10 interesting facts you may not know about the Miracle on Ice
The U.S. upset the mighty Soviet Union in an epic 1980 Olympic hockey semifinal
Al Michaels' famous call -- Do you believe in miracles? Yes! -- was spontaneous
Most fans don't remember that the game was broadcast on tape delay in the U.S.
One of the great things about being a sportswriter is that every so often you get to live out the Super Bowl scene in the movie "Big." Remember that scene? Tom Hanks has become a big-wig at the toy company, and his friend Billy is in his office, and Hanks goes: "Miss Patterson, could you call down to Media and have them send up a video tape of the Giants-Broncos Super Bowl? And have them edit out all the commercials and talking and stuff?"
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.