Coming to the Big Easy, 72-year-old Dion Rich had sneaked,
weaseled, conned, bluffed, tricked and bamboozled his way into 32
straight Super Bowls, the record for a man refusing to touch his
Wait. Not just into the games, but often onto the fields and into
the locker rooms. That's Rich on the winner's podium with Vince
Lombardi and Pete Rozelle after the first Super Bowl. That's him
helping to carry Cowboys coach Tom Landry off the field after
XII. That's him whispering sweet nothings into coach Joe Gibbs's
ear as the Redskins run off after winning XVII.
Wait, wait. It's not only Super Bowls. Rich has gone ticketless
into World Series games, title fights, America's Cup races,
Kentucky Derbies and 14 Olympics. Basically, he's Red Smith
without the deadlines. He's also crashed eight Academy Awards,
as proved by pictures like the one of him with his arm around
Gwyneth Paltrow after she won her Oscar. He even has a snap of
himself at the Playboy Mansion, in Hugh Hefner's bathrobe.
It's not that Rich is poor. He's made boatloads in real estate
and other things. "But why pay when you don't have to?" he asks.
Then came Super Bowl XXXVI, hard on the heels of 9/11. The NFL
spent $7 million on a mammoth security effort manned by the
Secret Service, the FBI, FEMA, the National Guard, U.S. Marshals
and dozens of state and local law-enforcement agencies. The week
looked bleak for the Sneak Streak.
It got worse. Everywhere Rich looked, there were Jeeps, Humvees
and even tanks. There were more wands around than at a fairy
godmother convention. Security was triple anything he had seen
before. A 10-foot-high chain-link-and-barbed-wire fence was put
up around the perimeter of the Louisiana Superdome.
Welcome to the Big Hard.
Dion cased the Superdome and declared it tighter than Joan
Rivers's eyelids. How could any of his tricks work? The
wheelchair? Claiming to be a ref? Pretending to be with the team,
the band, the stadium crew? The Coke-bottle bifocals? The bag of
press credentials? "If every Super Bowl were like this," he
sighed in a media center he wasn't supposed to be in last
Thursday, "I'd retire."
Not only that, but he was sure he was being followed. The NFL
admits it has tailed him. "Oh, yeah, I've heard of him," Milt
Ahlerich, the league's vice president of security, grumbled. The
NFL once told Rich if it ever caught him on the field again, he'd
be finding out if he could sneak out of jail. He agreed to stay
off the fields--but he never said anything about stadiums.
A streak is a streak, wartime or peace, and the Gate Crasher knew
what lay before him: He must descend into hell and pull the
devil's teeth. It was Clyde Barrow versus Fort Knox. Roseanne
versus Denny's page 3. Wearing a blue blazer and a tie, Albert
Einstein's haircut and glasses on the end of his pointy nose,
Rich set off to penetrate the most impenetrable fortress in U.S.
The fortress lost. Rich was inside in six minutes. I followed him
the whole way. It was pure art.
He doddered, darted, acted addled and hurried, slunk through tiny
spaces and sped through unguarded ones. He was Frogger Senior. He
never stopped walking and never started hearing. He nudged his
way through the masses at the first security checkpoint and
ticket check, waited until a young guard (he always looks for the
youngest) had her head buried in a bag, sidestepped past her and
through the one-foot gap between the metal detector and a fence.
Then he buttonhooked a distracted wand man, did a pirouette
around a bored National Guardsman that would've made Fred Astaire
weep and then beat it up a ramp. He was never security-screened.
Thank God he's on our side.
Now he had to get by the ticket rippers. He found a bank of
unmanned doors locked from the inside, waited until a supervisor
came barreling out of one, lithely slid his loafer into the gap
before it closed and stepped through it as casually as if he were
entering his own kitchen. "When am I going to learn never to bet
against myself?" he said, grinning.
Make it 33.
Memo to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue: $7 million wasn't
enough. Memo to Salt Lake Olympic Committee: He'll be there this
I didn't hear from Dion again until midnight. He called from
inside the Rams' postgame party, gobbling free gumbo and sipping
gratis merlot. Hey, at least they had one winner in there.
COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA