Detroit News columnist Jerry Green was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
Legendary Detroit News columnist Jerry Green, 93, returned from Los Angeles last month having covered his 56th consecutive Super Bowl in person, the only daily sportswriter in history to attend every championship game.
Actually, it’s a title Green has owned since his good friend, now retired Newark Star Ledger writer Jerry Izenberg, called Green three years ago to tell him he was ending his Super Bowl run at 53 games. “I can’t go; you carry on,” Izenberg said. Hence, as Green has stated: “By default, I became the last man standing.”
Green described this year’s Super Bowl atmosphere in LA to me as “too Hollywood.” Not a surprising depiction from a man who definitely doesn’t seem to get impressed by all the sparkle, just the sports. Hollywood would be challenged to find a screenwriter capable of improving on the story of Jerry’s life, both personally and professionally.
A fully vaccinated Green experienced a breakthrough case of COVID last November. While recovered, the status of his challenges with pulmonary fibrosis and neuropathy may play a role in his traveling to Arizona next February to cover Super Bowl LVII. This year’s trip took a little bit of coaxing by the NFL.
“The league has been very, very good to me,” Green said. “And the truth is, in 2021, I pretty much decided I was going to stop. I was the last man to have covered them all but the league asked me to go.”
Being honored to be, as Green described it, “Summoned by the league,” gave him added incentive to make the pilgrimage to last year’s Super Bowl in Tampa, that and he wanted to have another chance to witness and chronicle the amazing career of quarterback Tom Brady. Brady and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers went on to easily defeat the Kansas City Chiefs.
Brady made headlines March 13 announcing he was ending his short-lived two-month retirement to return to the Buccaneers for his 23rd NFL season. Despite having already won 7 Super Bowls, Brady claimed he still had “unfinished business.”
If Green does decide to sit out next year’s championship game, his Super Bowl coverage streak of 56 consecutive games will have ended where it all began — Los Angeles, the site of the first Super Bowl in 1967. Turns out the number 56 itself, as you’ll read further on, influenced Green’s decision to keep his streak alive.
An old proverb says: “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Jerry Green has logged far more than a thousand miles on his way to attending 56 Super Bowls. However, it turns out, the introduction to another sport is what initially whet his appetite and led to his eventual passion for sharing sports with the rest of the world.
Green was born on April 15, 1928, in Manhattan Island, New York, but spent his formative years in Long Island. He shared that he identifies with Judaism more on a heritage level than on its faith. “But you would still like a good corned-beef sandwich?” I asked, to which he replied, “I prefer pastrami.”
Green’s parents belonged to a Reform synagogue and Jerry was bar mitzvahed. I suggested that if he received the traditional old fashion gift of a fountain pen, he would’ve probably written a sports column with it. For the record he said: “I got a baseball mitt.” I should’ve known better.
Green recalls vividly his awakening to sports. “I remember the day before my 8th birthday, my father told me, ‘the baseball season is opening today.’” It was a classic match-up between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.
“I was immediately interested,” said Green. “My father told me I could listen to the game on a radio station after school.”
It would turn out to be an early birthday gift of sorts that would impact his son’s life, and life’s work, for the next 85 years. “That one game got you hooked on sports?” I asked, to which Green emphatically replied: “Yes, very much.”
A month later Green’s uncle took Jerry to the Polo Grounds to see the Giants versus the Pittsburgh Pirates. “That was my first baseball game. I was awed,” said Green. Later that year, his father treated him to a Yankees-Washington Senators doubleheader at the mecca of baseball — Yankee Stadium.
It had a profound impact on his baseball allegiance. “I was immediately transformed to a Yankees fan. I deeply loved Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, who was a rookie that year.”
Jerry Green did have childhood dreams of being a professional athlete but a reality check steered him in a different direction. “I loved newspapers and I found out rather young in life, I could not hit the curveball and I didn’t become very large. So I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete. So I did the next best thing, I became a sportswriter. And that took awhile, but it happened.”
Love of Country
It happened, but not before Jerry first served his country. He was scheduled to have his pre-induction physical on May 15, 1946, while still a senior in high school. Said Green: “They called my home and said don’t bother to come in.” And then the Korean War began in 1950. “So I registered again and I was deferred to finish my education.”
Finishing his education would include obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University, a Master of Science in Journalism from Boston University, followed by entry into officer candidate school at the U.S. naval station in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1953. He was commissioned an officer on Jan. 5, 1953.
“I am very proud of my Navy background,” he said. “I am a two generation Navy family. My father served in WWI aboard the U.S.S. San Diego.” Jerry would serve for three years with two tours of duty during the Korean War, evenly split — one aboard the U.S.S. Northampton and his second tour as a press officer at on-shore positions in Japan and Taiwan.
Green is a very proud American and a true patriot. “If I was going to serve, which I had to do, and I did willingly, I wanted to be a naval officer a step ahead of my father’s advancement, which I believe is what happens in the United States,” inferring that America provides the opportunity for future generations to improve on their lot in life.
Green served on active duty as a lieutenant junior grade and was later promoted to lieutenant. Upon reflecting on his service to his country he said: “I got more out of the Navy then the Navy got out of me.”
Tour of Duty Ends, Career Begins
Upon returning from Japan in 1956 at the end of his three-year stint in the Navy, Green wasted no time in beginning his pursuit of a career in journalism. “I tried to get a job in New York and was very unsuccessful,” he said, “I got a menial job with the Long Island Star Journal. I kept looking for a job. I was very frustrated and angry on one of my day’s off and walked into the offices of the Associated Press (AP) and asked for the general sports editor.” He walked out with a new job offer as an AP correspondent in Ann Arbor, which he enthusiastically accepted in September 1956.
Upon his move to Ann Arbor, Green became friends with members of the ’56 University of Michigan football team. Among several books he has authored is his penning of University of Michigan Football Vault: The Story of the Wolverines, a detailed account of the 135 years of Michigan football. Updated just over three years ago, the book features a vast collection of photographs, artwork and memorabilia preserved in the university’s campus archives.
Green can take some solace in knowing that during his tenure at the AP, he was able to witness something he never saw in 56 Super Bowl assignments — the Detroit Lions winning a championship in 1957.
In 1963 Jerry accepted an offer to become a sportswriter for the Detroit News. It’s only fitting the first game he covered was the Michigan-Navy college football game. In 1965 he became the paper’s beat reporter for the Detroit Lions. The Detroit News would be his one and only journalistic home for the next 41 years.
Green would go on to cover all of Detroit’s major sports teams over his four-decade career, but in 1972 he said, “I changed my entire ambition. I wanted to become a sports columnist.” This gave Green the opportunity to move beyond the day-to-day coverage of a single event and instead interject more of his personality and perspective of the sports he covered.
Despite all his travels, odd working hours and a life of perpetual deadlines, Jerry Green’s daughter Jenny, who lives in Troy, told me that when it comes to her father, “he was always proud of family … family always came first.”
A funny aside though, is that Jenny admitted to me that both she and her mother, Nancy, of blessed memory, were never sports fans, not in the least. With that admission, I felt like I had just gotten a big sports scoop of my own.
Nancy though “was a faithful reader of all his stories,” Jenny said, and would “help him turn in his columns” to the paper. And though Jenny, a self-described “girlie girl” growing up, took great pride every time someone made the connection between her last name and her father’s occupation, “When I told my father that people would say, ‘‘oh, you’re Jerry Green’s daughter,’ he would always reply ‘no, I’m Jenny Green’s father.’”
Jenny told me that her parents got engaged after only two weeks of dating and were married four months after that. Nancy, Detroit born and raised, passed away from breast cancer in 2002 at age 68. “And how long were you married?” I asked Jerry, to which he replied in a most moving and memorable way: “40 years, 6 months and 2 days.” To me, his response came from the reporter within him, providing the exact details to make sure the full impact of his loss was felt.
Memories Over Memorabilia
Despite his legendary station in the world of journalism, Jenny describes her father as someone who is inherently shy and humble. In a recent Newsweek article, it was written of Green: “For all his pride in his Super Bowl streak, Green is not awash in memorabilia … He lives in a one-bedroom apartment in an independent living facility in Grosse Pointe.” There is a photo of Jerry with Joe Namath from Super Bowl III and a photo with legendary Detroit boxing great Joe Louis. “Other than that,” Newsweek reported, “there’s no clutter of artifacts from a career in which he covered championships by all four Detroit teams.”
What might be lacking in physical evidence to observe of his incomparable career, there are the never-ending stories Green still shares that Jenny agrees is proof of him having a photographic memory. “I told him recently I wish it was on paper,” of the endless list of milestones that have yet to be shared in an autobiography.
“He’s done things and been a part of things, talked to people that no one else in the world has had contact with. He’s interviewed Muhammad Ali, went to I don’t know how many Olympics. He’s covered the Indy 500, the Masters. He wrote the way he wanted to write, and he’s been awarded for it.”
Green was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2005, he was the recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award by the Professional Football Writers of America, commonly referred to as the “Writer’s Wing” of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Eleven times he’s been voted Michigan’s Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
A Very Super Sunday
Though Green officially retired from the Detroit News in 2004, he continues to have an open invitation to submit columns when he has something on his mind he would like to share. His coverage of this year’s Super Bowl in Los Angeles included six columns, including a rare one-on-one phone interview with Matthew Stafford while in LA prior to the game.
Green recalls fondly the reception he received in the press box at Super Bowl 55 in Tampa last year when his unmatched streak of covering games was announced to the media in attendance. Jerry told me he was given a rousing round of applause adding: “I didn’t detect a boo,” he said with a laugh.
The NFL was again very accommodating to Green during this year’s Super Bowl Week. He was able to forgo traveling to a convention center to register and receive his media credentials. Instead, the league delivered them personally to his hotel room. A special seat was provided to Jerry to limit the number of steps he would have to maneuver in the press box, and an NFL public relations representative was assigned to him to bring refreshments, among other amenities he needed.
As mentioned earlier, there’s an additional backstory that Green acknowledges was added motivation to make it to his 56th consecutive Super Bowl last month. And it just might provide the motivation to end his streak now. The number 56 — the number that could forever connect Jerry Green to his boyhood hero, New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio, the ballplayer who to this day holds the record for having at least one hit in … 56 straight games.
My conversations thus far with Jerry Green have been limited to phone conversations. I’m hoping he’ll accept a lunch invitation from me in the very near future. The pastrami sandwich is on me. I only ask that he serve up another round of great sports stories.