As he walked into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum nearly four decades ago and noticed the thousands of empty seats, Len Seidl couldn’t imagine he was about to witness an event that would change his favorite sport forever.
The part-time Naples resident watched his beloved Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the inaugural Super Bowl on Jan. 15, 1967. Only at the time, football’s biggest game hadn’t even earned the “Super” nickname.
Nor did it really deserve such an exalted title.
The first so-called World Championship Game — it was renamed the Super Bowl the following year — only drew 61,946 fans to a stadium that could seat 93,000 spectators.
“At the time you don’t know it’s history in the making,” said Seidl, a former Packers season- ticket holder. “Otherwise, I would have saved more memorabilia. You would have a room or house full.”
He practically does. His other home in Luxemburg, Wis., is a virtual shrine to all the Super Bowls he has attended, with plenty of seat cushions and hats commemorating each of his trips to the annual event.
Seidl, 85, also still has his ticket stub and program from that first Super Bowl to go along with his four tickets to see Super Bowl XL between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Detroit’s Ford Field.
One look at the tickets reveals how much has changed in the last 40 years. His seats near midfield for the Packers-Chiefs game cost $12 each, while his end-zone tickets for this year’s showdown were $600.
But they’re still worth every penny to Seidl, who estimates he has attended about 15 Super Bowls. His love of football is apparent to anyone who visits either of his homes.
No fewer than three Packers throw rugs surround the swimming pool at his Naples residence. When he watches football games in local sports bars, Seidl often brings along a Packers bobblehead doll that dances to Hank Williams Jr.’s rendition of the “Monday Night Football” theme song.
He has even more keepsakes in his Wisconsin house, which at one time included a life-size stick figure of Packers quarterback Brett Favre in the front yard.
The Wisconsin home also holds all those Super Bowl collectibles, photos of himself with Favre and a golf bag autographed by more than 100 former football stars — including about 30 people who played in that inaugural Super Bowl.
Seidl literally has kept the Packers close to his heart all his life. Seidl says he was born across the street from a cow pasture that now serves as the site of Lambeau Field, the Packers’ home stadium.
The retired realtor and developer later played a vital role in helping Green Bay land the state university now known as Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“When you’re born in Green Bay, it’s natural,” Seidl said. “We’re all good fans.”
Few fans share Seidl’s devotion. Even fewer share his connections.
Seidl and retired circuit judge Robert Parins — the Packers’ president from 1982-89 — once owned summer cottages next to each other. They developed such a loyal friendship that Parins often invites Seidl to the Super Bowl or sells him the tickets at face value.
“It began through golf, I think,” said Parins, who has served on the Packers’ board of directors since 1966. “We’ve been golfing together for many years. We’re friends. Our wives were close friends. We’ve spent a lot of time together. He’s quite a fan. He’s got quite a collection of memorabilia, more than I have.”
Parins isn’t accompanying Seidl to the Super Bowl this year.
Seidl instead is bringing along Naples residents Jim Heyrman and Jack Sherk. Sherk’s daughter, Sally Bradford, plans to meet them in Detroit.
They all will arrive at Ford Field together, but they won’t be cheering together.
Bradford is a Steelers fan who lives in Pittsburgh. Seidl plans to root for Seattle because Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren held the same position at Green Bay when the Packers won their last Super Bowl.
“I definitely would like to see Mike win,” Seidl said. “He’s a great gentleman and coach.”
But he doesn’t admire Holmgren enough to wear any Seahawks gear to the game. Seidl instead will continue his tradition of going to the big game dressed in a Packers shirt. If the Detroit weather forces him to bundle up, Seidl will sport a Packers jacket.
Seidl doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary in wearing his favorite team’s colors even if the Packers aren’t playing in the Super Bowl.
“He’s certainly the most loyal fan the Green Bay Packers could possibly have,” Heyrman said.
So it’s only fitting that Seidl’s most vivid Super Bowl memories involve the Packers. He has experienced the high of seeing Desmond Howard’s game-clinching kickoff return in the Packers’ 35-21 victory over the New England Patriots nine years ago and the low of having his pocket picked in New Orleans that same weekend.
Even the Packers’ disappointing 2005 season hasn’t reduced Seidl’s passion for the game. He can’t wait to head to Detroit and help his friends relish a Super Bowl experience he has never taken for granted.
As long as he stays healthy enough to make these trips, Seidl won’t let his age keep him from savoring one more decade of Super Bowl memories.
“I want to make it to the 50th,” Seidl said.