Planes, trains and Joe B. Hall

I was a little nervous.

It was Saturday morning and I was on my way to Manhattan, Kan., for Saturday’s football game with Kansas State. Accompanied by Northern Star photographer Randy Pomaro, I arrived at O’Hare Airport with a few reservations and a few butterflies.

I had never flown in an airplane before, and the first unfortunate words that echoed from the internal p.a. were “Takeoff has been delayed indefinitely while mechanics work on a…” All I could think was an engine had fallen off like I saw on the news a few nights earlier. The message continued “…malfunctioning radio.”

That was a load off my shoulders.

We landed in Kansas City a half-hour late and I was hoping that the legend that we were supposed to meet was still waiting at the gate.

Last week, NIU offensive coordinator Mike Summers asked me if I could give his father-in-law a ride to Manhattan. I said I would check on it. Defensive coordinator Tim McGuire asked if I knew who Summers’ father-in-law was. I replied that I had no idea.

“Oh, he’s just an old ball coach,” McGuire said. “You heard of Joe B. Hall?”

“Kentucky’s Joe B. Hall?” I asked.

“That’s him.”

I couldn’t believe it. We were going to give THE Joe B. Hall a ride to the game. The same Joe B. Hall that led the Kentucky Wildcats to a 30-2 record and a NCAA National Basketball Championship in 1978.

Coach Hall was waiting at the gate and we left to get our rental car. After 45 minutes of waiting for the rental people to pick us up, we arrived at the office. There we waited almost another 45 minutes to get a car.

To start with, the guy behind the counter, a Peter DeLuise look-alike, was joking with every customer and taking an incredible amount of time. Then after a credit problem that wouldn’t allow us to rent a car, coach Hall saved the day and rented the car for us.

During our ride to the game, we talked about good fishing spots, good pheasant hunting spots and sports in general. Coach Hall even gave me some of his potato chips.

After a two-hour drive to Manhattan, we arrived halfway through the first quarter. We parked on the wrong side of the stadium and had to walk all the way around to get our passes.

Things had yet to go right for my first day travelling in an airplane and rental car.

Then to top things off, when I asked the security people where the press box was, they sent me to the wrong place. I finally found where I was supposed to be at halftime.

I spent the second half trying to gather the information I missed during the first half. I got most of what I needed and watched the rest of the game.

After the final gun, I made my way down to the locker room and talked to a few players and got some quotes for my game story.

Coach Hall was going to travel back to Kansas City with Coach Summers, so we thanked him for everything and said goodbye.

We got back to Kansas City around 7 p.m. and our flight wasn’t scheduled to take off until 8:40. We rushed all morning and were late getting where we needed to be and then had what seemed like all night to wait around. It felt good to rest, though, after a day of running around like madmen. Our flight home even landed early.

Looking back, my first time flying wasn’t too bad. At least we got some peanuts on the flight.