(WIVB) — We’ve all heard the phrase before: do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.
Former Bills offensive lineman Justin Cross has been able to say that. Twice.
Cross spent five years with the Bills from 1982-1986. In more recent years, you might hear him saying “this is your captain speaking” on a JetBlue Airlines flight.
The story starts in 1981, when then-Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson took Cross and fellow lineman Jim Richter for a ride in his plane.
Cross was hooked. He almost immediately started taking flying lessons and flew as a hobby for the next few years, buying his first plane in 1983, until he was told by a friend that he could fly commercial as a career when his playing days came to an end.
Those playing days did come to an end following the 1986 season, part of which was due to the players’ strike in 1987. Cross was visiting his father in the Virgin Islands that summer. He had an interview with Eastern Metro Airlines, which is now defunct, and was hired.
In 1990, he was hired by Trump Shuttle, an airline that was owned by former President Donald Trump. When that company was bought out in 1992, it became US Airways. He then spent 10 years with TWA, where he got to fly all over the world.
After his time there, he finally landed with JetBlue in 2003, where he has been since.
“Probably my greatest memories are places where I’ll never go again. Many trips through Egypt to Cairo, seeing the pyramids. All over Europe, Paris, Milan, Rome,” Cross said. “I had great memories flying all over the world with TWA.”
Now, he does mostly North American routes. Most pilots that have his level of seniority work 14 to 15 days out of each month, working a single-day trip up to a five-day trip. Cross said he prefers three-day trips. He is based out of Boston, so his usual route is a three-day trip that starts in Boston and goes to Los Angeles, then to Miami, then back to Boston.
That does change sometimes though. When Cross did the interview for this story he was in the midst of a last-minute schedule change. He was supposed to fly from Tampa to Denver, but was stuck in Tampa due to Hurricane Nicole.
“You never know what’s going to happen. Today is a perfect example,” he said.
He still hasn’t forgotten his football routes though. Having been drafted in the 10th round of the 1981 draft, he was the first player drafted out of Western State University, located in Colorado. His very first professional football game was one he played in.
“It was like, ‘what’s happening? Who’s here to see me?’ Being the first player drafted out of my college was a pretty special thing at the time,” Cross said. “I grew up in New Hampshire. We didn’t really have professional sports. We would cheer for the Celtics, the Bruins, the Red Sox, there wasn’t a huge Patriots following back in the day… I remember walking into this Miami game in Buffalo with 80,000 people, it was like ‘woah, look at this.’ In college, we played in front of 5,000. It was a different experience.”
Cross can recall one specific game in 1983, when the Bills faced the Miami Dolphins on the road.
“In overtime, we won 38-35. That game I was playing tackle but I was also doing the deep snapping, which was such a fun thing. I snapped the ball, we kicked the field goal. There’s this giant pile and I just hear a silent crowd. (Miami defensive end) Doug Betters is laying on top of me and he goes, ‘great game, guys,’ Cross said. “We were all just exhausted and dying from the heat, but that was a great memory.”
He still follows the Bills closely to this day, having been on the team just before the Bills went to four consecutive Super Bowls and having seen the early development of Hall of Fame players, to the success that the franchise has seen in the past couple of years.
“I can’t help it. Constantly. My wife thinks I have a problem. It’s kind of nice to feel good about something you were involved in, maybe a building block for the future. At the end of my career we had all of these great players who ended up playing in the four Super Bowls, Bruce (Smith), Andre (Reed), Thurman (Thomas), Cornelius Bennett, Jim Kelly of course. All of the sudden we had four great years. We’re still wishing,” he said. “Now, you can be proud to say you were associated with the Bills.”
For him, at 63 years old, he is planning on retiring from flying at some point in the next couple years to spend time with his wife and 10-year-old daughter. He says he would like to coach whatever sport his daughter is playing.
“I’ve been blessed to never have a real job in my life,” Cross said. “I can never complain about my career and where it led me. I’ve been blessed and lucky with all of it. It’s been a good run.”
Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.