Though he’s never attended a Super Bowl party, Gregory Eaton has always had plans on Super Bowl Sunday. Eaton is part of a three-member group known as the “Never Miss a Super Bowl Club" (NMSBC), a group of sports lovers who travel across the country yearly to attend the biggest night in football.
Born and raised in Lansing, Michigan, where he is the owner of the beloved Gregory’s Soul Food, Eaton has maintained his Super Bowl ritual since 1967 when the championship first began. But even after decades, Eaton still gets excited every time he walks into a stadium. "The light goes down and you just know the show is about to begin and you’re going to enjoy it,” says Eaton.
This year, the big game is expected to break record-setting viewership numbers as fans watch the Kansas City Chiefs face off against the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas on Sunday. While Allegiant Stadium can only seat 65,000 people, it’s expected there will be close to 150,000 visitors in Sin City over the weekend due to the festivities. As Eaton prepares for his 58th Super Bowl, he reflects fondly on the sport he loves, how he plans the legendary trip each year, and how much has changed in over half a century.
What was the first Super Bowl like?
It was between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. It was advertised as the “World Series of Football.” I was rooting for Green Bay because Herb Adderley, the team’s cornerback, had played for Michigan State. Growing up so close to Detroit I’ve always been a big fan of the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Lions, but on a collegiate level, I’m a Michigan State Spartan through and through.
There were around 60,000 people in the stands, the weather was nice, and the Packers were leading the scoreboard—it was a great day to be a Packers fan. The Packers made it to the Super Bowl the next year and from there I just kept going. Once you see football played on that large of a stage, after following it for an entire season, it sparks something in you.
Who do you usually travel with?
I attended with my family and friends in the beginning, but I had gotten used to going by myself once prices for tickets started to go up. Tickets ranged from $6-12 when I first attended. Now, tickets can start as low as $3,500 and go as high as $40,000. When the Super Bowl XL was held in Pontiac, Michigan in 2002 I was able to have my family in a suite: tickets were about $1,000 a person and I brought ten of my family members.
A decade ago I was able to connect with Don Crisman and Thomas Henschel—the current club members—who have also been to every Super Bowl game. We’ve been sitting at the games together since Super Bowl LI in 2017.
How early do you start planning this trip—and overall, how much do you spend?
There weren’t always hotel policies on length of stays during Super Bowl weekend, but now there are. I book almost a year in advance when it comes to hotels, and make sure to add a couple of days before and after the game. I’m already getting my hotel reservation set for next year’s game in New Orleans. I book flights about six months out, and I get tickets the moment they’re released. Between food, hotels, flights, and tickets—just for me—I spend about $10,000. I split my time between Florida and Michigan, and this is one of the few vacations I take a year. I save for it because I enjoy it. It’s a blessing to be my age and still go, I don’t want to waste it.
What has been your favorite city that has hosted?
New Orleans is at the top of my list. It’s just a fun city to walk around. The people are amazing and the food is even better (inside and outside the stadium walls). I recommend getting one of the bratwurst sausages in the stadium. I’m excited to visit again next year.
And your favorite stadium to visit?
The AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas is up there. It’s designed with intention, it has air conditioning and massive, clear screens so no matter where you sat you could see everything. There isn’t a bad seat in the stadium.
Your favorite Super Bowl halftime show?
Nothing can top Prince, especially when he started singing “Purple Rain” and it started to rain. But my favorite moment of each game is “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I get chills each time, especially when Whitney Houston sang it in 1991.
Favorite Super Bowl memory of all time?
When I first started attending the games, I attended them with my uncle, Charles Brown. I remember pushing him around the stadium in his wheelchair during the games until he was well into his nineties. Another great memory is just getting to see two Black coaches face off at Super Bowl XLI and seeing two Black quarterbacks, Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes, play against each other at Super Bowl LV II. Those were games that no matter the outcome, as Black Americans—we had won.
Is there a memento you keep from each game?
I’ve been saving my tickets. I have them displayed in my home and if you take a look at the first ones you’ll notice they don’t even say “Super Bowl” on them. Instead, it says “World Championship Game, AFL-NFL.”
What advice would you give to someone that wants to go?
Start saving your money now if you want to go next year. There’s no better way to end the football season, for those who regularly watch and have been rooting for their favorite teams, than to see them make it to the final game. You’ll enjoy every moment of it, but it’ll cost you.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler