ST. JOSEPHS, Mich.—Michael (Mickey) A. Wittman, a longtime blimp advocate who worked 25 years with Goodyear Airship Operations, died on June 4. He was 74.
Wittman was among those credited with beginning and popularizing aerial sports broadcasting from the blimp, now prevalent in today's TV sportscasts. During his career with Goodyear, he directed the blimp in covering more than 2,500 live sports events, including six Olympics, 30 World Series, 26 Super Bowls and countless college football games.
He was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2013.
Wittman began working for Goodyear Airship Operations in 1972, then left the company for five years. He was rehired in August 1978, serving Goodyear at both the Houston and Akron blimp bases as well as in New York City.
Henry Inman, who had public relations responsibility for the Asia and Latin America region from 1997-2000, said he and Wittman launched blimps in Brazil and Australia, as well as one for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, called the Spirit of the South Pacific.
"Then we launched one in Sao Paulo, and we met with TV Globo (the premiere TV network in Brazil) executives and gave them exclusive use of the Goodyear blimp for all the soccer games. … It was quite a coup thanks to Mickey and our local PR guy," Inman said.
A Goodyear spokesman told another story of Wittman: Once, he went to Rockefeller Center in New York City, where many television executives had offices at that time. The story goes that Wittman went up to a very high floor, announced he was "the blimp guy" and dropped hundreds of business cards in hopes of landing blimp coverage.
"It was a different time," the spokesman said.
According to his obituary, one of Wittman's proudest moments with Goodyear came during the 1989 World Series in San Francisco. One of the firm's blimps was above Candlestick Park when the 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck the Bay Area.
Wittman stayed airborne for more than 24 hours, organizing coverage of the devastation. Colleagues credited him and his crew with saving lives that day.
Wittman, a graduate of the University of Miami (Fla.), was a renowned athlete, playing for the Akron Wingfoots of the National Industrial Basketball League.
He ended his collegiate basketball career ranked among the school's all-time leading scorers and rebounders, a two-time MVP who was inducted into the Miami Sports Hall of Fame. After earning his bachelor's degree in English literature, he continued his basketball career with the Phillips 66ers and Wingfoots.
Inman said once, during a long layover in Miami, Wittman took him to visit the Miami campus.
"As soon as we walked in (to the athletic office), everyone knew Mickey," Inman said. "He was out of control with handshakes, slaps and laughter. He'd stop and show me his photo on the wall and the U of Miami basketball records … then say, … 'See, I held this record until (NBA Hall of Famer and former teammate) Rick Barry stole it from me,' " Inman recounted.
Born on Sept. 26, 1944, in Queens, N.Y., Wittman is survived by his wife of 28 years, Susan (Contreras); their daughters Alex and Colby; and a daughter Paige from his first marriage with wife Shirley. Other survivors include his brother Scott; grandchildren Emerson and Scott; and son-in-law Eric (Nasstrom).
To offer condolences and share "Mickey stories," visit purelycremations.org.
In lieu of flowers, Wittman's family asks anyone wishing to pay tribute to his memory to give bike riders adequate space on the road.
"Mick was a great, true friend," Inman said. "He was wild in his younger days, but when it came to his friends and his work, he was the consummate professional. Goodyear should've paid him more than they paid their CEOs because he gave them more positive publicity than they did."