ATLANTA — Inside the Tropical Diver exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium, people marveled over the Racoon Butterfly Fish, the Pink Skunk Clownfish and the Masked Rabbitfish. Then someone spotted something even rarer.
“Oh, those guys, there are only two of them left,’’ a woman said, pointing at two aging men wearing matching, button-down shirts embossed with a logo that reads, “Never Miss A Super Bowl Club.’’
Tom Henschel, 77, and Don Crisman, 82, founded the club, with membership earned and maintained by having attended all 52 previous Super Bowls. They are here to extend their streak to 53 Sunday by attending Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. There is a third member, Gregory Eaton, 79, from Lansing, Mich., who is in town but did not attend the aquarium event.
“I have a 50-yard line seat,’’ Henschel said, breaking away from a VIP tour at the aquarium to talk to a woman who recognized the Never Missers. “First row, upper level, section 311.’’
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Impatiently, Crisman called out, “C’mon, Tommy.’’
Reluctantly, Henschel ended his conversation.
Instant celebrities the week of each the Super Bowl, the two men attend luncheons together, take VIP tours together, tell their stories together and at Super Bowl LIII, as usual, will sit together.
“Too close, to be honest with you,’’ Henschel said with a hint of a smile.
Henschel, a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and Crisman, a lifelong New England Patriots fan, said they met while waiting in line for tickets to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It was the week of Super Bowl XVII in 1983 in Pasadena, California.
When they discovered they’d both attended every Super Bowl and were in California to extend their streak to 17, they exchanged phone numbers and addresses and developed a friendship — and a club.
Henschel, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area and now lives in Tampa, said he worked for the airlines and did some bartending. Crisman, who lives in Kennebunkport, Maine, said he worked in sales and marketing. But come Super Bowl week, football always trumped work.
The Never Miss club at one point expanded to six men, three of whom have died, according to Crisman. The third active member on Friday did not attend a luncheon held to honor the Never Missers and missed the aquarium tour.
Henschel and Crisman take their credibility seriously. For example, Crisman on Friday produced a $12 ticket from Super Bowl I that he said is the one he used to watch the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.
Crisman said he has had the remaining tickets authenticated, and they are at home in a secure place.
Henschel carries pocket-size photographs of himself holding Super Bowl tickets he said he used to attend every game. Once, Henschel said, a man claimed that he, too, had attended every Super Bowl.
“Where was Super Bowl VIII played?’’ Henschel recalled quizzing the man.
“The Astrodome,’’ the man shot back, according to Henschel, who added, “It was Rice Stadium. The Astrodome wasn’t even open yet.’’
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For anyone thinking about trying to qualify for membership to the Never Miss Club, Henschel said, “I’d have to see all them ticket stubs.’’
Maintaining membership to the Never Miss club has grown costlier. This year the Never Missers paid $1,700 apiece and surely would have paid more had the NFL not continued to provide them tickets at face value.
On Sunday, Crisman will be rooting for his beloved Patriots. Henschel said he’ll be rooting for the Rams. And they’ll both be rooting for their streak that officially will hit 53.
Neither seems particularly concerned that they’ve never attended a Super Bowl party.
“I’ve been at the right place at the right time most of my life,’’ Henschel said.
Standing closeby, Crisman said, “It’s been quite a ride.’’