Latest posts by Beerguyrob (see all)
19200 S. Main Street
Carson, CA 90248
The Goodyear Blimp Hangar – Home of Wingfoot 2
The Goodyear blimp has been a fixture at many major sporting events from its first appearance at the Rose Bowl in 1955.
Technically no longer a blimp, because it now has a rigid frame underneath its polyester shell, thus actually making it a “Zeppelin” (if you’re cool) or a “dirigible” (if you’re not), Goodyear maintains three blimps for promotional purposes across and around America – one each in Florida, Ohio and California. (They will continue using the word “blimp”, because #branding.)
The retirement of the last true blimp in 2017 – the “Spirit of Innovation”, based out of Carson – marked the end of 92 years of the inflatable form most people recognize as a Goodyear blimp. The new blimps are also larger – to the tune of 246.4 feet versus 192 feet in overall length – and faster. The Wingfoot models can go 73 MPH – versus a top speed of 50 MPH for the blimps.
Most importantly, the new models now have bathrooms.
Michael Dougherty is the pilot of Wingfoot 2, and also flew the “Spirit of Innovation”. His co-pilot is Taylor Deen.
Dougherty: “Kickoff” – when I first heard that word, my gut reaction was “oh shit”. Does that surprise you?
[Before I can answer…]
Sure it does. After all, I’m flying a blimp. Usually, when most people hear those words aboard a blimp, they start thinking “Hindenburg”.
But what that means is that the anthems are finished, and the military fly-past is about to occur. Now, if it’s helicopters we don’t have a problem – we can see them, and they can see us. But if it’s those Top Gun flyboys in F-14s well, we’d better get our asses out of the way quick. Those things can slice through us like butter, and Goodyear has to pay if we accidentally take one of them down. His voice trailed off, as if he was reliving yet repressing a long-ago memory.
What does it take to get behind the wheel of a Goodyear blimp?
Deen: Flying one of these is very hands-on, and there’s a lot of physical work to fly it. I’ve been a pilot since 2005, and flew lots of charter & float planes on the west coast and Alaska. But those are nothing compared to this. You feel everything. There are no flight schools for blimps and no simulators. you are mentored by other Goodyear pilots for up to a year before being anointed captain. As the pilot, you need strong flying skills to respond to the smallest weather variations; I call it “learning the tribal knowledge.” Since I started with Goodyear in 2014, I’ve flown in two separate blimps, and gained over 2000 flight hours.
Dougherty: I’m her mentor for this airship. (puts his hand on her shoulder)
Have you had any interactions with the local NFL teams since they’ve arrived?
Dougherty: Not really. We get more requests from the NCAA, because they can sell out their stadiums.
Deen: Also, we get lots of requests for local LA photo opportunities, because our aircraft makes for such a visible contrast against the clear blue skies of southern California.
Dougherty: One Sunday afternoon, Taylor & I were headed home to Carson after spending the day up at Pebble Beach when we were requested to do a flyby of a Chargers game.
Now, I didn’t think we had the fuel to make it all the way to San Diego and back, when HQ reminds me that that idiot Dean Spanos moved the team to LA, and they were playing out of the soccer stadium five miles from base. Having relatives in San Diego, it just grinds my gears that greedy bastards like Dean Spanos are allowed to just rip a franchise out of its home purely for spiteful profit. But, a job is a job, so off to StubHub we went.
We flew down the coast, and turned in at Long Beach,
then I figured we’d follow the highway for a bit,
before giving the people what they want.
Good thing we hurried, because it was a sellout.
Deen: Mike, don’t you mean the Spanos family are sellouts?
Dougherty: *laughs* Good one, Taylor. Jesus – that fucking guy. What I wouldn’t give to set him straight about moving the team… Either way, we did our job and, for effect, I hit the shitter while we were over the stadium so I could imagine taking a dump onto Dean Spanos. I considered it a “dump for victory”. All that corn really added to the sensation…
Deen: Eww, Mike! Remember – that talk we all had with HR?
Dougherty: What? How could that be considered sexual? Unless, of course, you’re into Cleveland Steamers…
Taylor Deen pulls out a pad & starts taking notes…
Dougherty: (turning back to me) Anyway, did you ever read All Quiet on the Western Front? Remarque paints a vivid picture of Germany becoming “empty,” meaning that toward the end of the war, they were simply running out of soldiers. You can fudge the numbers, send the old men and little boys, but eventually you’re going to hit the ceiling…unless every time you killed an enemy, he came back to life on your side.
That’s how Dean operates, swelling his pockets by thinning ours! He demanded San Diego give him what he wanted, and the fans obliged as best they could. Then he just took their money and moved the team up the highway like nothing happened, as if it was our fault. And people will come to the games. It just so happens that they are fans of the other team. But that prick doesn’t care, so long as he’s getting money from somewhere.
Would this be the blimp that could potentially cover the Las Vegas Raiders?
Deen: You know it! I’m really looking forward to following the 15 all the way into Vegas. Someone even designed a mock-up of what our view will be over the stadium.
I’m sure it’ll look much cooler once it’s all decked out in lights and surrounded by that beautiful Vegas skyline.
Dougherty: In fact, we’ve already had requests. Soon after we covered the Rams playoff game in January, we got a phone call at HQ from a 510 area code. They called after hours, so all we got was a voice mail screaming “BALLOONS! I WANT YOUR BALLOONS FOR MY PARTY!” Luckily, Daisy at HQ hit *69 when she heard that, and we were a bit shocked that the call came from the Oakland Raiders.
Why was that?
Dougherty: Because, back in 2003 the blimp was actually excluded from Super Bowl XXXVII because the airspace over the stadium had been declared a “no fly” zone, as per the War on Terror preps for the game. Well, no one had bothered to tell Al Davis, who had promised his son that the big balloon would be flying overhead with a message for him. As it turns out, the kid had had one of those model kits they sold of the blimp back in the 70s.
His dad promised that he’d see the same message he’d drawn at home, but over the stadium during The Big Game. They showed up at our hangar after the game. His dad was screaming about suing and refunds. Didn’t even care that they’d lost the game; he was more upset at the perceived slight directed at his boy. Well, I said it then like I’m saying it for you now, “Mister, you can take that up with George Bush.”
Deen: You know, that kid – Mark Davis – he’s, like, 65 now, so he would have been in his mid-40s when that happened. And he actually met George Bush.
Dougherty: Seriously? And that guy owns a football team?
Sean McDonough worked alongside Jon Gruden for two years as the play-by-play announcer for “Monday Night Football”. A tenuous partnership, if anyone could have known he was looking to return to coaching, it was him.
So, Monday Night Football…
Boy, what a relief that’s over with. Thank God he took the Oakland job, because it got me pushed out before I jumped on my own.
How do you mean?
I never really wanted the job. I was happy calling college games – y’know, going to college towns, meeting the fans, sampling the local cuisine.
But you can’t turn down a promotion like Monday Night when it’s offered to you. Not taking the job would have hurt my career more than taking it and having to work alongside that lunatic for two years. It wasn’t a tremendous amount of fun the last two years. I love college football. For me, it’s more fun, and that’s a personal taste.
I enjoy setting the scene and telling personal stories, which didn’t mesh with the Monday Night telecast. The broadcast was centered around Gruden’s football insight, which made me inconsequential at times. On some nights, I didn’t even need to be there. It was like a Cubs broadcast with Harry Caray, but two people doing the one job. Like I’m the guy calling the play for a nanosecond, and the story to be told takes greater precedence.
I don’t know what the big deal about Cracker Jack is. Did you ever go buy a pack of Cracker Jack, thinking you’d get a prize and find no prize in the box? Here’s the pitch.
I’m three words at the end of the story. That’s how ESPN wanted it.
For me, part of it was just the way the booth was set up the last two years. It was really geared around Jon Gruden. That’s not unusual, TV really is an analyst-driven medium. Jon had a particular set of skills that he did really well, and foremost among them was analyzing the play, breaking down the play, ‘Here’s why they ran that play, here’s why it worked, here’s what this guy did or didn’t do.’ It was really football-heavy, X-and-O-heavy, and I think most play-by-play guys, all play-by-play guys, would’ve felt like a bit of a bystander. I felt like the third wheel on a date night between Gruden and football.
Plus, things like the “turkey hole”.
He’d come up with these ideas that would have no business in Vince McMahon’s world, but ESPN knew viewers would eat that shit up. And I’d be expected to let that just go. Never mind it would interrupt the stream of the broadcast; I’d have producers yelling in my ear, “DON’T YOU DARE STOP HIM! THIS SHIT’S GOLD!!” We’d see guys run in for scores, and he’s still yammering on about the same topic for five minutes. Why do you think I always look like Commander Queeg, rolling my balls around in my pants?
If I didn’t do something, I was going to fall asleep.
It also didn’t help that, if you go back and look at the schedule, generally we got one of the worst NFL games each week. You’re trying to make something sound interesting and exciting that isn’t. All that did was encourage Jon to be more over-the-top. We started the season great, with New Orleans & Minnesota, but by Week 12 we were Texans versus Ravens. If it hadn’t been for that ridiculous game in Philly to end our season, and with Oakland involved… (His voice trailed off)
*clears throat* When I took the ego part of it out, and rationalized it, I really could be fine with not being the voice of Monday Night Football, so it was a relief when they said they wanted a reboot of the whole shebang. Being the ‘Voice of Monday Night Football‘ was one of the great honors of my life, but I am grateful for the opportunity to return to the unique traditions, rivalries and pageantry of college football and to tell the stories of the participants.
When did you know he wanted to go back to coaching?
I got hints over the course of the whole two years. With Jon, it’s the whole black hole thing. He’s a big heavy-metal music fan, which people may not know. It kind of fits that whole image for him. I think the Raiders were in his heart, and he took Oakland and the Raiders around with him as he went to Tampa and ESPN.
I never watched any of his broadcasts with (Mike) Tirico, so I don’t know how they got along. But whenever I took a shot at the league he seemed to wince a bit, like I was taking a jab at an old girlfriend he was hoping to get back together with.
I know there are people within the NFL who probably wish I talked less about the officiating, or whatever it was that rankled them. But Jon would always come in and offer the ‘good cop’ analysis. At the time, it seemed like he was trying to provide balance to the broadcast, but now it seems clear that he was trying not to make enemies before his return to the field.
But it was that final game of our 2017 regular season. The evening before, Jon had invited me up to his room. and – you know, that’s how it really sunk in that ESPN had a hierarchy of means for its broadcasts. Jon always got a suite; not a presidential suite, mind you, but one with separate sitting areas away from the king bed. Somehow, I always ended up in a second floor room above the bar with a twin bed & next to the ice machine. I’m the one who has to pay attention to the game; all Jon needed was a prompt. Hell, they could have hooked him up with a dog’s shock collar and zapped him every 2-3 minutes. “What’d you think of that play, Jon?” ZAP! “Spider 2-Y Banana here, Sean…” and then I’d be free to watch for 10 minutes. But he gets the fancy room because he’s the star of the show.
Anyway, I get up to his suite, and when I knocked on the door I swore I heard giggling from the other side, and I’m thinking, “Oops, sounds like Jon’s eating takeout.” But then the door opened, and it’s a redhead
but not the kind I was expecting. They acted like nothing was going on, but there were pieces of paper all over the suite, and a strange picture
that made me think this wasn’t a frightening coincidence. I backed out slowly and just returned to my room, hoping the mini bar had enough scotch to wipe away the image. The next night, we called the game and Jon acted like nothing had happened. But I knew. I knew.