This article appeared in the spring/summer 2023 Hotchkiss Magazine.
Green, the only reporter to cover every Super Bowl, died in March 2023. Detroit sportswriter Will Burchfield ’10 reflects on their friendship and the bond they shared through Hotchkiss.
By Will Burchfield '10
He never asked for it, but Jerry Green ’46 always drew a crowd. He was a man of small stature but a giant in Detroit sports as a venerable columnist with The Detroit News. Whenever he entered a press box in the time that I knew him, fellow reporters would stop by to shake hands with history. He was a mentor to some, a model to all. “Starry Eyes,” they nicknamed him at Hotchkiss in the 1946 Mischianza. Oh, what stars those eyes would see.
To me, Jerry was a friend. I took my time getting to know him, if only because I knew exactly who he was: the only journalist on this planet to have covered every single Super Bowl. There were 388 reporters at the game’s inception in 1967. By 2019, Jerry was the last one standing.
I moved to Detroit in 2016 to cover the city’s four sports teams. I’d see Jerry now and then in the press box at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, but wouldn’t want to intrude. He’d be watching the game carefully, always keeping score. A few years later, I finally said hello. I extended my hand and told him I was a fellow graduate of Hotchkiss, Class of 2010. Those starry eyes shined. Jerry gripped my hand and told me to sit down in the chair next to him. So I sat, and we talked, and we watched a baseball game, a pair of sportswriters in Detroit by way of Lakeville, CT. Jerry continued to keep score.
We reminisced about our days in that tiny corner of Connecticut. I marveled at his Hotchkiss as he marveled at mine. He told me they had mass in the Chapel every week and sit-down dinners every night. Everything was mandatory, and teachers were masters. F-7, he marked on his scorecard: flyout to left. The boys wore coats and ties. I told him that my mom (Caroline Kenny Burchfield ’77, P’08,’10,’18) was part of the first class of girls, and that by the end of my time, we didn’t have to wear ties at all. 4-3: groundout to second. He told me he played JV baseball on a diamond down by the hockey pond; I told him I played JV hockey on one of two indoor rinks. He said the academics were hard and grimaced. I assured him nothing has changed. Backwards K: strikeout looking. To Jerry, the details mattered.
There was a humility about Jerry that I immediately admired. He went on to get his bachelor’s degree from Brown and his master’s in journalism from Boston University and insisted he was never much of a student. He said he still wasn’t sure how he survived two years at Hotchkiss under Headmaster George Van Santvoord, Class of 1908, but was ever grateful that he did. He had recently received a list of suggested summer reading from the English Department that came with, in his words, “a fine Hotchkiss bookmark.” He liked it so much he later brought it in to show me.
Jerry’s first love was baseball. He fell for the game at the age of 8 when he saw the old New York Giants play at the Polo Grounds. At a Yankees game later that summer, he fell even harder for Joe DiMaggio, whose 56-game hit streak remains one of the most unbreakable records in baseball. Jerry realized rather early in his athletic career that he’d never be good enough to play sports for a living and, like me, decided the next best thing would be to write about them. He eventually told one of his college advisors, “I’d like to be a sportswriter at a major daily,” to which his advisor replied, “It’ll never happen.” Jerry spent the rest of his life making sure it did.
In the summer of 2021, Tigers star Miguel Cabrera was closing in on 500 career homers. With the milestone one swing away, Jerry, then 93, came down to Comerica to witness a moment in time. He had been retired for nearly two decades, but remained gripped by the game. I asked him that night if he’d ever seen a player hit No. 500 in person, giddy that we might be able to share a ballpark first. He smiled like a teacher to a student and said he was there when Hank Aaron hit 715 to pass Babe Ruth. Jerry’s account from Atlanta—Hank Aaron: A new legend—ran on the front page of the Detroit News the next day. “I have never been prouder of a column or an article through all the years,” he’d write decades later.
Jerry devoted most of his career to the NFL. At Super Bowl III in 1969, he found himself in one of the most famous football photos of all time. Jets quarterback Joe Namath had ducked his press obligations leading up to the game and decided to speak with only a small group of reporters, poolside, at his Fort Lauderdale hotel. Jerry was one of them. They gathered around the shirtless superstar while he sunbathed and signed autographs and obliged a few minutes of questions. A photographer captured the moment, which would wind up in magazines, a museum, and ultimately in a frame in Jerry’s office until the day that he passed on March 23, 2023, at 94.
Jerry’s mind was sharp until the end, but he questioned whether he had the stamina to keep his Super Bowl streak intact for the 2022 contest. It would require a cross-country trip to Los Angeles, where ex-Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, a competitor Jerry had always admired in Detroit, was on the verge of vindication in his first season with the Rams. At the age of 93 and with his streak at 55, Jerry summoned the strength for one more—tying his boyhood idol DiMaggio at 56. It is now one of the most unbreakable records in football.
There were flowers everywhere at Jerry’s visitation. The biggest bouquet came from Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, “With great respect and admiration.” The future Hall of Fame coach also sent a text of condolence to Jerry’s daughter, Jenny, that read, in part, “Jerry was a superior writer whose love and devotion to pro football was remarkable. He gave his readers fair and informative views! His coverage of the first 56 Super Bowls is beyond special—I was fortunate to be a part of some of them!”
In one of my first conversations with Jerry, I told him how much I enjoyed the story he’d written about his Super Bowl streak for Hotchkiss Magazine in the fall of 2016. He said, regrettably, that he’d never received that issue. With the help of my dad, a longtime teacher at Hotchkiss, we tracked it down when I was home last summer for my 10-year reunion. I alerted Jerry and brought it back with me to Detroit. He told me he had been struggling to make it to the ballpark as he needed to be on oxygen, but that it would be worth it “to fetch the precious magazine.” We met in the press box a few nights later and I delivered him a small piece of his life’s work. He held it in his hands and beamed like the lights in the ballpark.
As we chatted that night, Jerry told me that one of his great joys at Hotchkiss was being summoned to the varsity baseball team for a game against Loomis Chaffee and future Red Sox pitcher Frank Quinn. I asked him if we had won. He said we had lost, by a run, then smiled and said they’d carved a couple hits off Quinn. Even then, Jerry Green was keeping score.
Will Burchfield ’10 is a sportswriter for 97.1 The Ticket, covering the Detroit Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, and Pistons, as well as football and basketball at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.