Earlier this week, I was invited by Alaska Airlines to watch the Alaska Plane Pull for Strong Against Cancer at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The two competing teams were led by Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks and Alaska’s “Chief Football Officer,” and actor and comedian Joel McHale, who grew up on Mercer Island (right outside of Seattle) and is known for his role in the series “Community” and as host of E!’s “The Soup.”
Each celebrity captain had 18 team members, comprised of employees from Alaska’s maintenance and engineering departments, as well as members of the community who were the lucky winners of Alaska’s Facebook contest.
Who could pull a 92,000-pound 737-800 25 feet in the least amount of time? I was there to find out!
I got there early and had the opportunity to watch both teams warm up for what was clearly going to be a strenuous physical contest, requiring the utmost preparation and mental focus. And nothing says “it’s business time,” like matching purple sunglasses.
In the weeks leading up to the event, there was plenty of friendly Twitter trash talk between the two captains. Before they could settle it on the field (or, parking lot, if you want to get technical about it), emcees Chris Cashman and Fred Northup Jr. warmed up the crowd of cheering fans with The Wave and introduced the members of each team.
Judging by the cheers, the support for Team Russell and Team Joel seemed to be roughly equal. Alaska CEO Brad Tilden also offered his welcome and support for Strong Against Cancer.
The crowd also heard from cancer survivor Kat Tiscorina, who talked about her personal experience as a patient at Seattle Children’s Hospital. It seemed that every time she was in the hospital, she had just barely missed one of Russell Wilson’s frequent visits, and it turned into a running joke with her family. But she finally got to meet him at the Plane Pull (even got a hug), as she is thankfully no longer in the hospital.
Then it was time for some good old-fashioned plane pulling. Team Joel was up first. Once the pilots gave the thumbs up that the brakes were off, Team Joel gave it their best effort… but the plane barely budged — not a good start!
Team Russell was there to jump in and lend a helping hand (or 38). With both teams pulling together, they got it moving and across the 25-foot line in a little over one minute.
After resetting the plane to its original position, Team Russell stepped up to the rope to give it a solo try. They were able to pull it 25 feet in a very impressive 16.9 seconds. Wait… what?! How did that happen? Was Team Joel that bad?
Naturally, Team Joel felt that they didn’t quite get a fair shot, and wanted another chance to demonstrate their plane pulling prowess. They redeemed themselves with an excellent time of 15.6 seconds. However, the judges deemed that time unofficial (since it was a second try), and Team Russell was declared the winner, giving Wilson the coveted title of “2015 Plane Pull Champion.”
So what happened the first time for Team Joel? As it turned out, Alaska hadn’t anticipated how much the plane would settle on the ground after sitting for about two hours in the heat (yes, it can get warm in Seattle). So, by the time Team Joel made their first pull, it was difficult, but once the plane moved again, it was easier the second and third times.
Of course, the real winner was Strong Against Cancer, with the $30,490 raised by the event and the $175,000 donated by Alaska Airlines.
The Plane Pull was definitely a lot of fun to watch, and a great way to spend the morning at Boeing Field. With all of the charity events out there nowadays, it was nice to see something unique to draw attention and raise money for a worthy cause.
Want to help? You can still text “TEAMRUSSELL” or “TEAMJOEL” to 501501 to make a $10 donation.