It's been awhile since I've taken the Mirror helicopter out for a spin in order to better survey the local sports landscape.
And any time Altoona Area High School is looking for a new football coach, it's worth the trip. After all, few high schools in the state or the country for that matter can claim the number of NFL players - I count nine - that Altoona boasts, though none in the last 15-plus years.
Ah, I need someone to fly as, tragically, my former pilot, Al Mignogna, is no longer with us. I'm sure Al wouldn't mind, though, if we used his Belmar Hotel parking lot, as a launching pad.
Which got me to thinking ...
"Tom Bradley's office ... no, he's not in. He's out trying to find a few more host families."
"Wow, what a job he does with that East-West game. I recommend the experience of hosting. But that's not why I'm calling. Can he fly the Mirror helicopter?"
"That's the only thing he can't do. But Dr. Murray has his pilot's license."
"Awesome! I always thought Doc was multi-talented after I saw him in line at Lowe's."
"I'll have Tom get back with you. He may want to ride along."
A few days pass before Bradley responds. To my surprise, he says Murray wants do to it.
"Great. He picks the coaches anyway so it's only fitting that he helps me look around."
We set liftoff for 6 a.m. Saturday.
"It's supposed to be clear. Plus I don't want a lot of people to see us."
Doc settles in behind the wheel, and the chopper roars into the air. Before he buckles his flying cap, I ask for confirmation on the three in-house candidates - Tom Palfey, Vince Nedimyer Jr. and John Kutz.
"I can't hear a thing you're saying," Murray says, smirking. "This thing is loud."
We start out west and fly over Cresson.
"Geez, Doc, I thought you would head straight for Tyrone. You've got a Hall of Fame coach in your own school."
"I talked to John. He decided to stay with Tyrone."
He looks down as we pass Mount Aloysius and approach Ebensburg.
"Is that Bishop Carroll or Central Cambria?" Doc asks.
"That's Carroll. In fact, it looks like Craig Sponsky is outside, and he's waving."
Murray accelerates over Mundy's Corner.
"You hijacking me, Doc?"
"Now that's an idea!"
"Oh, I get it: You want to check out WPIAL country. There's Gateway."
There have been rumors about Terry Smith being a candidate, but that's hard to believe. I'm thinking it may be one of the Gators' assistants.
"No comment, but we are done taking applications," Murray says as he starts a wide swing back toward Blairsville.
"I'm curious, Doc: You seem to enjoy your input into sports between hiring Phil, Larry, even Kraig Hetz. Does that go back to your referee days?"
"Ed Dalton, too."
"What about your track coach, Mike Adams? What a job he's done. He has a football background, and I hear he's a no-nonsense guy."
We see the Blair County Courthouse in the distance and soon pass over the Hollidaysburg school complex.
"Looks like they have football workouts and open gym going on at the same time."
"Is Dean around?"
Doc checks the gas gauge.
"We got plenty left."
He buzzes by Mansion Park and heads toward Bellwood.
"John Hayes has sure had a nice career," he says.
I hand Murray a sandwich and a Hershey bar.
"I don't like Hershey ever since they took the PIAA football from us, but I'm a little hungry," he said. "Thanks."
We admire how I-99 cuts through the mountain, and Dr. Murray says he wants to take a peak at how Penn State runs its 7-on-7 passing drills.
"JoePa won't be there so we may be able to watch," I tell him. "But where can we land?"
"Yeah, maybe we just ought to head back."
"So, Doc, you really haven't confirmed anything - number of finalists, timetable for interviews, possible frontrunners, how much Phil will be involved. I'm wondering since it's been this long why you don't just pick one of the in-house guys and see what they can do with the program, at least for a year."
An uncomfortable silence follows; I think I've struck a nerve.
We both sit quietly as the chopper pierces its way through the gorgeous blue sky over Mount Nittany. Within a few minutes, we're back at the Belmar.
"This was fun, but let me give you a hint," he finally says. "We're in no hurry, OK?"
Mirror Managing Editor Neil Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.