When Tom Herman settled into a seat on a Delta Airlines plane at the Atlanta airport this morning, bound for Dallas-Fort Worth, the Ohio State offensive coordinator had a story to tell the person sitting next to him. Of course, that person likely had a story, too.
Atlanta’s freeways had been paralyzed for almost 24 hours by a snow and ice storm, and Herman had spent almost that entire time stuck on I-285 as he tried to drive from Marietta, Ga., to the Atlanta airport. It’s the height of recruiting season, and such hours are precious as Herman and other college coaches strive to make contacts. But Herman was going nowhere fast until he finally decided in the wee hours of the morning to abandon his rental car -- after calling the rental company to declare his intention -- and set out on foot for the airport.
He made it.
“Man, I’ve just gotten the first food in my mouth since Monday night, and the first bottle of water I’ve had since yesterday,” Herman said by phone on the plane.
It was the kindness of a stranger, Delta employee Terry Spiller, that helped him go the critical last 1 1/2 miles to the airport. But that’s jumping ahead in the story.
As Herman’s Twitter timeline told it, his troubles began as he neared Atlanta on what usually is a quick 50-mile trip from Marietta. He’d planned to spend the night at a hotel near the airport before getting an early start toward Texas.
“It's official Buckeyes. Just crossed the 10 hour threshold for 50 mile drive from Marietta to ATL. Still have 5 miles to go. #RecordBreaker,” he tweeted.
An hour later, “Breaking News: Still on I-285. 12 hr mark has passed. At least I'm getting some quality reps at Flappy Bird. #CompetitiveExcellence.”
Four hours after that, “I want to thank @4Warinner (Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner) for the Starbucks coffee 17 hrs ago. Was the last thing I ingested and I truly appreciate it right now. #Delirium.”
In between he had contemplated the idea of abandoning his rental car and setting out on foot, egged on by a tweet he’d received from ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, who told him it was common practice by his fellow ESPNer Todd McShay. “Just scribble National (rental car) on scrap paper. Leave on dash. It'll be ok.”
Eventually Herman did just that after first calling the rental car company to relay his situation and his intention. He grabbed his bag and set out on foot for what the GPS in his smartphone told him was a 4-mile hike to the airport.
“Everybody out there was in the same predicament,” Herman said. “I mean, there were women pushing strollers because they had to get their baby out of the car. They were walking down the freeway, I’m not sure they knew where they were going, but they knew they had to get out of their car. It’s after midnight, it’s 16 degrees, and their baby’s crying.
“As you walked you could see cars with nobody in them, cars with doors that were open, cars that were sideways on the freeway. It was crazy.”
Walking wasn’t easy, either, on the ice.
“Fall at least five times in the first two miles,” he tweeted later in his summary.
He made it to an exit, though, walked up to a service station, then schemed an easier way to go the final mile-and-a-half to the airport.
“The first person I see pull in to pump gas, I start to walk up to him, he turns around and he’s got on a Delta name badge and I said, ‘Oh, my God, I will pay you $100 to give me a ride to the airport these last 1 1/2 miles,’ “Herman said. “He told me, ‘I’m not going to take your money, but come on, get in.’ “
The journey was far from over, though.
“We saw an older woman slip and fall next to the road, so we stopped to help her, we called 9-1-1 and stayed with her til the ambulance got there,” Herman said.
“Yep, that is real. That happened,” Herman said, laughing only at the absurdity of it all.
He and Spiller finally made it to the airport, and thanks to the efforts of Meghan Whitt of the Ohio State football support staff, Herman was able to keep changing flights to accommodate his plight. She got him on the 9 a.m. to DFW.
“Yeah, I won’t forget this trip,” Herman said, before politely ending the call so he could eat.
But he did send out one last tweet.
“Thanks again to everyone for their well wishes and prayers. Please continue to pray for those still stuck out there. It is truly a mess.”