Iconic Detroit News columnist Jerry Green, last to cover every Super Bowl, has died at age 94

Detroit News

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For the first 56 years, Detroit always had been represented at the Super Bowl — by one man.

Jerry Green, a legendary sportswriter in Michigan, first at the Associated Press and later with The Detroit News, who was the only reporter to cover each of the first 56 Super Bowls, died Thursday night, according to his daughter, Jenny Klein. He was 94.

In February 2020, Green officially became the last reporter to see all of the Super Bowls in person, having outlasted Jerry Izenberg, a retired sports columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger. Izenberg called Green up weeks earlier and said he was out. Green repeatedly tried to get Izenberg to change his mind, but it was done.

“Jerry,” Izenberg told Green, “I can’t go. You carry on.”

And so, Green did, right through Super Bowl LVI, before announcing the end of his streak in January 2023.

“To me, a proud honorable streak,” Green wrote in sharing the news, tough news for him, that he would not be covering Super Bowl LVII. “Hard work. A bit of notoriety, lots of deadlines — and dead ideas.”

Green joined The News in 1963 and was the Lions beat writer from 1965-72, at which point he shifted to a columnist role he kept until his official retirement in 2004.

He continued writing occasionally for The News, including week-long coverage of the Super Bowl through 2022. His byline ran in The News until just weeks ago.

“Jerry was an icon at The News and among sports writers,” said Gary Miles, editor and publisher of The News. “And he was unabashedly proud of the paper, his contributions and his colleagues. He gave us his all and we’ll miss him.”

Before The News, Green was at the Associated Press’ Detroit bureau, with whom he saw the Lions win the 1957 NFL championship. Green believed he was the only writer who covered championships for all four major pro teams in Detroit: the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons. Only the Tigers and Red Wings were older than him — and barely.

“We are saddened to hear of the passing of former Detroit News columnist Jerry Green,” the Lions wrote in a team statement Friday. “Jerry’s work ethic, professionalism and commitment to his craft made a significant impact on journalism within the city of Detroit and around the country for more than a half-century.

“Jerry’s dedication to covering the NFL was perhaps best reflected in his unprecedented streak of covering 56 consecutive Super Bowls over the course of his career. His work was instrumental in promoting the game of football and expanding interest in the NFL. We extend our thoughts and prayers to the Green family and all who knew him.”

Green covered everything, but he made his name reporting on the NFL — before and after the merger of 1970, a story he helped break, and a merger that led to the creation of the AFL–NFL World Championship Game. It eventually became known as the Super Bowl.

“Jerry Green was synonymous with the Super Bowl,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “He chronicled the story of our game to millions of fans, helping bring them closer to the action. 

“All of us in the NFL mourn his passing.”

One of Green’s most memorable moments on the beat developed poolside at a hotel, outside Miami, in early 1969, before Super Bowl III. A shirtless Joe Namath had skipped the mandatory pregame press conferences, enraging commissioner Pete Rozelle, and instead agreed to talk to a small gathering of eight or nine reporters from his beach chair at a Fort Lauderdale hotel — Green was in the right place at the right time; Brent Musberger, then a sportswriter in Chicago, was, too.

That was a few days before the underdog New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts, 16-7, at the Orange Bowl on Jan. 12, 1969. Most recall Namath guaranteeing victory by the pool. He didn’t, Green liked to remind his longtime readers over the years.

“Namath charmed us for a half-hour,” Green wrote for The News in 2020. “But, his famous ‘I guarantee you,’ his assurance of an AFL and Jets victory, was spoken at a gridiron dinner two days later.”

Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss took the famous picture of the poolside chat. Green is right there, with a crewcut, in the second row.

Green was born in New York City in 1928 and went to prep school at the same Connecticut Hotchkiss School future Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr. attended. After high school, Green attended Brown University, a classmate of future Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. He also attended Boston University.

He broke into journalism in 1952 at the New York Journal-American, before enlisting in the Navy in 1953. On duty in Hong Kong in 1955, he bought the typewriter he would use for years in Detroit — replaced in his later years by a laptop and an iPhone. He was a regular texter, right up until the end.

Unable to get a job in New York, according to a 2019 Crain’s profile, Green was referred for a job at the Associated Press in Ann Arbor. He started in 1956, and eventually became Detroit’s AP sports editor.

“I got a tremendous break starting out with Michigan football,” Green told Crain’s. “It was like a rookie reporter getting to cover the New York Yankees.”

Eventually, Green arrived at The News, where he was fair — but could be blunt and harsh, too.

After New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson died in a plane crash in August 1979, Green wrote, “I am not a person who believes that when a man dies he automatically becomes saintly and should only be praised. A wise man I once knew described a cantankerous lout thusly: ‘When he was alive, he was an SOB. And now that he’s dead, he’s a dead SOB.'” Green called him “surly,” “crude,” “rude” — and a “winner.” Still, the Yankees were incensed the next time they arrived to play the Tigers in Detroit, with several wanting to physically fight Green. Reggie Jackson, long a Green ally, calmed things down.

In the 1970s, Green dubbed Detroit the “City of Chumps,” for all its poor play across every sport — a not-so-kind play off the 1930s moniker, “City of Champions.” Green loved the term “ziggy,” to describe a coach’s firing, and he got to use it a lot on the Lions beat. He also loved exclamation points, but was hardly a cheerleader.

While at The News, Green was named Michigan’s sportswriter of the year 10 times, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Green — the perfect counterpart for so many years to another late News sports columnist, Joe Falls, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame; Green mostly played it straight in print, and Falls a lot looser — also authored eight books, his first in 1969, and his last in 2008. 

Green absolutely adored newspapers, and still was pitching stories to The News’ sports editor until two days before his death, when he was watching the World Baseball Classic championship game between Team USA and Japan. He complimented oft-overlooked copy editors on their headlines, and was grateful for their good catches.

“That headline is higher quality than the column,” he emailed once.

“You should be my agent,” he emailed another time. “But 10 percent of zero is 0.”

The industry’s downturn saddened him, but not the effort of the scaled-back newsrooms. He regularly emailed and texted writers, complimenting their work, on big stories and small.

For years, Green and his wife, Nancy, split their time between Metro Detroit and Palm Desert, California. Nancy died of breast cancer in 2002, and in 2010, Jerry returned to Michigan full-time, living in Grosse Pointe. In recent years, he lived in an apartment in Blomfield Hills.

Even in recent years, Green was a semi-regular at Ford Field for Lions games and Comerica Park for Tigers games, outfitted in his familiar, earth-toned flak jacket. He always kept score and notes, even if he wasn’t on deadline. In 2021, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh made him an honorary captain for a gameday, and Green was touched by the players’ reception, particularly Ronnie Bell, injured himself, helping Green, walking with a cane, to mid-field.

“I’m what I never wanted to be: a bent-over old man,” Green said. “Those kids were special, fine young gentlemen.”

Green played golf into his 80s, and was an avid tennis fan. And he worked out regularly, always with an eye on the next Super Bowl — he saw two in Michigan: XVI at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1982, and XL at Ford Field in 2005. 

But, he never got to see the Lions in the big game, his big game, not that he ever was expecting to.

“I don’t think I’ll last that long,” Green told Crain’s, in 2019.

Green watched the latest Super Bowl, LVII, a thriller between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, on television for the first time, still taking notes out of habit.

“I’d have preferred to have been around, in person,” wrote Green, “to ask questions.”

Green is survived by his daughter, Jenny Klein.

Funeral arrangements were pending Friday afternoon.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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