This is probably one of the most famous pictures in Cowboys lore...
But did you know?
Veteran gate-crasher sees big game as new challenge
By Michael Stetz
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
January 20, 2003
Dion Rich stood in front of Qualcomm Stadium, his latest Everest. He gave it a good look. He shook his head.
Come Super Sunday, he won't try to climb it; he'll try to crash it.
"Won't be easy," he said, envisioning the security that will be employed Sunday.
It won't deter him, though. He'll give it a try. He has ideas, already. It's what he does. This San Diego man is the master at sneaking into big-time events.
He has managed to get into 33 Super Bowls. He has conned his way into numerous Academy Awards presentations and venues at Olympic Games.
There is a picture of him standing at the Kentucky Derby. In the winner's circle.
Next up is Super Bowl XXXVII.
Rich walked slowly past the media gate on a recent day, leading a tour of his successes at Qualcomm. At the last Super Bowl held here, in 1998, that's where he got in, he said. When staff at the gate was busy, he skirted through.
But that was then. . . .
Rich is not about to make any bold predictions or guarantees for Sunday. He doesn't even feel like he has the home-field advantage, although the Super Bowl is to be played in his back yard.
That is because the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything. Top-notch security experts run things now, Rich said. Every nook and cranny at high-profile events is sealed. It's not like the old days, he said, when he could blend into a crowd of workers going through the service entrance, which is how Rich sneaked into the first Super Bowl in San Diego, in 1988.
Still, come Sunday, Rich will be here. How can he not? The challenge is too close, too delectable. The Point Loma resident even went to the last two Chargers' home games this season, to check out the joint. He looked for weaknesses, for opportunities.
He didn't see one.
"I cased it. It's going to be difficult," he said, scanning the stadium.
It seems like a fortress; the gates are closed tight and locked.
Rich is 73. His bushy hair is white. He's a bit hard of hearing. Yet he's still like a big kid inside, he said. He still gets a thrill out of outwitting sophisticated security setups, of landing photographs of himself with dolled-up celebrities-of-the-moment, of giving one of America's most glamorous and overhyped events a dose of levity.
"I'm not hurting anybody," said Rich, whose history of crashing Super Bowls goes back to the first one. There is a picture of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle handing the championship trophy to Vince Lombardi, coach of the victorious Green Bay Packers.
Who's that next to them?
Rich, of course.
Then there is a photograph of Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry being carried off the field after Super Bowl XII. Who's helping hold him up? It's Rich.
Rich's exploits could be called legendary. He has been featured in countless newspaper articles and television reports. He has been working on a book about his exploits, too.
Last year, he got an even bigger boost of fame after he managed to sneak into Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans. Security was unbelievable, considering the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes occurred less than five months earlier.
Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly followed Rich to see whether he could pull off the upset and somehow get in.
Rich did. In all of six minutes.
"Thank God he's on our side," Reilly wrote.
Rich didn't think he'd make it, he said. The odds had grown longer. Yet he managed to scoot through a tiny opening between a bank of security scanners and a fence – and nobody saw him.
So the streak lives. Until Sunday, at least.
The NFL declined to comment on Rich and his exploits.
Rich started doing this for fun and his motivation hasn't really changed. He's not out to prove anything, not out to make anybody look incompetent or foolish, he said.
Never married and financially comfortable because of investments, Rich travels the country, sneaking into events. He pulled out a briefcase – it's a complimentary one from a Super Bowl he crashed earlier – and showed off countless pictures of celebrities with whom he has posed.
Barry Bonds, Bill Clinton, Oliver North, Dennis Rodman, Dustin Hoffman, Anna Nicole Smith, Gwyneth Paltrow . . .
Farrah Fawcett, Tiger Woods, Randy Johnson, Gerald Ford, Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath . . .
All have been photographed with Rich.
The man really has this down to a science. Walking around Qualcomm Stadium, he eyed the security personnel – many of them were young adults – and said they're not that daunting. They don't have much experience. They're not highly paid. They're not nearly as tough to slip past as off-duty cops, he said.
Rich, if necessary, will don disguises, such as a fake beard. He has used simple props, such as a nonworking walkie-talkie, to make him look more official.
He thinks on his feet. He will wait until things get hectic and people's attention is diverted. Then, he'll try to slip in. If he gets caught and tossed out, it's no big deal. He'll simply keep trying.
A double con
The Super Bowl has always been one of the tougher challenges. He was caught by NFL security when he crashed Super Bowl XXIII in Miami, he said. Rich had told a private detective, who had posed as a magazine journalist, how he planned to sneak in (that year, he used a wheelchair).
After that, Rich said he promised the NFL that he wouldn't try to get onto the field or into locker rooms anymore.
Gate-crashing the stadium, though, is different. Rich said. That's still fair game.
So he'll be at Qualcomm on Super Sunday.
He's already feeling the adrenaline flowing. It's what he lives for. Still.
"I have a couple ideas in the back of my head," Rich said. "Of all the Super Bowls, this will be the toughest."
You've got to wonder what Tom was thinking at the moment that picture was taken.
My apologies to Tom(rest his soul), but this pic begs to be captioned!
"Hey man...you look familiar...didn't I see you here in `71, `72, and `76?"
"Who in the blazes is this strange man with his hands wrapped around my thigh?"