If anytime soon Jim Craig does one of those credit-card TV commercials that begins "Do you know me?" the viewers will drown out the message by yelling "Yes!" loud and clear. Right now Craig, the goaltender who beat the world at Lake Placid, is as familiar as the kid next door and more American than a Chevrolet full of apple pies. Most recently seen draped in Old Glory and a gold medal, Craig made his NHL debut last Saturday night in Atlanta in a blaze of publicity. And it was fitting that Craig, whose week had been one parade and one standing ovation after another, wore No. 1 for the Flames and beat the Colorado Rockies 4-1 before Atlanta's first sellout crowd (15,156) of the season.
"I'm more at home on the ice than with all of this," Craig said after the game, gesturing at a locker room full of media people. "At first I wasn't keen on the idea of beginning in the NHL so soon, but now I'm glad I did. That's one 'W beside my name." En route to getting the W, Craig stopped 24 shots, including more than a few of the high, hard ones that tend to stun the uninitiated. But Craig clutched, scrambled and hung on, and each save was greeted by approving roars from flag-waving fans and a few bars of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious on the organ.
Craig hoped the game in Atlanta marked the end of a three-week-long whirlwind that left him gasping for air—though, in several ways, richer for the experience. During the days preceding his auspicious entry into the NHL, he had been pelted with the equivalent of 300 shots on goal a minute, and he handled the barrage with great poise. "After we beat Finland to win the gold medal, we were all drained," Craig says. "But how could we relax? We had to be at the White House the next day. So I had four beers and went to bed."
Indeed, it was lunch in the East Room with Jimmy and Rosalynn on Monday and then a quick goodby to Olympic teammates before flying to New York for a Tuesday morning TV appearance. It was on that trip that Craig discovered he was no longer anonymous. "The plane was packed with businessmen, and when I got on, they all stood and applauded," he says. "Then they were offering me limousines to take me around New York. It was unbelievable."
After an interview on Good Morning, America
, Craig flew to Massachusetts, where a fleet of limos and motorcycle cops escorted him from Boston's Logan airport to a tumultuous welcome at his home in North Easton. That night Craig and the three other former Boston University players who skated for the Olympic team—Mike Eruzione, Jack O'Callahan and Dave Silk—attended the BU-RPI game and were given gold watches for their Lake Placid heroics. "Nobody paid attention to the game," Craig says. "They just kept coming over to us and getting autographs."
On Wednesday, Craig was perched atop a North Easton fire engine for a homecoming parade that took on the aura of a free Beatles concert. "There were three state troopers with billy clubs around me, trying to keep people away," Craig says. "I never even liked state troopers before." During the parade, Craig had groceries and clothing thrust into his arms and accepted 20 dozen roses—"How much does a dozen roses cost, anyway? $25? And 20 people paid that?"—and, perhaps best of all, a case of Heineken's.
Later, Craig and his family—he is the sixth of eight children—wanted to go out for dinner but were mobbed by well-wishers at every turn. "So some restaurant sent a meal over to our house in a cop car," he says. And through it all, the Craig telephone rang nonstop, as it had for almost a week. "We must've had 10,000 phone calls," says Don Craig, 32, Jim's oldest brother. "I haven't been to work in two weeks."
At that point, Craig hadn't even come to terms with the Flames, who drafted him in the fourth round in 1977, following his sophomore season at BU. But Wednesday evening Craig lost his amateur status when his agent, Bob Murray, struck a deal with Atlanta General Manager Cliff Fletcher. In signing with the Flames through the 1982-83 season, Craig received a contract that called for a $45,000 bonus, an annual salary in the $85,000 range and a guarantee of endorsements.
"For seven years we've been unable to attract the interest of Atlanta's advertising community," Fletcher says, "but now they're knocking down our doors." By that time Coca-Cola had already gone directly to Craig, who received $35,000 for doing a one-shot TV commercial.
Craig may be the savior of the Atlanta franchise. Plagued by poor attendance, Atlanta is resigned to losing at least $2 million this season. Rumors of the Flames' departure from Georgia are rampant; according to the latest ones, the team will play next season in Calgary or Dallas or East Rutherford, N.J. But with Craig in the lineup, there could be a turnabout. His box-office appeal immediately became apparent.