After 56 Super Bowls, Jerry Green steps away: 'I've never wanted to do anything else'

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Bloomfield Hills — For the longest time, reporter Jerry Green had been quietly driven by the symmetry of matching childhood idol Joe DiMaggio. But in the end, it was another professional sports icon, quarterback Tom Brady, who helped convince Green it was OK to step away.

This year, for the first time since the Super Bowl's 1967 inception, Green won't be in attendance to cover the game, ending his unmatched streak of 56 in a row.

Former Detroit News columnist Jerry Green, the only writer to attend every Super Bowl, begins working on his column, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, on January 19, 2023.

Green's admiration for DiMaggio is rooted in the slugger's 56-game hitting streak in 1941, which remains one of baseball's cherished and untouchable records. Growing up in New York, a 13-year-old Green had the good fortune of attending a doubleheader during the streak, seeing DiMaggio collect three hits in the two games against Boston to reach 43 straight, drawing him within two of matching the previous mark, set by Willie Keeler at the end of the previous century.

Green wasn't chasing anyone or anything but the next big story when he covered the first NFL-AFL Championship game in January 1967, one of fewer than 400 reporters who attended the contest played before more than 61,000 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Entering his fourth year with The Detroit News, after a seven-year run with the Associated Press, Green had just finished his first season as the paper's Lions beat reporter. Ahead of training camp that year, he had been called off vacation on June 8 to report the AFL-NFL merger that would result in the January championship game.

"We had no idea what it would be," Green said. "At that time, baseball was the No. 1 sport. My ambition had been to become a baseball writer. I was actually offered the baseball-writing job twice at The News and twice at the Free Press, but turned it down because I liked pro football so much. I was very fortunate that I really worked through the growth of pro football."

More:Green: It's time to end this Super Bowl streak after 56 years

Green still vividly remembers Packers receiver Max McGee catching the game's opening score, pantomiming the full extension to haul in quarterback Bart Starr's pass. Green also remembers the game, which ended in a 35-10 Packers victory, wasn't particularly competitive.

It wasn't until the third edition that Green feels the Super Bowl started living up to its name — thanks, in large part, to the star power of quarterback Joe Namath, who called his shot before leading the Jets to an upset over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts.

In a room littered with memorabilia, much of it branded with various logos from past Super Bowls, Green has a framed picture on a bookcase. It's an iconic photo of a small group sitting around Namath, poolside, at the Galt Ocean Mile Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The QB had blown off media obligations twice to begin that week, but had agreed to an impromptu talk with a handful of reporters in the more unconventional setting. That group included Green.

"Si Burick of the Dayton Daily News came up to me and said Namath has agreed to speak to a few of us at the pool," Green said. "My response to Si was, 'Are you s------- me?' ... Namath was charming as hell. He was terrific." 

Making the memory even more meaningful for Green was having watched Namath blow off rival reporter Joe Falls of the Free Press moments earlier.

That scene happened more than a half-century ago, but the 94-year-old Green is able to recall and share the details like it was last week. And he's been in the press box for every blowout and nail-biter in the 53 Super Bowls since Namath and the Jets' improbable upset.

One of the only things Green didn't see was the Lions play in a Super Bowl. As a young reporter at the Associated Press, he helped cover the team's last championship in 1957. And he joined The News the same year William Clay Ford bought the franchise.

Green admitted he often thought he'd see the day where the Lions would make it, and he was even prepared to retire along with the occurrence, but he also acknowledges he wasn't surprised the team never ascended to the top of the mountain after spending years reporting on the team. He respected Ford, the person but felt he lacked the necessary aggression the league's more successful owners showed to achieve that level of success.

As for Green's streak, much like DiMaggio, his run of 56 wasn't without some close calls.

In 1997, his wife Nancy was ill, so instead of flying to the game in New Orleans, they drove to Alabama, so she could stay with her sister. When Green arrived at the Superdome for the game a few days later, he learned Nancy had been hospitalized following a minor stroke. He immediately made plans to head back to Alabama to be with her, but she insisted he stay for the game and keep his streak alive. He did, hopping on the first bus out of town the next morning.

Then, in 2004, when Green left The Detroit News as a full-time employee, he wrestled with how he'd pitch continuing to cover the game as a freelance reporter to then-publisher Mark Silverman. But, before Green could even find the right words to ask, Silverman proposed the arrangement while the two sat in his office.

Finally, after the Newark Star-Ledger's Jerry Izenburg made the decision to snap his own Super Bowl streak at 53, leaving Green as the last reporter standing, he decided he would follow suit in 2021. But he was pulled back by two things: the opportunity to cover Brady's 10th trip, and first outside New England, as well as the NFL making an active push for Green's attendance.

The NFL went out of its way the past few years to accommodate Green, going as far as to offer credentials to a family member who provided physical support. Two years later, it was watching Brady walk off the field following Monday's playoff loss to Dallas and sharing a moment with his family that Green finalized his own decision to not attend this year's Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.

“Jerry Green is part of the very fabric of the Super Bowl!," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a statement to The Detroit News. "A Super Bowl legend, he is the last writer to cover all 56 games thus far. From the humble beginnings of this championship game to today, Jerry has chronicled the NFL’s story every step of the way.  We will miss seeing him in Arizona, but we will always be grateful for his outstanding writing in bringing the stories of our game, teams, and players to millions of fans for more than half a century."

Even if was the right decision, given his own health, it doesn't mean it's been an easy one. Green solemnly paused when he reflected on his run ending and considered what it would be like to watch the game on TV for the first time.

"It's something I've never done," he said. "I don't know. That's something that bothered me — still does. Guys get credentialed to the game, to sit in the press box and then sit in the media workroom at the stadium and watch it on TV. I've always believed if you're going to cover a game, you've got to be there."

As time has caught up to Green, his gratitude persists. He fully understands he's experienced a life many could only dream about. He succinctly says, "I've never wanted to do anything else."

And he's also thankful his mind has remained sharp and clear, allowing him to share many of the countless memories he's crafted through his journey.

"In all truth, keeping my memory into my mid-90s has been a blessing. I hate this," he said, pointing to the oxygen tube leading to his nose. "I hate the walker, I hate the wheelchair, I hate having to switch glasses when looking at the (computer) screen and reading my notes. It's a real nuisance, but I believe I'm very much blessed being able to sit here and chat."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers