There’s a Football Game?

I read somewhere ¬†that you can’t use the phrase Super Bowl without getting nasty letters from the folks who license it. They supposedly even tried to trademark The Big Game, so we’ll be somewhat circumspect here. We’ll call it The Big Blowout.

This picture isn’t the one I was looking for, but it’ll have to do since it has a helicopter in it. Here’s the story about why I was dangling from it.

I don’t remember what year it was, but we were unfortunate enough to have The Big Blowout played in Miami. Unfortunate because we were going to have to pull out all the stops to cover it. Miami is 1-1/2 hours away on a good day, and Big Blowout Day isn’t a good day.

This is not from The Big Blowout

To get around the problem, I chartered a helicopter like the one above to shoot some aerials of the stadium and then land to pick up film from our photographers. We were going to keep making those film pickups throughout the game to keep from getting hit with all the film at the same time.

The first problem came when we couldn’t get permission from the City of West Palm Beach to have the chopper land in our parking lot to do the film drop. “We can’t land,” I said to the pilot, “but there’s nothing to keep you from hovering so long as you get the OK from Air Traffic Control, right?”

“Right,” he nodded. I liked this guy.

So, the plan was to have the chopper come in and hover while I ran up to scoop up the film. Then, he’d boogie back to Miami for the next run. We had a tall two-way radio tower on the roof, so I carefully marked the guy wires with glow-in-the-dark tape and set up floodlights to illuminate the tower. We had the pilot do a walk-though and got his OK with the setup. He filled in the airport folks, assured them that he wasn’t going to land in the city, and we were good to go.

This one isn’t either

The day of the Big Blowout, we got a radio call from the chopper saying he was 10 minutes out. I clambered up a steel ladder, levered myself through a tiny roof hatch and waited for the film to arrive. THWACKA THWACKA THWACKA, he made the approach. Closer, closer, closer, lower, lower, lower, lower.

Just about the time he was going to hand over the film, I was almost knocked off my feet by something that was a cross between a tsunami and an earthquake. The downdraft from the rotor had started the whole roof oscillating. There was no doubt in my mind that if this went on much longer, the effect would be the same as shaking out a bed sheet. My good idea was suddenly looking like it was a bad idea. I didn’t know how much a new roof cost, but if they took it out of my salary, I was assured of having a job for a long, long time.

I gave the pilot a quick wave-off and we made all the rest of the drops when he 30-50 feet above us.

So, don’t count on me being glued to the tube tomorrow. I’ve had all the Big Blowouts that I care to experience.

Cape Central’s Dreaded Rope Climb

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I never played any team sports and, despite the fact that I’ve covered just about every big sporting event to come along, I’ve never had any interest in any them. Super Bowls, championship golf tournaments and college bowl games were just another day at the office. I’m a cyclist, but that’s pretty much a solitary sport, at least the way I do it.

PE was probably my least favorite class at Central High School. The rope climb, which was intimidating when I was a freshman, became one of my favorite challenges later on after I had spent a summer loading and unloading trucks for my dad’s construction company.  I could zip up the rope using only my upper body after that workout.

Still, every time when I got up to the top of the rope and just before I slapped the rafter holding the collar that secured the rope, I wondered how often that thing got checked.

“What’s a Jesus Nut?”

I had similar concerns when I was doing a story on the sheriff’s helicopter (that’s me dangling in the rescue sling during a practice). On the first day, I asked the standard question, “What happens if the engine quits? Do we gently auto-rotate down or do we drop like a rock.?”

“Let’s find out,” Andy, the pilot said, gaining some altitude over a rural area. He cut the engine and we gradually descended toward what looked like a smooth, green pasture. Just before we touched down he fired up the engine and did an abrupt pull-up.

It wasn’t a green pasture, it was a green, algae-covered pond. We agreed that we wouldn’t mention the experiment in my story. Andy’s dead now, so I guess the statute of limitations has expired.

After establishing that a helicopter WILL set you down relatively gently if you aren’t aiming at a farm pond, the pilot said the worst thing that could happen would be a failure of the Jesus Nut.

Seeing the expression on my face, he explained that the Jesus Nut is the thing on the very tip top of the shaft that holds the rotor on.  “If it fails, ‘JESUS!!!!’ is about all you’ll have time to say before things go REALLY bad.”

Now, I know what they should have called the thing that held the rope to the rafter.

Reversible orange and black gym uniforms

The girls had blue and / or green suits that ranged from “hideous” to almost not too bad, depending on what year you went to school.  The boys were luckier. They had basic shorts with a shirt that was orange on one side and black on the other so you could tell teams apart.

These guys look like they are formed into lines so they can duck under the divider, run across the gym, perform some act of pain and run back. I don’t see any smiles.

Coach Goodwin checks his list

Coach Robert Goodwin and I had an uneasy relationship. Well, it was uneasy from my perspective. I tried to stay as far below his radar as possible. Since I possessed no jock characteristics, he generally overlooked me.

I DID make a mistake one day. He had us running endless laps of the track. “It’s good for you. Every lap burns out the nicotine equal to a cigarette.”

I don’t know what kind of scientific study he was quoting, but I made the mistake of piping up, “I’ve got a problem, then, Coach. I don’t smoke. I’m building up a huge nicotine deficit that’s going to come back and haunt me some day.”

He was not amused. I’m not sure, but I think I’m still supposed to be running around that track.

Calisthenics: Are we having fun?

If the weather was bad or the coach’s mood was bad, it was push-up, chin-up, jumping jack, sit-up time.

When I got to SEMO, phys ed was a requirement. By the time I got all the academic classes scheduled, the only PE class open was something with a fancy name that was really nothing but calisthenics. The instructor told us on the first day that we would do a series of tests to establish our baseline and that our final grade would depend on how much better we were at the end of the semester.

My mamma didn’t raise a fool. When I took the baseline test, the coach was appalled at what lousy shape I was in. At the end of the semester, though, he was convinced that he was a great instructor because of my tremendous improvement.

The next semester, the only thing open was Beginning Wrestling. This did not sound good. The first day, two or three of us showed up; the coach said to come back for the next class to see if anyone else signed up. On the second day, he said the the group was too small, so he was going to fold us into the Advanced Wrestling class. I didn’t like the way that sounded.

I showed up for the first day of Advance Wrestling, took one look around the room and decided that I liked all of the body parts I was born with and dropped the class. That’s when I decided to transfer to Ohio University, where PE was not required.