‘Miracle’ still seems like one

Friday and Saturday nights are extremely busy this time of year in the Chronicle sports department.

With high school, Montana State and Olympic results piling in after 9 o’clock, there is barely time to lift my head from the computer screen.

Maybe an occasional dash to the fax machine to receive a basketball box score, but mostly, it’s all about typing up results, editing stories and concocting headlines.

Despite this rush to deadline, the television is usually on, even though there’s no time to watch it. I hear the same commercials for hours on end, but it’s only on Sunday, when I’m relaxed at home, that I actually realize that the group of 20-somethings in the back of the cab singing off-key is an ad for Heineken.

This past Saturday it wasn’t a commercial that caught my ear, but a look back 30 years ago by NBC during the network’s Olympic coverage. And I knew exactly what was being shown without ever looking up. All I had to do was hear Al Michaels’ voice.

Goose bumps. I’m getting them now just typing this.


See, it’s making your skin tingle too, isn’t it?

Just hearing Al’s voice brought me back to what I was doing when Team USA upset the USSR, as they were known then. (They wore CCCP on their uniforms; they were the villains).

I was 11 and the game was on tape delay. There was no internet, no cable, so no one had a clue about what was about to happen. The game was on a Friday night and I watched the whole thing. My parents went to bed somewhat early, but I remained tuned in.

I remember the whole scene quite vividly. Sure, I could Google the events of that night, but whatever’s etched into my brain remains special to me, true or not. The Americans tied the game at 2 with a fluky goal – the kind the Russians NEVER give up – in the final second of the first period.

Still, it seemed hard to believe the US could win. It was only a few weeks prior that the Russians dealt the US a 10-3 thrashing at Madison Square Garden.

Another thing I remember about the meeting during the Olympics was that the Russians actually pulled their star goalie – the hardly impenetrable Vladislav Tretiak. Must’ve been that weak goal.

Anyhow, when Eruzione scored in the third period, it was time to start believing.

When Michaels began counting down (goose bump alert!), I was standing in front of the TV, ready to burst.

‘This place is going crazy!’ exclaimed Michaels, or was it color commentator Ken Dryden? Doesn’t matter, because I was going crazy, too. By the time Michaels (it was definitely him this time) asked his most famous question about believing in miracles (the answer: ‘YES!!!!!!!!!!!), I was jumping up and down on my living room floor – and trying to be quiet at the same time. Remember, my folks were sleeping.

The Russian players just stood with their chins resting on their sticks, blankly staring at the Americans who had discarded theirs before piling on goalie Jim Craig.

I was so excited. I wanted to share the news, but I was the only one awake in the house. So before turning in for the night, I wrote the score on a 3-by-5 index card and dropped it on the floor in the hallway so my father could read it first thing in the morning: USA 4, USSR 3.

Two days later, the goose bumps returned. Sure, the Americans had finally beaten the unbeatable Russians, but they still had to win one more game to win the gold medal, which paled in comparison to what happened that Friday night in Lake Placid. It was the Cold War era; what could top beating the Russians?

It was like when the Red Sox came back from 3-0 down to defeat the hated Yankees – the Sox still had to play in the World Series, and a win there was more window dressing than anything.

Of course, USA won again, and I can still hear Michaels: ‘Five seconds to the gold medal, four … the impossible dream comes true!!!!!’

The players became household names nearly overnight. Not just the obvious stars (Craig, Johnson, Eruzione), but the whole team. Dave Silk, Jack O’Callahan, and Bill Baker, who scored a key goal well before the medal round in the final seconds of a 2-2 tie against a pretty good Swedish team. I even remember the backup goalie’s name – Steve Janaszak – who didn’t play a single second during those two weeks. His view of the whole fortnight would have made for an interesting book.

After another memorable moment when Eruzione waved the entire team up to the podium for the medal ceremony, it was time to move on. But these guys were still huge heroes.

I remember the made-for-TV movie, with Karl Malden as head coach Herb Brooks. And Craig was in a Coke (I think) commercial, with highlights of him playing in his first NHL game with the Atlanta Flames (well before the days of the Thrashers).

And it was huge when Craig, who played at Boston University, was traded to my hometown Bruins. His NHL career was pretty much a dud, as it was for many of the ’80 team. Eruzione, also a BU guy, made news when he decided NOT to play in the pros, but some did enjoy success.

Defenseman Ken Morrow won a Stanley Cup soon after while playing for the New York Islanders. Dave Christian had a long, productive career. Mark Johnson, now the US women’s coach, probably had the best career.

Those who didn’t are still remembered. Steve Christoff was another of those memorable players, so much that when I became the beat writer for the MSU football team and Rob Christoff was one of the assistant coaches, I had to tell him: ‘if I ever call you Steve, don’t take offense.’

Somehow, 30 years have passed. Herb Brooks has passed. The memories certainly have not. The pictures The Associated Press made available for the anniversary are in black and white. And that’s how I chose to remember them – although I’m pretty sure we had a color TV at the time.

If the US wins gold next week, it won’t come anywhere near matching the feeling of watching the ‘Miracle’ unfold.

These days, it’s all NHL players at the Olympics. They throw them together for two weeks, then they go back to their big contracts. In 1980, that team was formed a year before the Games. They barnstormed the country and played exhibition games against NHL teams.

It was easier to take ownership of a bunch of no-name (at the time) college players.

Tonight, the US plays Canada, but the excitement just isn’t there for me. I get more enjoyment watching the athletes (Shaun White, Apolo Ohno, Bode Miller, Lindsay Jacobellis) who only appear on our screens every four years.

I’m only writing this because I have time to kill. I was going to watch the US-Canada game, but it’s on MSNBC. My satellite package has CNBC, which is showing paint dry … I mean curling. (Hey, both activities require a brush, right?). And I have SHNBC, whatever that is, but …

Oh well, no game.  

I just heard Bob Costas in the other room announce that the Americans defeated Canada 5-3. I’m still in my seat. No jumping around.

The Miracle on Ice was just that. It’s likely to never happen again. And the media throws that term around too much anyway. That and ‘unbelievable.’

That Friday night in my living room – in my pajamas, staying up late to watch something other than ‘another run’ of ‘The Love Boat’ – THAT was unbelievable.


2 Responses to “‘Miracle’ still seems like one”

  1. 1 Joe Dumas - Tim's Dad
    February 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    I do remember coming down the stairs to find that note from Tim. It was a surprize win. It stimulated my memory of the 1960 Olympics. http://www.squaw.com/winter/history_olympics.html. Those were the first Olympics that were televised and I remember watching the US beat the Russians on my black and white TV. I was in high school at the time. They also were the first winter Olympics in the US. As with the win 20 years later, this was a semifinal game and they had to beat the Checks in the final. The Cleary brothers from Boston were leaders of that team. The win took place at a time when the Bruins were in one of their many down periods so it was a treat to see local folks winning and on TV! In those days you didn’t have to worry about sitting through “up close and personal” segments about the Brazilian bobsled team. I think Bud Palmer was the announcer for the game. Anyone remember?

  2. 2 Martie Dumas - Tim's Mom
    February 25, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    The description of the USA-Russia hockey game was fabulous. I felt I was right there. To think I was there but upstairs asleep. I regret now that I wasn’t down stairs with you so we both could have jumped for joy. And shared the excitement. Nice job of reflection. And writing.

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