The group of friends has gone to every Super Bowl since the AFL-NFL World Championship Game in 1967
With Super Bowl LII just around the corner, a crew of lifelong friends will be making their annual trip to watch the game in person — just as they have done for the last 51 years.
The group, known as “The Super Bowl Five,” have attended every Super Bowl, starting with AFL-NFL World Championship Game at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1967 (which would later become known as Super Bowl I). The excitement they experienced that first game convinced the friends that they should attend the next championship game —and each one after that.
The group — made up of Sylvan Schefler, Lew Rappaport, Al Schragis, Larry McDonald, and Harvey Rothenberg, who range from their late-70s to mid-80s — have been going to the big game every year for more than a half-century. On Sunday, they will be making trip No. 52 when they fly out to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis to see the match-up between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.
“It’s hard to imagine that all of us can figure out a way for 52 years to make sure that, no matter what happens, we get together at this time of year — it’s so unique,” Schefler, 79, of New York City, tells PEOPLE. “It’s a very meaningful thing, and it has started to hit home over the last number of years, you know.”
On Super Bowl Sunday, like they have so many times before, the men will be bringing their custom rings, ties and jackets. What they’ll leave at home, though, are their wives: That’s because making the day a “boys only” event is one of their only rules. Just like every time before, it’ll be just the five best friends enjoying the gridiron, together.
“It’s very hard to describe nostalgia on this level, and to have had the opportunity to go to every single stadium and every place and get to become a part of this event,” says Schefler, a New York Giants fan. “But it isn’t the event, it’s the relationship with these same people. This is about friends.”
The Super Bowl Five — who are all military vets — live along the East Coast, ranging from Florida, Georgia and New York. That means traveling can cost a pretty penny.
Yet despite the price of airfare and the ever-increasing cost of Super Bowl tickets (the lowest price for a ticket from a major ticket reseller is almost $3,500 for a nosebleed seat, whereas the price for a seat the half-full stadium hosting Super Bowl I was just $10), the group says money won’t hold them back.
However, they almost hit a snag in the 1970s when member Larry McDonald’s construction business hit troubled times, and he considered skipping the Super Bowl because he couldn’t afford it. The group teamed up to buy his ticket.
“It’s hard to define it, isn’t it? It’s hard to even explain it,” Schefler, an investment banker, says of the friendship he shares with the group. “Those of us who’ve done public speaking and those of us who’ve been around in the corporate world, it’s hard to describe this.”
Naturally, over the course of 50 years, there have been some ups and downs shared among the friends. Harvey Rothenberg’s father died just days before the game one year, and the group convinced him to attend the game to grieve among friends.
Looking back, Schefler says the Super Bowl has transformed in many ways from its first iteration.
“The first few did not have showmanship. The showmanship of the Super Bowl event, it’s evolved over a period of time — it went from a game to an event,” he says. “It was fun, and it was nice, but even from the selling of souvenirs: they used to sell them on the streets, on the street corners, guys after the game. Today, it’s become a huge business.”
For Schefler, one of his favorite memories has been watching his Giants pounce the New England Patriots (twice) in the championship game, and he says the best place to host a Super Bowl is the Big Easy, New Orleans, which has “a certain ring to it” with its famous party atmosphere.
Having a fun Super Bowl venue can really help when the game itself is lacking.
“The great story was Super Bowl number three with Joe Namath, when the AFC beats the NFC in that great game,” he says. “There were a lot of great games, and there were a lot of clinkers, too.”
With their once dark hair now silver, the men know there will come a time when the tradition will end — but it has been a joy for a long time thus far.
When asked if their yearly tradition has ever become a chore over the course of half a century, Schefler can’t say that it has.
“It remains fun,” he says. “It has remained fun for all those years.”