New Orleans — It was on Bourbon Street, in ancient Galatoire's restaurant, or in a press session listening to one of the Harbaugh brothers spiel away, or just when stopped by a conversationalist that I heard the question about Super Bowl endurance for the 1,000th time.
"You're one of the three, four guys who've covered all of these, aren't you?"
"Yep" I responded.
I saw something that resembled the same face in the mirror in the morning. It was, well, sort of recognizable as the guy sitting in the photo with Joe Namath poolside at Super Bowl III. A bit pudgier with some wrinkles and puffiness around the eyes. Wire-framed eyeglasses instead of horn-rimmed. Hair silvery gray, moderate length, rather than the brown Princeton crewcut.
The guy in the mirror looked more like a bedraggled survivor.
"So how do you keep your streak on going?" came the next question. "What's the secret of your longevity?"
"Formaldehyde!" I said.
Honest admission: the answer was rehearsed. And it was not original.
It emerged from the best question-and-answer session I had ever attended and detailed in all these 47 Super Bowls.
There are frequent flashbacks to John Riggins and Super Bowl XVII in 1983 in California. John was with the Redskins then. He had skipped a year of football and for a practical reason had returned. But whatever drummer Riggins heard had a different rhythm.
He skipped the media gab session to the chagrin of Commissioner Pete Rozelle. So he promised a single press conference. We the media packed the room at the Redskins encampment in Costa Mesa.
Riggins was a man of many disguises. They included the Mohawk arrow hairdo and the shaved-head look. This time he showed up with a bushy mess of curly hair.
Instead of the top hat and tails Riggins would sometimes wear in Washington high society, he arrived in camouflage pants and Tee shirt proclaiming the Five O'Clock Club.
He popped through the curtains with a word-I-cannot-use eating grin.
Riggins was on stage.
"John, to what do you attribute your longevity?" a reporter asked.
That's when Riggins produced the "formaldehyde" quote that I have preserved now for 30 years.
Somebody wondered: "How do you fit in with the Washington crowd?"
"Life in Washington is like being on a roll of toilet paper," said Riggins. "You know you're going to get smeared, but you try not to get flushed down."
Riggins would win the game on a fourth-down-and-1 at the Dolphins' 43 with burst through the middle for a touchdown. After the Redskins' 27-17 victory, President Ronald Reagan telephoned the locker room with congratulations.
"Ron's the president, but I'm the king," Riggins told us.
This is my 47th countdown to a Super Bowl — lots of laughter with quotes about "nose-pickers" from Matt Millen (sorry Detroit); and Namath talking about "Johnnie Walker Red"; and Jim McMahon mooning a TV news helicopter here in New Orleans; Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson telling us "Terry Bradshaw couldn't spell CAT if you spotted him the C and the A"; and one of our enlightened journalists asking Doug Williams, "Have you always been a black quarterback?"; and John Matuszak being spied upon wandering along Bourbon Street at 3 in the morning.
"The Raiders aren't a team where you always have to straighten your tie," Matuszak — Tooz - told us. "As long as you put out on practice and on Sundays.
"As long as you stay out of jail."
Tooz did have a curfew at Super Bowl XV in 1981.
We the media never did have any curfews at the Super Bowl. Out till 3 a.m., and make the 8:30 a.m., media session with the Broncos or the Giants or the Steelers.
But a guy who once upon a time at Super Bowl IX in 1975 and Super Bowl XII in '78 would linger spinning anecdotes with guys like Reggie Jackson and Tom Dempsey in The Old Absinthe House until 3 a.m. has a self-imposed curfew now. How is 10 p.m.? And for me, the Super Bowl requires more than formaldehyde.
Survival instincts, motivation, endurance and a horseshoe figure into the process.
Jerry Green is one of three newspaper writers who have covered every Super Bowl. Ed Pope of the Miami Herald and Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger are the two others.