THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Picture is air brushed

Fat chance seeing this flight happen

File/Barry Chin/Globe staff As Patriots coach Bill Belichick is well aware, one never knows whom one will encounter upon entering a plane. File/Barry Chin/Globe staff
As Patriots coach Bill Belichick is well aware, one never knows whom one will encounter upon entering a plane.
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / January 10, 2011

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Two men on a plane leaving Indianapolis yesterday morning. It was awkward.

Bill Belichick boarded first. It was hard to tell if it was him. Everybody looks the same under a gray hooded sweat shirt. But I got a look at his face and he did not smile, so I knew it was him. Bill took the first-class window seat, 2A. I was across the aisle in 2C. We nodded to one another when he put his carry-on bag in the overhead rack. Guess the Patriots coach had been at Lucas Oil Stadium on a scouting mission for the weekend.

What happened next was unbelievable. We thought all passengers had boarded, but there was a ruckus at the cabin door. A man was making a lot of noise as he came onto the plane. He was slapping other passengers on the back, laughing, making suggestive comments about the flight attendant.

“How ’bout you serve us a [expletive] snack?’’ the big man bellowed as he passed the attendant and made his way toward our row. “I’m hungry. I could eat a horse. Or an Indianapolis Colt, for that matter! Ha, ha, ha! Get it? A Colt? I just kill myself with that one.’’

It was, of course, Rex Ryan.

The Jets’ coach made his way up the aisle and plopped himself down in seat 2B. Right next to Belichick. Unbelievable. What were the odds?

At first, Rex didn’t know he was sitting next to the Patriots’ coach. I could tell Bill knew right away. He turned his body toward the window and pulled the hood tighter over his head . . . but he could not ignore the big fella when Ryan slapped him on the back and extended his fat paw toward Belichick’s face.

“Hey, pal, how’s it going?’’ said Rex.

Looking like a little boy about to get a flu shot, Bill pulled back his hood, turned to show his face, and gave Rex his limp Mangini grip.

“Hey, Rex, how’s it goin’?’’ mumbled Belichick.

“Bill?’’ shouted Ryan. “Is that you? I can’t believe this! Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, you’re sitting next to me. Here we are, two of the greatest coaches of the modern era, and US Air seats us side-by-side. Boy, somebody in this airline must have quite a sense of humor. This is gonna be great! What do you say we have a few pops and play one of those card games the NBA players play. You know, for money?

“Ah, no, thanks,’’ said Bill. “I think I’m going to just read and listen to a little music.’’

“A little Bon Jovi, right?’’ chortled Rex. “I don’t really get that little guy myself. I’m into the Black Eyed Peas now because my guys told me that they are playing at halftime at the Super Bowl. Ha, ha, ha. Get it, Bill? The Super Bowl.’’

“Yeah,’’ said Bill.

I sat there with my mouth open, just listening. I couldn’t believe the whole thing was happening.

As we taxied down the runway, Rex hit his call button.

“What is it, sir?’’ asked the annoyed attendant.

“I need one of those fat-boy seat belt extenders,’’ he said. “I put on a couple of pounds over the holidays, I guess.’’

Rex got his extender. We all put our trays in the upright and locked position and we were wheels-up with Indianapolis in the rearview mirror. As soon as the plane reached its cruising altitude, Rex shed his penny loafers and started rubbing his feet.

“Ahhhhh,’’ that feels good,’’ said the big man. “My dogs are barking!’’

I could smell Rex’s feet across the aisle. I could tell Bill was really annoyed.

Rex reached up and hit the call button again. When the attendant arrived, he said, “Honey, how about a couple of Bloody Marys for my friend and me?’’

Belichick quickly motioned with his right arm, saying, “No, that’s OK, I’m good.’’

“OK, well then I’ll just have to celebrate for both of us,’’ said Rex. “It’s not like I’m going to sit here and kiss your rings. Ha, ha, ha. I kill myself with that one, too.’’

Trying to be conciliatory, Rex said, “Listen Bill, I know I’m not your cup of tea. I’ll try to tone it down a little for the rest of the flight.’’

“Thanks,’’ said Belichick. “Why aren’t you with your team, anyway?’’

“Learned it from the Tuna,’’ said Rex. “He didn’t fly home with his team after playing in the Super Bowl. So I just do what Parcells did.’’

“Oh,’’ said Belichick, as he reattached his earphones and turned his body toward the window.

Ryan mixed his Bloody, ate a couple dozen bags of salted nuts, and read a sports page. After a couple of seconds of silence, he was at it again.

“Hey Bill, look at this,’’ he bellowed as he elbowed Belichick in the ribs. “It says here that I’ve won three playoff games more than you since I became a head coach in the NFL. Pretty good, huh? If we beat you guys this weekend, I’ll be ahead of you, 4-0. Imagine that?’’

“Yeah, imagine that,’’ said Belichick. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go back to my book and my music.’’

It went like that the rest of the way. The more Rex talked, the more Bill slumped into his window crevice. When it became clear that Belichick was not going to be any fun, Rex engaged other passengers. By the time we hit airspace over New York, he had the whole plane singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.’’

I could see steam coming out of the gray hoodie.

It was a big bowl of awkward at 10,000 feet.

Belichick ignored the noise and the nonsense the rest of the way. And it wasn’t easy. When we landed, the area around Ryan’s seat was littered with snack bags, crumpled newspapers, splintered plastic cups, and lime wedges.

Finally able to deplane, Belichick gathered his stuff and climbed over the pile of Ryan debris while wobbly Rex stood singing “Meet The Flintstones’’ with the pilot and a couple of barefoot flight attendants.

Belichick was inches from a clean getaway when Rex noticed him about to exit the cabin door.

“See you Sunday, Billy boy,’’ shouted Rex.

“Yeah,’’ said Belichick. “See you Sunday.’’

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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