It was all set to be a great trip home from Houston. I saw former Giants great and current NFL Alumni chief George Martin at the check-in line, then had the great fortune of being on the same flight with legendary Knicks great and former U.S. Senator from New Jersey Bill Bradley . I spoke with Bradley and he remembered me!!! Incredibly, it was the 20th anniversary of the demise of my favorite newspaper, the Hudson Dispatch, the paper I worked for when I met Bradley innocently 23 years ago.
At that time, I was writing an Athlete of the Week feature for the Dispatch and wrote about a kid from St. Mary of Jersey City named Tom Moriarty, who mentioned in the interview that he idolized Bradley. He mentioned that he read Bradley's book, "Life on the Run," a book in which Bradley said he took upwards of 500 shots a day in order to become a better player.
Regardless of the weather, Bradley was outside his home practicing his jump shot to the tune of 500 shots daily. Moriarty picked up on that note and wanted to do the same thing.
So I wrote that in the feature. The next day after the article appeared in the Dispatch, I get a phone call in the office.
"Can I speak to Jim Hague?" the caller said.
Cockily, I replied, "You got him."
The caller said, "Hi Jim, this is Bill Bradley."
My response was not pleasant. "Yeah, and I'm f***in' Gunga Din."
He said, "No, I'm really Bill Bradley."
I said, "You mean the Senator?" He said, ``Yeah, you wrote an article yesterday about a kid from St. Mary who took after me. I'd love to meet him. Can you arrange that?"
After taking the proverbial size 15 out of my big mouth, I said, "I think that can be arranged." Two days later, Bradley went to St. Mary to meet Moriarty.
Now, 23 years later, Bradley remembered that story vividly. I was absolutely impressed and definitely flattered that Bradley remembered me.
So it was all going great. A great Final Four weekend had come to an end and I was heading back to the motherland of Kearny to begin my regular routine.
That's when I met the man who will never be forgotten in my eyes, Continental Airlines security official Joselito Vicente, Jr.
I was already seated on Contintental Flight 510 from Houston when the effervescent Vicente approached me.
"Sir, may I speak with you in front," the charming chap said. He said that I needed to take my carry-on bag with me. I knew that wasn't a good sign.
He then told me in front of about seven other would-be passengers that I was being removed from the flight because I provided a ''safety risk'' because I was ''too big to fly.''
He said that the flight attendants pointed it out to him that I was ''too big'' and that he checked it out and realized that I was ''too big'' and provided a ''safety risk.''
"You are jeopardizing the lives of 300 or so other people on this flight,'' Vicente Jr. said.
Gee, I swore I took a shower before I got to the airport.
He went on to say that in case of an emergency, people wouldn't be able to get past me to the exit doors. He said that I provided a ''safety risk'' for everyone aboard.
Funny, I had just flown Continental to and from Chicago the previous week and flown Contintental TO Houston just five days prior, and there were no mentions of being safety risks then. Crammed into a tiny seat with no leg room? Sure. But ''safety risk"? Me? I'm harmless once I stop sweating on a plane.
The wonderful Mr. Vicente, Jr. then told me that it didn't matter what happened before, that I was a ''safety risk'' for this flight and that I had to purchase two seats for the flight home!!!
Can you imagine?
I wanted to know why I wasn't a risk on every other flight I've ever been on in my life. I've been flying regularly since I was 18 years old and I'm even a considerable bit smaller now than I was when I was hopping all over the country covering the Knicks and Nets a decade ago.
But I became a ''safety risk'' Tuesday morning in Houston.
I got off the plane and waited about an hour to find out my fate. Mr. Happy Vicente, Jr. came over to me once again to remind me of me being a ''safety risk'' for the umpteenth time, which made me raise my voice and say in a Hague-like roar, "Stop repeating yourself with that."
So what does Mr. Wonderful do? He calls the cops. That's right. Here come the Houston police to enlighten my day.
The officer approaches me and asks me if I'm fine. I felt like Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) in Pulp Fiction, when Butch (Bruce Willis) asked him if he was OK.
Remember that response? "I'm far from mother-f***in OK."
That was what I felt like saying, but I didn't feel it was appropriate.
The cop then said that he wanted me to be calm, that he understood why I was upset, but he wanted me to be calm. I think Mr. Vicente was a little worried that the fat ass he kicked off the plane was going to open up a can of Jersey City Greenville whoop-ass on him, but I'm not that way. But was he intimidated? Yeah, that's fair to say.
I got back to the counter after dealing with the nice officer and gave Mr. Vicente the death stare that a lot of my former basketball players probably received during my coaching days.
Do you know what this clown asked me? "Do you have a problem?"
I let out a huge chuckle, albeit sarcastic, and said, ``Oh, no.''
I then didn't say another word. I handed Mr. Vicente, a package of wonderment of Mahatma Gandhi and Anwar Sadat all rolled into one, my credit card, receiving another $125 charge for a second seat on a flight five hours later, and went to the next gate that was about as close as Sea Bright is to Guam.
I get to the gate and find ESPN Radio and CBS Sports broadcaster Jon Rothstein waiting to get on the 1:10 flight to Newark. Famed judge and Fox News Network analyst Andrew Napolitano, who is a very nice man and liked my stories of Jersey City, and former Seton Hall AD Joe Quinlan were also on the flight.
Rothstein didn't have a seat on the flight, but I had two. I gladly gave up my seat that I just paid $125 for so Rothstein could get on the plane and the two of us sat on the plane fairly comfortably and watched "Black Swan" (a really bizarre movie) together.
So I was a safety risk on one flight, but not on the other? And I was out $125 and five hours of my life in the process? Talk about your bizarre stories.
This was definitely a case of size discrimination in the worst way. And one thing is for certain. Mr. Joselito Vicente, Jr. has forced me to fly any other airline in the world other than Continental in the future. ANY OTHER!!! I will take Ed's Airline over Continental. I'll walk before I get on a Continental flight.
I encourage all of you to do the same after this fiasco. Just another saga in the life of a large boy, as Michael P. O'Neill in Marquette used to call me.
He'd always address me as L.B. or what I thought was Elby...I didn't know
Finally, I asked him and he said, L.B. for Large Boy...that's me...
And obviously too big and too big of a safety risk to fly the hideous airline known as Continental.
I have mixed emotions about reading the news that Kevin Boyle is leaving New Jersey high school basketball and St. Patrick of Elizabeth for a gig at a top prep school in Florida.
I'm happy for my long-time friend, because this is a chance of a lifetime for him and his family. I'm saddened, because I'll miss his flamboyant personality and good spirit. A lot of people always treated Boyle as being a villain in New Jersey high school basketball. I never did. I think Boyle was a good coach who was able to procure some of the best talent and bring them to St. Patrick. Is that recruiting? Of course, but we can't use that word in high school athletics.
When he got Samuel Dalembert from Haiti, and another kid from Canada and another from Africa, he joked, "Hey, I have an international recruiting budget." Until the NJSIAA slapped him silly last year, Kevin spoke his mind freely and never worried about any repercussions. He was a breath of fresh air and a joy to be around.
After the Celtics lost to St. Anthony last month, we spoke near the press room and he hinted to me that he was leaving no matter what. Whether he thinks St. Pat's may fall to the wayside like so many other Parochial schools in New Jersey remains to be seen, but he made a move that is going to help his family in the long run.
Doesn't mean that I won't miss him.
You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com.