Sunday, February 22, 2015

The timelessness of Miracles

So I turn on my car radio and Mike Eruzione is talking, summoning up a moment 35 years gone. America was deep in its malaise, and here came Rizzo and Jimmy and Buzzy, all the boys, and here was the inscrutable Herb Brooks back there behind the bench ...

And, well. Yes. Every American alive then, and some not, know the rest: Embarrassed by the mighty Red Army juggernaut barely two week before, the U.S, Olympic hockey team shocked the world in Lake Placid, and we waved our flags and were lifted up. The Soviets yanked the best goaltender in the world, Vladislav Tretiak, and Eruzione scored the go-ahead goal with exactly 10 minutes to play, and here at the end was Al Michaels yipping "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" while, underneath that benediction, Ken Dryden softly intoned his own: "Unbelievable."

Thirty-five years ago today.

What that speaks to, of course, is the shelf life of miracles, how somehow they remain forever fresh no matter how much distance we have put between us. I am coming up on 60 years old, which means I have lived more than half my life since that night in Lake Placid. Exactly as much time has passed between the Miracle and now as had then passed between the Miracle and the end of World War II. It has been that long.

But because the story is so endlessly told, and thus so endlessly renewed, we forget how long it's been, and what an utterly different world it was then. ESPN had been born, but no one had yet heard of it. There was no such thing as wireless, the internet, cellphones or personal computers. You could buy something called a VCR then, but they cost $1,500 and most of us didn't know anyone who owned one.

Elsewhere in the sports world, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were rookies in an NBA that was so devalued, the previous season Finals games had aired on tape delay. Not even the Olympics were totally live. That included the Miracle, which was played early on a Friday evening and then broadcast later that night.

I was a 24-year-old kid working for the dear departed Anderson Daily Bulletin then, and that night I was in Elwood, Indiana, covering a high school basketball game. I was down at the scorer's table taking down the JV box when the P.A. guy announced the score. The place went nuts, and, abandoning my own objectivity, I punched the air with my fist.

Later, back at the office, we all huddled around the TV to watch the last 10 minutes. Even knowing how it came out, it was excruciating -- mainly because there was still such an air of unreality about it, you kept expecting the Soviets to score on every rush. Somehow, they never did.

And, somehow, it lives on. And on. And on.

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