Flight of fancy and a postscript

Updated: 7-16-08, 5:15 a.m.

In the 19 years Joe Schulz has flown for his country he has buzzed such hot spots as Saddam Hussein's Iraq between the wars and the first days of the Hungarian Republic.

But the goose bumps come when he's taken his F-16 for one of those Sunday rides over Paul Brown Stadium by the Ohio National Guard that awes the crowd and kicks off a game.

And Lt. Col Schulz, lifelong diehard Bengals fan, will remind you the Bengals are undefeated when he takes off for a game. So Shayne Graham is in safe hands when he gets a ride from Schulz and the 178th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard Tuesday afternoon at Ohio's Springfield Air National Guard Base.

With Schulz at the controls, the man who has broken nearly every Bengals kicking record will come close to breaking the sound barrier.

"Whatever he wants to do," Schulz said Monday on the eve of the flight. "Do a few aerobatics or do a little sightseeing. The view is pretty good. I'm going to see if I can get permission to go over the stadium."

Schulz may have the Right Stuff of a Lt. Col., and the no-big-deal demeanor of Chuck Yeager. But it could take more than that to get a "Go" for an F-16 to shoot through downtown Cincinnati in the middle of a middle summer afternoon.

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Graham

As it was, Graham had to climb the ladder through local, regional and state authorities to get on this flight. No one can seem to remember the last time a civilian went up in an F-16 out of Springfield, which shows just how highly the military regards Graham's good deeds for the men and women of the service.

A few months ago Graham unveiled the dog tags he designed to honor Army staff Sgt. Matt Maupin and raise money for Fallen Heroes Foundation.

Graham, drawn to the military from his father's service in Vietnam, has also visited bases and reached out to veterans groups.

"It's the first time I've ever flown a celebrity," said Schulz, who is more pumped about taking up Graham than the two-star general he had with him a few months ago.

And why not? Graham has won more games for the Bengals than the brass and that's a high honor for a 42-year-old guy from Beavercreek, Ohio that has rooted for them from Anderson (Ken) to Anderson (Willie).

"It's a big thrill coming in over the stadium; I get goose bumps," said Schulz, whose 2,000 hours of flying time in the F-16 hasn't dulled the seconds before kickoff. "The funny thing is the view isn't that good for a flyover because you're going right over the middle of the stadium."

This isn't some Sunday stroll. Schulz planned to meet with Graham a few hours before the flight. Hank Reed, who sets up Graham's charity work, says he's also going to get checked out by a flight surgeon and be briefed on ejection procedures. He's already talking about bracing for the speed as well as the pitch and yaw of the craft.

"Don't worry," Schulz said. "I'm going to take care of him."

Schulz figures he'll have the plane going about 500 miles per hour, probably about as fast as he can go without breaking the sound barrier and rattling the Fourth Street windows.

That's going to be a lot faster than the regulation 300 miles per hour that Schulz is required to take in the plane over the stadium on Gameday. He'll be able to rev it up in air space away from downtown, but it still won't be quite Mach 1.

Schulz, who says he and Graham will be aloft for about an hour, is great under pressure. Forget Iraq and Hungary. He's 4-0 in flyovers.

"My first one was when they beat Kansas City when they were undefeated," said Schulz of the '03 upset.

He also ignited wins over Dallas in 2004, Minnesota in 2005, and Cleveland in 2006.

"I wouldn't mind getting Cleveland again," he said of the Sept. 28 game.

And then there was last year's opener on Monday night, the 27-20 victory over Baltimore.

"I was on the field in charge of the timing," he said, "but you have to count that."

OK, make it 5-0.

The Bengals always have a pretty good air game.

POSTSCRIPT

"Game-winner. It felt like kicking a game-winner," Graham said after Schulz brought them down Tuesday afternoon. "It was an awesome experience."

The best part?

"The first part. When we took off and went straight up in the air on a vertical climb," Graham said.

The best part?

"Look, it would have been a great thrill for me to fly any of the Bengals because I'm such a big fan," said Schulz, whose data read they flew for about 70 minutes.

"But when I read about what Shayne has done for charity, and especially for the military and Matt Maupin, it was a privilege to fly him. I just enjoyed meeting the guy and spending time with him. And I ended up spending the whole day with him."

And Schulz must have a lot of that sway. He got permission to fly over an empty PBS, and this time he was able to gaze.

"We came in a little bit from the south and you could read 'Bengals' written in each end zone and the tiger on the 50," Schulz said. "The weather was about as perfect as you could get. Really a pretty view."

But Graham enjoyed the aerobatics, and Schulz gave him everything he knows.

"Loops. Rolls. High G force turns. Straight up. Straight down," Schulz said. "You could tell he's done some flying before in military-type planes."

As Graham reported, "I didn't throw up once. Didn't even get sick," and Schulz has seen plenty of that.

"Oh yeah. People get sick all the time," but he said he was more worried about Graham's arm.

"I was afraid the poor guy's arm was going to fall off," he said. "You wouldn't believe how many autographs he signed for all the people on the base."

Schulz got the craft up to as much as 550 miles per hour and the biggest G-forces that were exerted were about 9. Which means the 200-pound Graham had about 1,800 pounds pressing down on him.

"It really didn't seem like that, but you could definitely feel it," he said and, besides, Schulz figured that he would be OK.

"The flight surgeon checked him out and we were relieved when he said a professional athlete was fit to fly," Schulz said with a laugh.

In the end, that's what impressed Schulz. From one professional dealing with another.

"When we stopped to talk to the people in maintenance, one of them asked him to sign a picture of him kicking a winning field goal at the end of a game," Schulz said. "He said, 'That's from when we beat Cleveland (in 2005),' and somebody asked him, 'How do you know?' and he said, 'I remember every kick I've ever made.' That was pretty impressive to me."

Of course, Graham was pretty impressed by Schulz and his ability to make the plane spin on a dime. When Graham spoke to the pilots, Schulz said he asked them, "Who's the best?" and when no one said anything, one of them told them, "That'd be like asking you about the AFC North."

But don't be afraid to ask Schulz.

"Cautiously optimistic," Schulz said. "I think the quarterback thing is going to come back to bite Cleveland. Baltimore is rebuilding. Pittsburgh is always good, so they're probably the team to beat. But it's a tough, tough schedule. I think it's pretty even, so why not us?"

Spoken like a guy who can truly say, "The sky's the limit."

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