U.S. national holiday and money-making machine, these 16 have gone to 15 different locales over five decades of football.
Eight fans from around the country, three photographers, including famed Sports Illustrated snapper Walter Iooss, Jr. and reporters Jerry Izenberg, Jerry Green and Dave Klein were honored along with Norma Hunt, wife of late Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt, and groundskeeper George Toma.
They have all been to Miami and New Orleans 10 times apiece for the games and Los Angeles seven times. They have also seen chillier times in Detroit, Minneapolis and Indianapolis over the past half century.
Harvey Rothenberg was at the Media Center on Friday with his four cronies that comprise the "Super Bowl 5" gang, replete with varsity jackets adorned with their logo and a football helmet pictured on the back.
"Around Super Bowl III, we got our first blazers as the Super Bowl 5 and decided to try and keep the tradition going," Rothenberg told Reuters after receiving a plaque given to each member of the longevity club by Hall of Fame linebacker Dave Robinson, who played in the first Super Bowl for the Packers.
Real estate developer Rothenberg and his buddies had gone to the Doral Country Club in Miami to golf in the week ahead of that New York Jets-Baltimore Colts clash and used a hotel shuttle bus to the game, sharing the ride with the likes of Sargent Shriver and Arthur Ashe, the tennis pro at the resort.
"That's when we decided to do it every year. 'Let's do it!' he said. "Who knew it was going to last all these years."
Hunt's husband, a principal founder of the AFL, is the one who suggested Super Bowl be the name of the title game, a notion that did not sit well with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, who did not think it was a classy enough moniker at first, she said.
"I have a letter from Pete sent several years later to Lamar - 'What a great idea it was to name it Super Bowl,'" she said. "He also thanked Lamar for adding the Roman numerals."
Izenberg remembered teasing a grumpy Packers coach Vince Lombardi ahead of the inaugural game. The legendary Green Bay coach was not happy with all the distractions for his players.
"I saw him standing guard near the hotel pool, growling to players not to even think about getting in," said the Star Ledger columnist.
"I knew how to push his buttons and said 'what a nice place it was for him to train his team with the beautiful ocean right there, a gentle breeze and the hotel pool.'
"He told me to perform an anatomically impossible act."
Ioos said all the hoopla that has grown around the game makes covering the Super Bowl "sort of an Olympics in one day."
The award-winning photographer said shooting the first Super Bowl "was a job. Now it's like Christmas, Thanksgiving.
"Lasting until Super Bowl 50 was like a deadline," he said. "Fifty years makes it really special."
(Editing by Steve Keating)