Football friendship: Super Bowl provides 35 years of fun for former classmates

DES LACS – Super Bowl Sunday isn’t just about football. A group of former classmates at Des Lacs High School can attest to that as they gather around the television again for the 35th consecutive year.

Whether the championship goes to the Baltimore Ravens or the San Francisco 49ers, who cares?

“The game is important but not as much as the bonding,” said Mike Axness.

“It’s a friendship that’s so much bigger than a Super Bowl,” added Todd Deardurff. “The closeness that we have runs pretty deep.”

Their high school years brought the start of that friendship for Axness, Deardurff, Harvey Wittmayer and cousins Craig and Mike Marshall, all members of the Des Lacs class of 1970. They used to play football and other sports together, and help each other get into mischief, as they recall it.

“We had fun. We were always up to something,” Deardurff said.

Dan Vander Vorste, although not a Des Lacs graduate, was welcomed into the friendship after getting to know Deardurff through work and has been a part of their Super Bowl team.

In 1979, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys, but the Des Lacs friends have long forgotten about that. They do remember that when the game ended, they started what turned into a tradition by agreeing to get together again the following year.

The men don’t just get together at Super Bowl time. They have taken vacation trips together, celebrated each other’s birthdays, watched North Dakota State University football as a group and taken advantage of other opportunities to meet since they all live within an hour of each other. Deardurff and Axness live in rural Des Lacs, Vander Vorste in South Prairie, Mike Marshall in Garrison, Wittmayer in Minot and Craig Marshall has homes in Minot and Fargo. But even with the close distance, lives are busy, and there’s been years when the getting together didn’t happen often. But the one sure meeting that they knew not to miss was the Super Bowl party.

Of course, some members have missed on occasion due to circumstances beyond their control. Mike Marshall, retired after serving in the Army and Navy, missed some of the parties due to his service. Otherwise, missing was rare because the men made a point of arranging their schedules to be there.

Parties were held in homes until their families outgrew the space. Then they began meeting at hotels and once at a lake cabin bringing along their wives and 16 to 18 children. The children have grown and largely moved on, so fewer numbers allowed the parties to move back into homes. The group planned to watch the game at the Axness home today.

For this group, a Super Bowl party isn’t just a Sunday event, though. The men start by getting together on the previous Wednesday, usually for lunch, to visit and plan Sunday’s menu.

On Saturday, they take their wives to supper and follow up with an all-night card game. At least it used to be an all-night card game.

“Now when 10:30 comes, we are all looking at our watches,” Craig Marshall said, suggesting the stamina isn’t quite the same with age.

Before starting the late Saturday events, they used to meet for early-morning breakfast on Sunday. Now they come together around noon on Sunday and get the party going before the game starts.

The group consists of a bunch of guys who like football but aren’t fanatic about any particular team.

“The only thing we worry about is the final score,” said Craig Marshall, explaining that they all throw a dollar in the pot for whoever guesses the closest to the total of the final score.

When it comes to football, Vander Vorste is a true nonpartisan, if you don’t count the NDSU Bison, while most admit to favoring the Minnesota Vikings except for Deardurff, whose years in San Diego have caused him to lean toward the Chargers. The Des Lacs classmates all served in a branch of the military, and most spent time at bases in California. Currently, Deardurff, Craig Marshall and Vander Vorste work together in the oil field, Axness farms, Wittmayer works for Trinity Health and Mike Marshall is retired.

Wittmayer said the focus at the Super Bowl parties isn’t on who wins and who loses.

“All we look for is a good game is it close? Not so much who is playing but is it a good game,” he said.

If the game isn’t close, it doesn’t much matter, either, because they enjoy the commercials. Besides, the party is mostly about having a chance to visit and catch up on what’s happening in their lives.

“We talk about the same things every year,” Deardurff said, “and we laugh just as hard maybe harder.”