In the "personal" notes about Tommy O'Hara, the Washington Diplomat' press guide says the team's left fullback "has an intense fear of flying".
It is worse than that.
The night before the team must make one of its 50 fights a season, O'Hara, 24, a Scotsman, cannot sleep.
The day of the flight, he is given tranquilizing pills. "I can't tell you if they work or not," he said. "I'm still terrified."
If O'Hara's work in the Dallas game two weeks ago seemed a shade off form, there was a reason. An American Airlines' DC 10 fell apart in Chicago the day before the game, killing 275 people.The Diplomats ere to fly home from Dallas on an American Airlines DC 10.
"Tommy couldn't concentrate on the game," said his coach, Gordon Bradley.
Is there a doctor in the house?
Tommy O'Hara wants help.
Flying is not an elective for a professional athlete. "If I don't fly," O'Hara said, "they don't pay me."
So while a case of plane panic might convince a lawyer to set up a general practice in his basement instead of flitting around the country for criminal cases, O'Hara has no such choice. They pay him for kicking a soccer ball in Dallas and Toronto, Los Angeles and Tampa. If he wants to kick it in his backyard in Springfield, he will have to pay his way in to see the Diplomats.
O'Hara first Christmas present, in Bellshill, Scotland, was a soccer ball. He was 2 years old. "The natural inclination in America, when someone rolls a ball toward you, is to reach down and pick it up," O'Hara said. "In Scotland, small children would swing a leg at it."
An athletic prodigy, O'Hara at 9 was a soccer star at St. Columbus Primary School. At 16, after his high school principal failed to talk him out signing up with the Glasgow Celtic Soccer Club.
Glasgow Celtic is world famous, the Yankees of soccer. For a kid who grew up 12 miles from Glasgow, the son of a steel worker who watched his heroes play from the time he was big enough to walk, joining the Glasgow Celtics was a dream come true.
And they traveled by train.
"Except one time we flew in an old plane to Inverness," O'Hara said. "It was only a little flight of 25 minutes. We hit an air pocket and fell a thousand feet. Everything was everywhere inside the airplane. People, bags, papers - all up in the air.
"I had been in the cockpit of another plane one time and even sat in the copilot's chair when they landed the plane. I could hear them talking on the radio. 'You're too low, you're too low,' they said. I thought it was an emergency, but the pilot made the slightest move and we landed fine.
"That didn't bother me. But on this little flight to Inverness, hitting that air pocket did it. After that, I did not want to fly again."
He was 18 at the time.
Now in his second season with the Diplomats, after three years, with Glasgow and four with Scotland's Queen of the South Club, O'Hara has flown hundreds of times since falling in that air pocket.
"And it is getting worse," he said.
His teammates, naturally, are very helpful.
When a strange noise comes from their plane, a Diplomat is likely to explain it to O'Hara.
"Not a thing to worry about, Tommy," someone might say. "We can fly without that wing."
"They kid me about it," O'Hara said. "But I know within myself that they are not as at ease as they pretend. Of course, they are not as afraid as I am. But they are worried. Bobby Stokes (a teammate) told me flying did not bother him - until he was around me for awhile, and now he is terrified, too."
As proof of the passion that attends soccer in Europe, Bradley told about the tombstones scattered on a hillside outside Torino, Italy. Thirty-one years ago, an airplane crashed there with the Torino soccer team on board. They buried the heroes where they found them. And today, a generation later, a hundred people a day go to the hillside to read the names of the soccer players and to leave flowers.
No more often than lawyers or accountants, sports people die on airplanes. Such team tragedies, however, draw international publicity. The U.S. ice-skating team was killed a decade ago. Two college football teams and a basketball team died in the last five year. When the Chicago-to-Los Angeles DC10 crashed, sportswriters in Indianapolis for the 500-mile auto race wondered if a baseball team had made that flight.
"Drive home," one sportswriter's wife said to her scribbler-husband 800 miles away.
"I suppose that what makes it so awful is the feeling that you are not in control of your own destiny," O'Hara said. "All you can do it sit there. People have told me how safe it is. They say statistics show it is the safest way to get anywhere, but I don't think of that at 35,000 feet when I fell the plane shudder. Statistics don't mean anything to me then. To me, it is more than that."
On the day of a flight, O'Hara checks the sky.
"If there is one cloud, I worry," he said.
From some reason, he is not sure why, O'Hara always sits at the back of the plane.
He does not read magazines.
Nor does he make small talk with the passenger beside him.
"I just sit - with two hands on the seat, like this," he said, and he reached out with his hands as if clamping down on the seat arms in a plane. His knuckles turned white.
O'Hara wants help. Someone suggested hypnotism, but O'Hara said the Diplomats' president, Steve Danzansky, advises against it because of possible side effects. O'Hara has heard of a "school" for frightened flyers, but hasn't made any inquiries yet.
In any case, he will fly. From a $44 a-week, 16-year-old pro in Glasgow, he has become "the best left fullback in the North American Soccer League," according to Bradley. O'Hara could not have done that in a car.
And this fall, when his wife, Janice, goes home to Scotland to give birth to their first child, O'Hara will fly over the Atlantic, too.
Will flying over an ocean bother him?
"I don't care where I am or what I'm over," O'Hara said, trying to smile. "It bothers me."