SI Vault
Kathy Blumenstock
March 10, 1980
Georgians suddenly turned on to the alien sport of hockey last week, giving a lavish welcome to Olympic Goalie Jim Craig, whose pro debut with the Atlanta Flames was a rousing success, on and off the ice
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March 10, 1980

The Flame Is Still Burning Brightly

Georgians suddenly turned on to the alien sport of hockey last week, giving a lavish welcome to Olympic Goalie Jim Craig, whose pro debut with the Atlanta Flames was a rousing success, on and off the ice

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Later, back at the Flames' office, Craig chomped on a wad of green bubble gum and answered more questions, taped a two-part between-periods TV interview and fought off losing his voice. When the bouquets of microphones were cleared away late Friday afternoon, Craig asked plaintively, "Is there someplace I can hide?" There wasn't.

Georgia Governor George Busbee had invited Craig to the Capitol. Jim Craig Day was declared, and the state senate recessed briefly to meet the man Busbee called " Georgia's most famous citizen." Female staffers gushed over Craig's Bahstan accent and clung to him as they posed for Instamatic pictures. Craig's throat was getting raspier, but he smiled on, even though he had cracked a tooth on some airline food the previous evening. As he told Busbee how happy he was to be in Atlanta, Craig was hoping to see a dentist. But not just yet, Jim. One more TV appearance.

As he left the Capitol, Craig marveled at the weather: 60� and sunshine. "What a day to play even nine holes," he said, and then he headed for his final appointment of the afternoon.

On his way to the TV station, Craig thumbed through the Atlanta press guide, studying his teammates' mug shots. "I want to be able to recognize these guys," he said. And then he talked a bit about the Olympic team. "Sure, it would've been good to have a few days together, because we were all part of that big thrill. But now, for some of us, it's a business, and if you have a chance to do a commercial or something that will pay you, you'll do that instead of taking the time for yourself."

Craig caught quick glimpses of himself on two different TV channels Friday night, saw highlights of the U.S.-Soviet game—at last—and told a local sportscaster that, yes, it was true, he does shake hands and kiss his father after games. "I know he's proud of me, and a goalie's dad can't enjoy a game until it's over," Craig said. "Besides, it makes him feel good."

Craig's familial bonds are tight. After the U.S. beat Finland, he didn't join the leaping mass of humanity that was his team, but skated, instead, to the side of the rink, scanning the stands for his father.

"During the last few minutes of that game, I was thinking how great it would've been if Mom could've seen it," he said. Peg Craig died three years ago, and Jim knew his father was sharing his thoughts. "I felt if we could just make eye contact, it would be O.K.," Jim says. When he stood apart from his exuberant teammates, counting the rows in a vain search for his dad's seat and asking, "Where's my father?" the scene brought a lump to America's throat. "And ever since then, the first thing people want to know is if I found my father," Jim says. "That impressed me. People really cared."

And how they care in Atlanta. Don Craig—both senior and junior—attended the Saturday game at the Omni, and the Atlanta fans gave them a long loud welcome. They waved to the crowd, and Jim, down on the ice, gave them a little salute with his stick. Between periods the Craigs were approached, but not surrounded, by friendly Atlantans, and they smiled through it all. After the game, Don Craig Sr. told the press, "I feel 25."

By midnight, with the W on his record, Jim seemed refreshed, too, even though his night was far from over; he would have to film his Coke commercial into the wee hours. "During the third period, I felt like like I belonged," he said. "It's been a long season for me already, and I know it's going to be tough. But playing hockey is what I've always wanted to do. And now that I've got the job, I want to do it as long as I can. I think it must have been in the stars for me to be a hockey player."

His No. 1 jersey may have been in the stars, too. When Fletcher presented him with the shirt, Craig wondered if his old No. 30 was available. "That's Bouchard's," Craig was told, "but we could get you 29." Craig wavered and then decided to stick with his numero uno. But, coming down to earth, the big question in Atlanta is: Can Jim Craig stay No. 1 long enough to keep the Flames from becoming the Calgary Broncos?

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