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Super Bowl Salute: Challenger Commander’s Son Plans Stadium Flyover

January 27, 1996

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Air Force Capt. Rich Scobee can’t think of anywhere he’d rather be Sunday _ the 10th anniversary of the day his father died in the Challenger disaster _ than up among the clouds.

The 31-year-old fighter pilot will lead a formation of F-16s over Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., just before Super Bowl kickoff.

It’s a fitting tribute, he says, to his father: space shuttle commander, test pilot, combat pilot, patriot and football fan.

``He was, and I am, too, a more private person. Things done in front of a large crowd aren’t necessarily our style. But in this circumstance ... he’d think it was a good act. I think he’d be happy with it,″ Scobee said in a telephone interview Friday before flying to Arizona.

Francis ``Dick″ Scobee and his crew of six, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, were killed when Challenger exploded 8.9 miles above the Atlantic Ocean shortly after liftoff Jan. 28, 1986.

Rich Scobee, then a 21-year-old Air Force Academy cadet, watched in horror from the roof of the launch control center, his arms around his mother and older sister.

Dick Scobee was 46 and on his second space shuttle flight.

``It was a hard time to get through,″ his son said. ``I couldn’t quantify it, how long it took. I’m still not over it. It’s something you can never be over,″ he added, sniffling softly.

``I’m bitter about it, no doubt about it,″ he added. ``It’s hard to be without my dad. I miss him a lot. But it has been 10 good years. I’m married. I have two wonderful kids. The sad part of it is, my father wasn’t there to see his grandchildren, my children. That’s really hard for me. However, the main reason I agreed to do anything, the flyover, is so people could see what good could come of it.

``Look at how my dad lived his life. He was an average American. He did some extraordinary things, but he was just a great guy and there are great guys everywhere. Sometimes, something tragic has to happen to get people to sit up and take notice of what one man can accomplish, and everybody is capable of that.″

With the 30th Super Bowl falling on the 10th Challenger anniversary, the National Football League wanted to pay tribute to the seven fallen heroes. So the NFL asked Scobee _ a combat pilot like his Vietnam War veteran father, having patrolled the Persian Gulf _ to join a flyover at the conclusion of the national anthem.

Scobee tries to spend every Jan. 28 in the air _ he says he feels closest to his father up there _ and readily agreed. He will be accompanied by three other members of the 78th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina; they will fly the so-called missing man formation.

``The Super Bowl is traditionally a celebration of life more than it is a remembrance of death,″ Scobee said. ``But it is very appropriate, I think.″

Scobee’s fondest memories of his father involve football. As often as they could, father and son played football in the back yard of the family’s Houston home. The elder Scobee had played end for Auburn High School in Washington state.

``Watching football with my dad was some of the best things we did, the best parts of my life,″ Scobee said.

Those good times _ not the tragedy _ will be on Scobee’s mind and in his heart when he takes off Sunday from Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix for Sun Devil Stadium and when he returns to the stadium to join his mother and sister in the stands. He won’t say whether he’ll be cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Dallas Cowboys.

As he does every time he flies, Scobee will take along a long-ago present from his father. He won’t say what it is, except that ``it’s smaller than a large stuffed elephant″ _ and that it’s a bond between two pilots, between a loving father and son.

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