The Revolution 1, in-flight streaker 0

Team subdues male passenger

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Frank Dell'Apa and Jeannie M. Nuss
Globe Staff / July 19, 2008

The man had stood out among the other passengers from the beginning. Craig Tornberg saw him smiling, acting strange. Maybe his green shirt meant he was a Mexico soccer fan showing his dislike for the New England Revolution players onboard the plane.

Then, suddenly, the man was running down the aisle naked.

"He starts laughing," said Tornberg, general manager of the Revolution. "I'm thinking what's going on, is this a streaker? I've got to do something."

Some 15 minutes after the man was ordered to put his clothes back on, he allegedly ran for the exit door in what seemed like a move to open it.

The Revolution is used to holding down opponents. But this time the team faced something much more serious.

"I react, and I grabbed the guy and pulled him away from the door," Tornberg, 53, said. "He's talking gibberish."

The plane, American Airlines Flight 725, which originated at Logan International Airport, was heading to Los Angeles but was diverted to Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City about 1:30 CST. Some passengers became frantic during the incident.

The man was taken off the plane in Oklahoma City and questioned by the FBI before being brought to a crisis center for medical and mental evaluation. His name was not released.

Authorities said the emergency doors are not operable in flight, and there was no danger of them opening. After the man was removed, the plane resumed its flight to Los Angeles.

Through it all, it was another show of strength for the New England Revolution, which was heading to California for its next SuperLiga match against Chivas USA, to be held tomorrow. Players took the opportunity to pull out their Sharpies and sign posters for the children on the plane.

"They took swift action to safely subdue the individual and protect the aircraft and its passengers," said FBI spokesman Gary Johnson.

For Tornberg, the situation ranged from a joke to a scare.

"I've never seen anything like that happen on an airplane," Tornberg said.

Tornberg said he first noticed the man, two rows away, smiling at him, and he felt that something wasn't right.

The man was sitting in Row 9 next to the emergency exit. He was clean-shaven, with blondish-brown hair, and weighing about 175 pounds at nearly 6 feet in height.

"He's kind of staring at me," Tornberg said. He thought maybe the man favored Mexico's National Team, a US rival in international soccer.

"So maybe it's the typical, 'I know you're in soccer, I know you're in sports,' " Tornberg said.

Later, Tornberg saw the man enter the bathroom, where he remained for some time.

"And then he comes out, naked, prancing in his seat," Tornberg said.

Tornberg turned to Michael Burns, a former Revolution and National Team player and now the New England team's vice president of player personnel, and said, "I might need you."

Children were on the plane, and this was inappropriate, thought Tornberg. He told the man to get back into the bathroom and put his clothes on.

"He said something like, 'I don't hear and don't see you,' " Tornberg said. "I said to myself, 'Are you kidding me?' "

He reported the incident to the flight attendant, who returned with help and put a blanket over the man as they tried to talk to him.

"He's talking gibberish, saying things like, 'A miracle is going to come,' " Tornberg said. "Then he is almost embarrassed. He runs into the bathroom and comes back in full apparel and sat back down."

Some 15 minutes later, Tornberg was telling the story to star Revolution defender Chris Albright when he saw the man run around a seat and toward the emergency exit.

Burns started yelling at the man. Tornberg grabbed him and started pushing him into the seat, and members of the flight crew arrived again.

"He's saying 'I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that,' " Tornberg said. "By then, the guy wasn't going anywhere.

"I made eye contact with [players] Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis - they were ready to come up, they were backing us up - but then he seems under control. The next thing I know they cuff him and strapped him in."

Jeannie Nuss and Frank Dell'Apa reported this story, and Milton J. Valencia of the Globe staff wrote it.

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