Saint Tony eases the guilt of flight fears

Posted May 22, 2009, at 11:43 p.m.

How do I love thee, Tony Kornheiser? Let me count the ways.

All right, the host of “Pardon the Interruption” and “Monday Night Football” is bald, distinctively orange and dresses like a 1964 accountant. Plus, he is a bit whiny. Admittedly my boy is (was) terribly miscast as a football “expert” on “MNF.” It was announced this week that Kornheiser will be replaced by veteran football coach Jon Gruden.

But he is also undeniably intelligent, wry, hilarious, sarcastic, often acerbic. These are a few of my favorite things.

He wrote sensational columns for the New York Times and The Washington Post, and had the best radio sports show of all time. I bought a $300 satellite radio just to listen to him.

Even before Monday, he was the patron saint of the Fear of Flying Fools (FFF) everywhere. On that day he announced he would resign from “MNF” to avoid the flying required for the gig. Like John Madden before him, he eschewed (I looked it up) the high life.

(The FFF has nothing to do with the famous novel by Erica Jong, a book which changed male hygiene habits forever.)

Tony, John and I don’t consider our fear of flying to be a phobia, but a perfectly lucid response to the idea of propelling across the sky at 500 miles an hour in a silver cigar, 30,000 feet above Cobb Manor. Let’s face it, if God wanted us to fly, we would have been born with twin Pratt and Whitney diesel engines under each armpit.

I joined FFF during two sweat-soaked flights to Ireland, then became a member emeritus when I fled an airplane at Logan Airport, knocking down a pregnant flight attendant in the process. I had been holding on to my frayed nerves when Mrs. Haystack Calhoun waddled in, sat beside me and took up too much space and oxygen. Off I went. My luggage went to Florida. I stayed in Boston.

That was before 9-11. Can you imagine what would happen today if you ran out of an airliner? I would have been spread-eagled on the Logan runway, surrounded by the FBI, CIA, Home Security, Mass. State Police and a den of armed Cub Scouts. I would have had an AR 17 in every orifice. Blue Eyes, who was there and mightily shamed by the entire event, would have said, “Shoot him!”

Instead, Blue Eyes calmly walked to the ticket counter and got our money back. Then she called me a “big baby.”

Like Tony Soprano says, “Whatta ya gonna do?”

The mountain (ant hill) of guilt from that Logan event has been lessened by my hero, Mr. Tony. He has said on the air that he has tried every drug, tried hypnosis, but the price of flying is just too high. And he is (was) paid a fortune for the “Monday Night” gig.

This is what our boy said this week:

“My fear of planes is legendary and sadly true. When I looked at the upcoming schedule it was the perfect storm that would’ve frequently moved me from the bus to the air. I kept looking at the schedule the past month and wanted to find a way to quietly extricate myself. If I could hand-pick a replacement of a football guy, I would cast a net and drag in Jon Gruden. He is the two things you most want — smart and funny — and has the two things I don’t — good hair and a tan. I love ‘PTI’ and am looking forward to continuing to yammer and yodel with [co-host Mike] Wilbon until the end of time.”

You have to love the guy, orange or not.

Did I mention that he has read my column on national radio-twice?

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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