Friday, November 6, 2009

Navy at Notre Dame; Going from DC to Phoenix to Chicago – Any Flying Ideas?

So here I am in Phoenix, having made it through a plane flight to get here. I’m giving a speech to a corporate group tonight and the hardest part of the day is the flying part. I’m writing this late Thursday afternoon since I have to get up at 5 a.m. in the morning to catch a flight to Chicago. I’m going to see some friends there and then drive over to Notre Dame Saturday morning to do Navy-Notre Dame on the radio.

I’m not terribly optimistic: Navy’s playing for the 10th straight week and is very beat up. Notre Dame is getting wide receiver Michael Floyd back to what is clearly a very good offense. It will be very tough for Navy to make this one of those years where the refs have to intervene for Notre Dame to win.

Am I biased? Of course. I can honestly say I have great respect for Notre Dame and have a lot of friends connected with the school—notably Mike Brey, the basketball coach. But, as you’ve probably gathered, I’m not a fan of Charlie Weis and I really believe Notre Dame has more advantages than any school playing football in America. The fact that it hasn’t won a national championship since 1988 and has barely been a blip on the national radar in recent years is mind-boggling.

Now, of course, people are saying if Notre Dame wins out it will get a BCS bid. You know what, they’re probably right because one of the bowls is going to want the name and the TV ratings, regardless of the quality of the team. If Notre Dame keeps winning, they’ll keep moving up in the polls so a BCS bowl can pick them.

The best team the Irish will have to beat to do that is Pittsburgh, which is pretty good, but hardly a power at this point. Their wins to date are over Nevada, Michigan State, Purdue, Washington, Boston College and Washington State. There’s not a ranked team in the bunch and Washington State is about as bad a team as Division 1-A has to offer. Their losses are to a Michigan team that will be lucky to finish in the top half of The Big Ten and Pete Carroll’s worst USC team in eight years. Ask Oregon how tough the Trojans are this season.

And yet, when we all know that Boise State will not get a BCS bid even if it wins out unless TCU loses a game, Notre Dame is in the mix.


But I’m not here today to rail about Notre Dame or even the BCS. I do that enough and I might do it again Monday if Navy somehow stays close.

Actually I’m looking for help. Seriously. I HATE to fly—hate everything about it from dealing with security to wondering about the weather to the flight itself. When I was younger, I flew all the time. I flew big planes and small planes. I was always a little bit nervous—lack of control, which is what scares most of us—but still got on planes whenever I needed to.

I still remember flying on a private plane 21 years ago from Clemson to Chapel Hill with Lefty Driesell. He was doing TV for Raycom that year and someone had gotten sick so Lefty had to do an afternoon game at Clemson, a night game in Chapel Hill. The only way to get him to Chapel Hill in time was a private plane. I hitched a ride since I was writing about Lefty for my second book, “A Season Inside.”

The day was beautiful and the flight was smooth. Lefty was white-knuckling the whole way. “Coach, these little planes are safer than the big ones,” the pilot said.

“Might be so,” Lefty said. “But they don’t FEEL safer.

He told me a story during that trip about flying to New York a few years earlier on a recruiting trip. There had been some kind of a problem with the plane’s hydraulic system and the oxygen masks had dropped down. “This flight attendant was showing me how to put it on,” Lefty said. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m gonna die and the kid I’m going to see ain’t even that good. Now if I’d been going to see Moses (Malone) that would have been okay. Moses was worth dyin’ for.”

I’ve gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. It started when my son was born. All of a sudden, every time there was turbulence I thought about Danny. When Brigid came along, I thought about both of them. I also had some bad flights. I landed on a foamed runway once in London because the pilots weren’t sure the landing gear would come down. We circled for about 45 minutes while we were shown the crash position.

On another flight, the pilot went right through a thunderstorm. I’ve been told by pilots that the one thing that makes a pilot nervous is flying through a thunderstorm. We were in this one for a solid 30 minutes. You know how sometimes when you fly and it get bumpy you look around and you see people sound asleep? Not on this flight. Everyone was wide awake, sitting up, staring straight ahead.

We finally got through the storm and when we landed everyone on board applauded. As we waited for the jetway, the pilot came out from the cockpit.

“Can I ask you a question?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said.

“On a scale of one to ten, how scary was that?”

He shook his head and smiled. “I’d say it was a solid seven, maybe an eight,” he said.

“When do you get nervous,” I asked.

“About six,” he said.


Back then I had what I called, “the four hour rule.” If I could drive someplace in four hours, I drove because it was just as fast as flying and almost always easier. After 9-11 it became a seven hour rule and it has risen through the years. Now, if I have the time I will drive as far as Chicago and Orlando. I’ve learned not to even mind it: I listen to tapes, talk on the phone, listen to a ballgame at night.

Phoenix though is a bit far. San Antonio for The Final Four was a bit far too. Friends have suggested drugs: I tried Xanax because Tony Kornheiser said it would knock me silly. It knocked me nowhere. I had three glasses of wine, even though I wasn’t supposed to drink and THAT helped. Problem is you can’t really start drinking on a flight that leaves at 7:30 in the morning and it worked. Today I tried valium. Nothing. I mean NOTHING. I felt every bump and sweated through a bumpy landing. So if anyone has any suggestions, I’m open to them. The shame of it is, I’m actually a good speaker and I turn down a lot of offers because unless the money is really, really good I’m not getting on an airplane.

So, as you read this, say a little prayer that I make it to Chicago in one piece. And then cheer, cheer for…The Midshipmen.


cbirdsong said...

Hey John,
Very good post. I pretty much mirror your flying experience. When I was a kid, I enjoyed it. As I got older, I grew more nervous with each flight. Now, having 2 young kids, my worry is quadrupled, because not only do I worry about myself, I worry about my wife and kids! It's pretty stressful.

The only thing I do that I THINK helps a small amount is continuously (and I mean days before the flight) tell myself that thousands of flights take off / land every day with no problems. AND, like you, a few beers before and during the flight never hurt.

Best of luck and if you find "the answer", let us know.

Rich said...

Safe travels, John. Here in Chicago the weather is calm (though somewhat cold) so that's good.

Are you doing any public appearances here? I'd love to get some books signed!

Matt Dick said...

It sounds like I'm not as nervous as you, but I am definitely nervous on flights. The one major help for me is that on United flights, channel 9 on your armrest (and #1 in your hearts) is the cockpit audio.

I *love* the cockpit audio. If the tower says, "United 735 turn left to 275" and then the plane turns, you don't have to be nervous.

I fly United when I can for just this kind of assurance.

Geoffrey said...

You should have called Rob's son.

Anonymous said...


I would recommend reading the popular prayer below:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

We as human beings do not have the ability to control when and how we pass away. Imagine how fortunate you were with the ovary lottery of human history and location (US, Ivy League (South)) and enjoy the miracle of modern travel that you have access to.

(That comes across a little harsh, but pretty true)

Gunnar said...

John, It is all understood, I have gone from 200k miles per year to 4k miles per year. Coinciding with my first child. Boise struggled tonight, and I just don't think they are a top 12 team. It is unfair that football does not have a playoff, but strength of schedule has to be a factor. They should play three BCS schools in non-conference, even if they are away games, with bottom of the league schools. How about Wake Forest, Illinois and Oregon and then we would have a better basis in football. Or even a service academy, like Air Force.

Agassi on 60 Minutes this Sunday.


The anticipation for Monday's post is KILLING me!