Eric Mangini finished practice, met briefly with some of his assistant coaches and then hopped into Jets owner Woody Johnson's helicopter.
The New York coach wasn't on a secret recruiting trip Thursday. He went home to Connecticut to surprise his mother, Nancy, at her college graduation.
``I told her I wasn't going to be able to make it, but it was so important to be there,'' Mangini said. ``She's been working on her degree for a long time. It's incredible. She's a diligent student and I wish I was as good a student as she's been.''
Nancy Mangini, 69, went back to school a few years ago so she could learn a little more about art history.
On Thursday night, she walked on stage and accepted her associates degree in science - with honors - from Tunxis Community College in front of a number of friends and family members, including her son, the coach.
``My daughter had a luncheon and my brothers and sister were there, but Eric wasn't there and I really didn't expect him to come, but then I thought, `Well, maybe, but it is a long drive for him to come and then just turn around and go back,'' Nancy Mangini said Friday. ``It wasn't until after the ceremony when everyone was waiting outside that I saw him. I was delighted and so pleased.''
Mangini's schedule was packed this week with voluntary team workouts while also preparing for a youth football camp. He knew he wouldn't be able to make the trip if he had to drive. So, Johnson offered him the use of his helicopter and Mangini made the trip from Farmingdale Airport to Robertson Field Airport in Plainville, Conn., in 35 minutes.
``It was great,'' said Mangini, who had been in a helicopter just once before. ``It was smooth and fast - and no traffic.''
Mangini met up with other family members at one of his sisters' houses and the group headed over to Central Connecticut State, where the graduation ceremony was held.
Upon hearing of her son's mode of transportation, Nancy Mangini just laughed.
``I was really impressed,'' she said. ``We were all just so happy. Eric came back to my house and we ordered pizza and had dessert. It was just a lovely, fun time.''
After a few hours celebrating his mother's big night, it was back to the air for Mangini, who got back to the team's offices late Thursday night and watched practice film.
All in a day's work for a loyal son.
``He was my baby - the youngest of the five - and you kind of hold on to that youngest one longer,'' said Mangini, whose pleasant and even-keeled demeanor rubbed off on her youngest son. ``I think we have a good relationship. He's very, very good to me. I just love him.''
Nancy Mangini was a stay-at-home mother, a responsibility that intensified when her husband, Carmine, died of a heart attack when Eric was only 16. To help get over her grief, Mangini, who lives in Avon, Conn., became involved with local museums: the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford and the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington. She took classes to become a docent at each, and, with her interest in art piqued, Mangini decided to learn more.
``I thought I'd just take a couple of courses in art history, so I signed up, and it was an art history course and British literature,'' she said. ``I had always wanted a college degree and once I started, I just fell into it. There's just so much out there to learn and I just continued on and took a couple of courses each semester and then was able to get my degree.''
While taking a history course at Tunxis, Mangini got a real blast from the past on the first day of class when she met her professor, Dr. Rafaele Fiero.
``I looked at this young man and I thought, `I know him from somewhere,''' Mangini recalled. ``He came over and was handing out the syllabus to everyone and he said, `Mrs. Mangini, how are you?' I said, `Oh my goodness. It's Ralf Fiero.'''
Yep, the same guy who used to be one of Eric's high school classmates.
``I made sure to call him and explain what a good student she was,'' Eric said with a laugh.
Nancy Mangini isn't sure what's next for her, but she's interested in pursuing an art history degree from Central Connecticut State.
``There's just so much to learn out there,'' she said. ``I would highly recommend to any senior citizen that has the time to take classes. I think what it did for me was give me a more liberal attitude. You get kind of used to doing things the same way with the same old beliefs that you grew up with and all of the sudden, you're given a whole new outlook and get different opinions.''
She keeps her thoughts about football to herself, though, especially when it concerns her son's team.
``I'm too much of a novice with football that I wouldn't dare,'' said Mangini, who attends every home game. ``Whatever he does is right. I wouldn't even assume I knew more than he does when it comes to football. Other things I might correct him on, like child rearing, but certainly not football.''

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