Brrrrrr! Norbert and Cindy Ramon find handwarmers, long johns, Survived the Papa John’s trip to the coldest Super Bowl in history

Tom Kennedy

When his fellow HPD officers last checked, Officer Norbert Ramon was headed to the Super Bowl. They now know good and well that the Eagles whipped the Patriots.

But what was the review of the game by Ramon and his wife, Cindy?

Apparently, Ramon – who, as we know, suffers from stage 4 cancer – had to re-learn the meaning of some old terms not normally used around the normally warm and humid Bayou City.


Colder at the Super Bowl


Those terms: Freezing weather. Long johns. Slow Uber. Handwarmer. Cold seats (even at an indoor stadium). And – one more – cold wind!

Despite the requirement to reacquaint themselves with these terms, Norbert and Cindy had a ball. Like an estimated two thirds of the heavily-clothed crowd, they rooted for the Eagles and witnessed an exciting game.

We can’t go any further without mentioning the great business that went to bat for this great HPD hero.

We speak here of Papa John’s Pizza, who contacted HPOU President Joe Gamaldi to get his thoughts about an HPD hero the pizza service could “deliver” to the Super Bowl, all expenses paid.

Ramon’s name instantly came out of the HPOU president’s mouth.

Despite suffering from colon cancer that has spread to his liver and lungs, the 55-year-old 24-veteran officer reported to perform his sworn duty – to serve and protect Houstonians during and after the historic Hurricane Harvey flood waters.

CNN interviewed Ramon and captured the essence of that duty: “Our oath is to go out and protect and serve other people. You’re always concerned about other people. You don’t dwell on yourself.”

The Officer Ramon story was covered by local and other national media besides CNN. It was one of the most-watched accounts of Hurricane Harvey recoveries.

When Ramon couldn’t get downtown, he opted to report to Lake Patrol on Lake Houston, where there was no shortage of rescues to perform. It offered quite a contrast to his desk work assignment as he endured chemotherapy treatments.

Instead of serving “on the streets” as per usual, Ramon served “in the water” running boats on flooded streets and navigating around trees and cars to rescue stranded Houstonians.

As Ramon recounted in the CNN interview: “Once we got there, then it was just normal work. We were just working. We’re loading people, getting them out.”

As CNN reported, there were risks. The water was full of bacteria, Ramón’s platelet count was low and he was putting in long days. Working in 12-hour shifts, the officers were responding to an onslaught of calls from people who needed to be rescued from their flooded homes and apartments. Bayous snake throughout much of the Houston area. As these waterways overflowed their banks, the water had nowhere else to go but up, swiftly surging into neighborhoods and putting residents at risk.


Watt knows a Hero


By his memory of his long hours of duty, Ramon estimates he helped rescue 200 or 300 people, maybe more. While all this was going on, Ramón’s wife of 13 years, Cindy Ramón, was at home watching the water that had infiltrated their neighbors’ yard creep closer to their property. She kept track of the water and would text updates to her husband, who stayed at the police station in the midst of the flooding. Luckily, their home was spared. While Cindy was worried about their house, she was more concerned about her husband’s health.

Cindy told CNN, “I didn’t know how it would affect him, but at the same token, I knew there was nothing I could say or do that was going to hold him back.”

Ramon’s deep commitment to his duties continued to attract attention. Not only did he and Cindy fly on the same plane as Papa John’s CEO Keith Sullins to Minneapolis but his name was prominently mentioned in a special NFL ceremony on the Saturday night before the Super Bowl.

Houston Texans star J. J. Watt was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year for his undying fundraising efforts for Harvey victims. Watt raised $37 million in the recovery efforts.

In his acceptance speech, Watt graciously acknowledged Officer Ramon.

This special recognition provoked many texts to Ramon’s cell phone.

“I got text messages talking about J. J. Watt,” Ramon remembered. “I knew he won the Walter Payton award. I was blown away that he mentioned my name in his speech. He talked about me and I was like, Wow! It gave me a high for the game!”

Ramon said he and Cindy wanted to take in the Super Bowl festivities but quickly realized they were going to have to battle the cold. The wind whistled between tall buildings – like it does in downtown Houston – but there was a major difference: it was freezing cold!

He said they went to the Mall of America, the country’s largest shopping mall, pointing out that it wasn’t that much fun since “I’m not a mall rat.” An ardent bass fisherman, the officer thought about going ice fishing but, hey, he thought he would freeze to death.


As Seen on TV


Everywhere they went he always came to the same realization – “We weren’t properly dressed. The weather was really cold, especially the wind going through the buildings. Once that wind hits you and you don’t have long johns your legs and face turn blue.”

They couldn’t wait to go to the “coldest Super Bowl in history” since they felt, all things considered, it would be warmer with all those warm bodies in the stands. Their seats were on about the 30-yard line.

Ramon got attention with his Houston Texans cap and his special-issue Texans No. 52 jersey.

“That was because it was Super Bowl LII (52),” he explained. “I had requested No. 56, for my age.”

In his seat and for a few warm minutes in the men’s room, Ramon felt right at home since two or three people from Houston recognized him, especially with the Texans equipment.

“They were sitting there and a younger gentleman said, ‘I saw you on TV.’ He shook my hand.”

It was a real morale booster, he said, that provided as much warmth as the hand warmers readily provided with snacks from the vending locations. It was his first experience with hand warmers in many, many years.

Who needs them in Houston, where there’s certainly flood waters but not weather as cold as Minneapolis.

Ramon had an admission.

With eight minutes left in the fourth quarter the Patriots had tied the game. But he and Cindy were turning completely blue – at least they felt like they were.

They thought they could go outside and catch a quick Uber back to the hotel. “We walked 10 blocks with a bunch of people to catch an Uber. Oh, my God it was cold. By the time we waited for an Uber Cindy’s hands were frozen.”

He said it was still “great duty.”

One friend, Officer Louis Romano, had organized fundraisers to help with Ramon’s growing chemotherapy bills. Romano and two others set up an auction at the Union and a fish fry in connection with Fish Tales of Kingwood and Cleveland. It happened Dec. 1 and raised $33,000.

Romano was among the insiders who knew Ramon had been picked to be the Papa John’s Super Bowl trip honoree but was sworn to secrecy.

When HPD officers know the inside story they are bound to have some fun with it.

“He told a bunch of us that there was no way he planned to watch the Super Bowl this year,” Romano said through a laugh. “We knew what was happening and bet him $100 that he would, in fact, be watching the Super Bowl.”

Ramon lost the bet. (Nobody collected, of course).

“The closer it got to the Super Bowl, Papa John’s talked to his wife (Cindy),” Romano recalled. “It was to be a total surprise. The captain told us all to report to the Union, that Papa John’s was going to feed us for lunch.

“They hid Cindy in the crowd and he started eating his pizza.”

It was at that moment that a Papa John’s official recognized Ramon and told him that he and his wife were going to be guests at the Super Bowl.”

Asked about his wife, Ramon said that, no, Cindy was not present. That was her cue to magically appear to complete the surprise presentation.

Now, the rest – as they say – is history. The Eagles won!