But there they were, drawn together by unexpected phone calls, jarring e-mails and news reports that just didn't make sense.
Did you hear?
They were coming home from vacations. Enjoying the weekend. Watching football.
Turn on your TV. A helicopter crashed. You'll never believe.
They would later say it wasn't really sadness that initially swept over them. It was shock, disbelief, numbness. Who could imagine?
One of their teammates was gone.
No one was surprised Mickey Lippy became a paramedic. As a child, he would bandage his stuffed animals and move them from room to room with a gurney he fashioned out of an old TV stand. And it was also no surprise that he joined the fire department and later the state police. Mickey was always the consummate team player. Growing up around sports, it was tough for him not to be.
Bruce Lippy taught physical education for 40 years in Baltimore County schools. He remembers coming home and spotting his son - named after Mickey Mantle - waiting on the porch.
"He'd have a basketball or lacrosse stick or whatever," Lippy says. "He was just waiting for me to get home to practice or play with him."
Mickey was a year-round athlete, rotating among baseball, football, basketball and lacrosse. His father remembers Mickey's first year playing Little League. Mickey hit a home run to win the game. The bleachers were filled with cheering parents, and all their attention was suddenly focused on the small boy with the bat.
"He didn't want to run around the bases," Lippy says. "He was not one that needed the limelight. He was a team guy all the way. That's why he was so well-liked."
That became quickly apparent when Mickey transferred as a sophomore to Calvert Hall from Loch Raven High in 1989.
If there was any doubt that Mickey was embraced as part the Cardinals team, it disappeared quickly. Just two weeks into the school year, Mickey's grandmother died. Mickey walked in the locker room one afternoon before practice and saw his teammates already seated. He thought he was late. He was certain he would be forced to run after practice.
But Mickey was given a flower arrangement and a card signed by the entire team. Then they walked in a line, one by one shaking the new kid's hand and expressing condolences.
Theirs was a team in every sense of the word.
Making a name for himselfThe first thing many of his new teammates noticed about Mickey was the scar on his arm. When Mickey was just 3, he stuck his arm through a glass door. He underwent surgery and made several hospital visits. He fell in love with the medical field.
As a teenager, though, his efforts were focused on sports, particularly football and lacrosse.
"It just was his life," his father says. "If we walked into a room and there was a beauty queen on one side of the room and a football on the other, he'd have went to the football."
Mickey started on varsity as a sophomore, and by the time he was a junior, most opposing coaches and players were familiar with No.51. He played center and linebacker, which meant he seemed to touch the football on every play of the game. In the Turkey Bowl his junior year - Calvert Hall's annual Thanksgiving matchup with Loyola - the announcer called out each tackle. "Yep, it's Lippy again, folks," he said.
"On the field, he was just an animal," says Joe Antonelli, who was captain and played defensive tackle during Mickey's senior year. "I played in front of him, and I always felt so much better when Mickey had my back."
Mickey's senior season - 1991 - was one of the best Calvert Hall has enjoyed. In its fourth game, against Cardinal Gibbons, Calvert Hall held a 10-3 lead in the third quarter. Gibbons drove to within sniffing distance of the goal line, and on second-and-goal, Mickey snared an interception at the 5-yard line. The Cardinals scored on their ensuing possession.
He was always like that, drawn to the ball. He was the defensive captain for a unit that held seven of its 11 opponents to six points or fewer.
For all three years, Bruce Lippy watched practice every day. Not because he wanted to nitpick the coaching; just because he liked watching his son. After practice, he would try to prod his son into being meaner. But that just wasn't Mickey.
"When he walked across the line, he was all football. And then he stepped back across and he was a gentleman again," said Bill Mackley, Calvert Hall's coach from 1988 to 1993. "He was the kind of kid who would knock the heck out of somebody but then immediately help them back up."
For nearly a century, Calvert Hall's season has culminated with the Turkey Bowl, one of the nation's oldest Catholic school rivalries. More than 10,000 people would fill the seats of Memorial Stadium on Thanksgiving morning.
"I remember telling him, you're going to be running down the same runway that Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Artie Donovan, the runway that all of them ran onto the field from," Bruce Lippy says. "I remember him, saying, 'Dad, this is an honor.'"
'Quiet but confident'Calvert Hall lost the Turkey Bowl during Mickey's senior season, but the Cardinals still finished 9-2. Mickey was named All-Metro as an offensive lineman, but, as The Sun reported at the time, he could've easily made the team as a linebacker, too.
"I think back to those days, and I get goose bumps," says Joe DeSimone, a former offensive lineman. "Mickey probably didn't have time to think twice about it, but I still think about it all the time. I still think about him all the time. Once you're teammates, you're always teammates, you know?"
Mickey injured his ankle late in the season. Thinking it was only a sprain, he played on it in the final two games, plus a postseason all-star game. He would later learn there was a break and it required surgery.
He missed his senior season of lacrosse but didn't veer far from the locker room. He served as a student trainer.
"Even in football, when you twisted an ankle, you wanted Mick to tape it up," Antonelli says. "He knew what he was doing. The trainer might do it, but then Mick would say, 'Let me see that,' and he'd redo it for you."
The day after graduation, Mickey and his buddies piled into his Isuzu Rodeo and drove to Ocean City, a rite of passage for Maryland graduates. They crammed clothing, food and beverages into the car, but Mickey's giant "box of life" took up most of the space. The giant tackle box was packed with first-aid equipment hard to find outside a hospital. It went everywhere Mickey went, and with a crew of recent grads hitting the beach, it was definitely going to Ocean City.
The following fall, Mickey took a football scholarship to Shepherd University in West Virginia. Still bothered by his ankle, though, he was unable to play and eventually continued his education closer to home at Essex Community College.
Even though his future wouldn't necessarily be in sports, no one really worried about Mickey.
"He was the guy who seemed to have everything figured out," his friend Patrick Accorsi says. "He was quiet but confident. The rest of us were all over the place, no idea what we were doing our lives. But with Mickey, you always knew he'd be OK."
The accidentThe evening of Sept.27 was cold and rainy. In Waldorf, two teenage girls were driving a 2003 Ford Taurus on a wet road when the car hydroplaned, crossed a median, bounced off several trees and struck another car. Response crews arrived on the scene, and soon the state police medevac helicopter - Trooper 2 - was dispatched from its hangar at Andrews Air Force Base.
On board for the rescue was Mickey Lippy.
Lippy, 34, spent four years as an Anne Arundel County firefighter before joining the state police in 2004. Three years later, he was promoted to his dream job, a medic aboard police medical helicopters.
He had recently returned to work from family leave. His wife, Chrissy, had given birth to a baby girl. Madison was only 4 months old when Mickey boarded Trooper 2 and set out for Charles County.
Lippy helped load the two girls into the helicopter, and then Trooper 2 - with Lippy, the victims, a pilot and an emergency medical technician on board - took off. The trip should not have been long. The crash site was just 50miles from Prince George's Hospital.
Conditions, though, rapidly deteriorated. Rain became heavy, and fog grew thick. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, within an hour, visibility decreased from seven miles to four and the cloud ceiling dropped from 1,300 feet to just 500 feet.
Rerouted to Andrews Air Force Base, the pilot was still having trouble assessing his surroundings. He radioed once more, asking for assistance. Not long after, though, the radio went silent.
It took search crews nearly two hours to find the helicopter. It was a crumbled mess. Trooper 2 crashed into a heavily wooded hillside, just short of the base. Four of the five occupants died, including Lippy.
Always thereSports appeal to us for different reasons. Some play for the adrenaline rush and some for the competition. Others have a need to belong, and still others search for purpose in their lives. For Mickey Lippy, sports mattered because they cut to the heart of what he loved the most about life: having someone's back.
When Bruce Lippy closes his eyes, he sees a young boy on the porch, lacrosse stick in hand, waiting for his dad to come home.
Joe Antonelli sees a young athlete in the weight room, spotting for a workout partner.
Patrick Accorsi sees his friend performing a perfect swan dive off the pier to rescue him from a leg cramp.
Joe DeSimone sees a proud football player, sleeves rolled up to show off his biceps, ready to take the field on Thanksgiving morning.
But maybe the most appropriate way to remember Mickey Lippy is in his final act. The girls he loaded onto that medevac helicopter were strangers, not friends. But on that September night, he knew it was his job to have their backs, selfless until the very end.
He was a father, a husband and a son. He was a trooper, a firefighter and a medic. He was a football player, a lacrosse player and a teammate. Long after his playing career ended, he was still, in fact, the best teammate you could imagine.
Calvert Hall to remember LippyCalvert Hall is planning to honor Mickey Lippy, a 1992 graduate and member of Cardinals football and lacrosse teams, next spring. An award will be given in his name to a graduating senior who embodies Lippy's strength, courage and spirit. In addition, his No.51 jersey will be presented to his family.
Members of the Class of 1992 will hold a remembrance service to honor the life of Lippy on Saturday, from 4 to 10 p.m., at the Greene Turtle in Towson. Funds will go toward a fund established for Lippy's daughter, 4-month-old Madison. Checks can also be mailed to the Harford Financial Group, Attn: Mallory, 836 South Main Street Suite 105, Bel Air, MD 21014. Checks should be made payable to American Funds with Madison Lippy referenced in the check's memo.