The Jets were determined to get Calvin Pace in free agency even if that meant reaching new heights. Pace, a talented outside linebacker who spent the first five years of his pro career with the Cardinals in Arizona and was courted by 10 teams, got a chopper ride during his visit courtesy of Mr. Woody Johnson
"I didn't tell them that I have a little fear of heights," Pace admitted Wednesday during an exclusive interview with newyorkjets.com. "It really wasn't that bad, but there was a point when the helicopter went a little bit higher and I was grabbing the chair a little bit harder.
"Actually I was in the helicopter with David Harris and he had just eaten right before we got in the helicopter. He got a little bit queasy up there and there really isn't anywhere you can relieve yourself, so that was a little bit nerve-wracking," he added. "But it was fun, though, just to see the city from a bird's-eye view. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities."
Pace eventually signed with the Jets on March 4. The addition was a major coup for head coach Eric Mangini and GM Mike Tannenbaum as they won a showdown for the defender's services with former mentor Bill Parcells, now the executive vice president of football operations in Miami. Pace, a Douglasville, Ga., native who attended Wake Forest University, has returned to the eastern seaboard and is situated a lot closer to his family.
"I said if I left Arizona, I didn't want to go any further west," he said. "I wanted to get back closer to my family because my family had pretty much watched me from Pop Warner through college. Playing in Arizona was kind of rough because they had lives and they had to work, too, and that's not a short flight. It's definitely better for me and I think they'll love New York."
Pace is in the meet-and-greet stage of his Jets career. He already has completed a couple of workouts with his new teammates as the Green & White returned for the start of their conditioning program Monday.
"It's been fun. All the guys I've met have been real cool, real nice," he said. "I met a lot of the guys. I can't say I've met all of them because we've been in different groups as far as working out. It's been a pretty easy transition."
In addition to meeting Harris and sharing a lift with the inside linebacker, Pace played with WR Chris Davis at Wake and faced off against WR Jerricho Cotchery, an N.C. State product, during their ACC days. Corner David Barrett's last year with the Cards was 2003 and that happened to be Pace's rookie year.
The 6'4", 270-pounder, who racked up a career-high 6.5 sacks last season and whose 96 tackles led the Cards, has a thick upper body. He appears to be in great physical shape as he begins his first off-season program under strength coach Sal Alosi.
"We've been just testing to see where we're at as far as flexibility and strength," he said. "We did a light run yesterday. It was nothing too serious. You don't just come in and hit it running, but I'm pretty sure they're going to pick it up in the days and weeks ahead."
As one of the most sought-after players on the open market, Pace's free agency experience was hectic. He said he was probably up for 48 hours straight as teams made their pitches and he attempted to gather the information in order to make a life-changing decision.
"It was fun to an extent, but then after a while my mind was spinning because I was just trying to process everything that I had seen at each place," he said. "There was one other team that wanted to get in the mix and I just couldn't do it — it was too much. I was struggling with two teams. With three I couldn't handle it."
But he was comfortable today, sitting in a first-floor public relations office at Weeb Ewbank Hall. He has already gotten to work on the Jets' defensive system, reviewing tape from last season.
"I watched a little film yesterday," he said. "From yesterday on, I'll probably be doing something every day, whether it is learning the defense and just watching the games from last year, trying to familiarize myself with some players."
Sporting a traditional Yankees cap this morning, Pace is already familiar with both of New York's major league baseball teams.
"I'm a baseball fan. I like the way the Yankees do things as far as the way they build their team," he said. "I'm a Mets fan, too, because I like Jose Reyes, David Wright, [Carlos] Beltran. They have a good team, too. I like the New York teams and hopefully I can get out to a couple of games."
One imagines Pace won't have much of a problem scoring tickets, but he's probably not interested in the upper deck. He's touched down in New York and the field level suits him just fine.