And Billy goes: "You're the luckiest guy I know."
Well, now and then, that happens in a sportswriter's life. I did a story for SI this week on Bob Costas and Al Michaels. And to research the story, I asked if they could send me a DVD of the 1980 Olympic hockey game between the U.S. and Soviet Union -- the "Do you believe in miracles?" game. And they did. Of course, I have seen bits and pieces of that game many times since 1980 -- we all have -- but I have not seen the actual game, beginning to end (with extra commentary from Jim McKay), since I was 13 years old.
Watching that game (more than once) was incredible. And it inspired me to write up 10 things you may or may not know about the Miracle on Ice. You probably know most of this stuff. But it's fun just to remember.
10. The game was not broadcast live. Well, that's not exactly right... it was broadcast live on Canadian TV, so a few people up near the border saw it live. But most of the country -- almost all of the country, really -- saw it on tape delay, in prime time. The game had ended less than an hour before it was broadcast.
Funny, a lot of people still think they saw the game live. But I know that one of my strongest memories -- confirmed by the tape -- was of McKay saying that it was tape delay and that if even one person did not know the outcome, well, he wasn't going to be the one to break the news. I have seen polls through the years that suggested most of the people who watched the game on television did not know the outcome. I know that my father and I did not. That shows you how long ago 1980 was in terms of technology. There's no way you could keep that a secret now.
9. There was one celebrity in the crowd -- or at least only one celebrity that the ABC cameras showed. That was: Jamie Farr. (For those too young to remember, he played Klinger on M*A*S*H.) "Jamie Farr was definitely the biggest celebrity I saw in the crowd," Michaels says. The interesting thing is that the ABC cameras focused on Farr for a good 10-20 seconds, but never said who he was or why the cameras were locked in on him. He was that famous.* These days, you just know they would have sent a sideline reporter up there to talk with him. In many ways, television was better then.
*I once got Jamie Farr really mad. I wrote a column a few years ago poking fun at the relative lack of celebrity star-power they had at a Kansas City "celebrity" golf tournament. One of the celebs -- a last-minute addition -- was Jamie Farr. Well, he seemed to think that I was making fun of his lack of celebrity and left me a series of very angry voice mail messages that, after a while, sounded like his resume (I know now that he was in "Blackboard Jungle" and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame). I was, in fact, not trying to poke fun at Farr (after all, he was one of the few celebrities that actually showed up for the tournament) and put that in my column the next day. He called back to say he wasn't mad anymore.
8. You may know that Michaels called the game with former Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden. You may not know that the day before the game -- the day before -- Dryden has a car service drive him up to Toronto where he took the Canadian bar exam. And he passed. Yeah that's right. Ken Dryden passed the bar one day before the Miracle on Ice.
7. Michaels got the job as broadcaster of Olympic hockey because he was the only announcer in the ABC rotation who had ever called a hockey game. The interesting thing: He had called exactly one game. And that one game was the 1972 hockey game between the USSR and Czechoslovakia in Sapporo, Japan. He actually was working for NBC at the time. The Soviets won 5-2 and won gold. And the only reason Michaels called THAT game is because he grew up a hockey fan, and nobody else wanted to do it.
6. Eric Heiden won five gold medals at the 1980 Olympics* (and later became a doctor, and is now team physician for the U.S. speed skating team). But even as the biggest star of the Games, he could not get a ticket for the U.S.-Soviet hockey game. So ABC had him sit behind Michaels and Dryden on a little platform. He could not see very well, but he was in the building, which apparently is all he wanted. And Michaels has this classic image after the U.S. won the game of turning around and seeing the joy on Eric Heiden's face.
*You may not know this but Heiden is also a member of the U.S. Cycling Hall of Fame.
5. The U.S., famously, got a cheap goal with one second left in the first period, when the legendary Vladislav Tretiak gave up a terrible rebound and U.S. center Mark Johnson jammed home the puck. That goal did more than just tie the game 2-2. It so enraged Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov that he immediately pulled Tretiak. And when he pulled Tretiak, it had a huge impact on the U.S. hopes. "We were in awe of Tretiak," U.S. captain Mike Eruzione said.
But it's interesting... until I saw the game again I did not realize how it happened. There was still one second left in the period, of course, and the Soviets had already headed to the locker room. They did not want to come back out for the pointless one-second face-off. But they had to come back, and eventually they sent out a shell team -- three players and a goalie. And the goalie was backup goalie Vladimir Myshkin. So, at that moment, it appeared that Tikhonov had only pulled Tretiak for that meaningless face-off. Nobody really thought he had PULLED Tretiak for good.
But sure enough, the second period started, and Vladimir Myshkin was in goal instead of Tretiak.
"I don't know what was the reason," Tretiak told me more than 20 years after the game. "It's a big secret. Ask my coach. I still don't know.
4. Ken Morrow was the glue for the 1980 team... a stay-at-home defenseman who cleared the puck and steadied the ship and so on. You know that as soon as he and the 1980 Olympic team won gold, Morrow went to play for the New York Islanders. And... the Islanders won Stanley Cup. In fact, the Islanders won the next four Stanley Cups. I've gotten to know Morrow just a little bit -- he lives in Kansas City -- and he is one of the great guys in the world. He will talk about what a charmed life he has led.
"It was like why me?" he says. "But in a good way."
3. The memory, of course, is of the U.S. crowd going absolutely crazy. You will hear people say that was one of the loudest buildings in the history of American sports. And, at the end, it definitively was loud. But the truth is that for most of the game the crowd was actually quite quiet. In fact, there's a moment in the third period where Michaels says: "Now, finally, the crowd comes alive."
"You have to understand," Michaels says, "until Johnson scores that tying goal in the third period, there really wasn't much to cheer about."
He's right. The second period was utterly dominated by the Soviets. The Soviets scored a goal early in the second period to make the score 3-2. And then they just peppered U.S. goalie Jim Craig. The U.S. managed only two shots on goal the whole period (the Soviets had 12), and the score could easily have been 4-2 or 5-2 by the end of that period. Remember, the Soviets were huge favorites... everyone in the crowd realized that at any moment they could score three or four or five quick goals and make a mockery of the game. So the crowd was subdued until Johnson scored the tying goal with 12 minutes left. And then, it is like the same thought hit every person in the crowd (and the country) all at once: "Holy cow, the U.S. could actually WIN THIS GAME."
2. Michaels says that if he had thought up his famous line earlier -- "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" -- he never would have said it. The thing you have to understand about Michaels is that he's a pro's pro. Get the names right. Get the action right. Never jump the gun. Never say what you don't know. That's his blueprint. That's his life. And Michaels believes that if he had thought up the line earlier, he would have discarded it because in his head it would sound jingoistic or corny or both.
But he did not think up the line earlier... he was calling the game and the word "miraculous" popped into his head. That's what it was. Miraculous. The Soviets were the greatest hockey team on earth... better than NHL teams. The U.S. team was a bunch of college kids. This could not be happening. Miraculous. And as the puck came out with five seconds to go -- "How lucky was I that the puck came out," Michaels would say -- the words just came out of him. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!
Years later, Michaels would re-do the hockey commentary for the movie "Miracle." But when it came to that final, memorable line -- probably the most famous call in the history of American sports -- they used the original recording. "I couldn't do that line again," Michaels says. "No way."
1. This is in the Michaels-Costas story, but it's worth repeating here... Michaels did not just leave after the game was over. He called the Finland-Sweden hockey game. So while he, of course, understood just how big the U.S. victory had been, he was unaware of the nation's reaction, unaware of the way Americans had poured into the streets of Lake Placid. When he left the game, he saw all the people celebrating, all the waving flags, and he made it back to the hotel, and someone said to him: "Wow, that was incredible what you said." And for a second Michaels thought, "What did I say?"
It's interesting, Michaels says he never gets tired of people coming up to him to talk about that call or that game. He never tires of hearing people say where they were when they heard the call. I was in our TV room, my father was on the couch, my mother was out playing cards. I remember jumping up and down when Eruzione scored the game-winner... and I suspect that was the first hockey game I had watched, beginning to end, on television (I did go to a Cleveland Barons game once). Of course, it was the first hockey game that many Americans had seen.
"That was the beauty of that game," Michaels says. "You didn't have to understand to understand."