Al Schragis made it to every Super Bowl since 1967 with his four pals.
They were the "Super Bowl Five."
But on Sunday, the group of five was down to four, with the remaining members toasting and paying tribute to Schragis, who died on the eve of Super Bowl LII. He was 87.
"This is hard. We're very sad," said Harvey Rothenberg, who was at U.S. Bank Stadium with his three pals as they waited for the game to start.
Rothenberg said he and the other guys learned two weeks ago that Schragis wasn't well enough to make the trip.
He was "really disappointed" when the doctor told him he couldn't go, said Cathy Heller, Schragis' daughter. His health deteriorated quickly after that, she said.
Sitting at the game Sunday, Rothenberg said he and his friends — Lew Rapaport, Larry McDonald and Sylvan Schefler — shared mixed emotions about being there. The four arrived in Minnesota from different points across the country. "Our hearts are heavy," he said.
The five have been at the Super Bowl since it kicked off in 1967 in Los Angeles. There were eight who went to that first game, but only five made it an annual rite.
"We all love football," said Rothenberg. "But more than that, we all developed a camaraderie. We're like brothers."
It was an exclusive club. They wore blazers with their own "Super Bowl 5" patches. They have suitcases marked with their club's insignia, watches, cuff links, rings and belt buckles. "We had Super Bowl underwear and a robe," Rothenberg said. And for the chilly locations like Minnesota, they have their own wool-and-leather jackets with "The Super Bowl Five" embroidered on the back and their nicknames on the front.
Schragis was "The Prez," said Rothenberg, who is known as "The Prof."
The five of them were "like little boys" when it came to their Super Bowl Five club, said Schragis' daughter.
And it all stemmed from a vow that they would go to as many Super Bowls as they could. "I'm sure he [Schragis] would have wanted us to go today," Rothenberg said.
Later this week, the three will head to New York for Schragis' funeral. After that, the four remaining members hope to meet again for Super Bowl LIII.
They'll keep their Super Bowl tradition alive "as long as we can," Rothenberg said.
Mary Lynn Smith