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Atlanta Flames goaltender Jim Craig
Grant Wahl
January 19, 1998
MARCH 10, 1980
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January 19, 1998

Atlanta Flames Goaltender Jim Craig

MARCH 10, 1980

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The American flag—the one he draped over his shoulders after winning the gold medal—lies upstairs in the attic. Jim Craig gave it to a friend, Philadelphia Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh, but after Lindbergh died in a car accident, the flag found its way back to Craig. This is how it works. Sooner or later, memories of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team always come back to Craig, the scruffy college goalie who stonewalled the Soviets and made a country believe in miracles.

Craig's potential seemed limitless when he appeared on SI's cover one week after the Lake Placid Games, fresh off a win in his first start for the NHL's Atlanta Flames. Who could have known that the Olympic medal would be a golden albatross around his neck? That his pro career—he played for the Flames, Boston Bruins and Minnesota North Stars—would end four years later, cut short by injuries and inconsistency? That ultimately he would find happiness away from pro hockey in North Easton, Mass., the town where he grew up? "It's so great not to have any of the pressure of trying to live up to something that was in the past," says Craig, 40, who has worked for Valassis Communications Inc. since 1984, designing and selling newspaper advertising inserts. "The nice part is that people seem to be happy when they talk to me about it. Everywhere I go, people tell me where they were, what they were doing and how proud they were."

Now that the NHL has decided to shut down for two weeks in February so its players can compete in the Winter Olympics, there will be no more morality plays pitting U.S. college kids against the world. No more miracles on ice. No more Jim Craigs. "As a businessman I certainly understand," he says. "NHL hockey has a great chance to become a world sport, like NBA basketball. But I know it means that people won't have the chance I did. That's kind of sad."

In addition to managing $33 million in accounts for Valassis, Craig is married to his wife of 10 years, Sharlene, and he spends most of his free time coaching the T-ball, soccer and hockey teams of his nine-year-old son, J.D., and his six-year-old daughter, Taylor. He still plays in an over-30 hockey league—as a forward. "Tonight at 10:10, I'll be at the rink with some buddies," he said on a Wednesday not long ago. "We'll skate hard and feel like we're still pretty good, and then we'll go home and have a hard time waking up for work tomorrow."