Miracle on Ice

Steve Powell/Getty Images

Thinking out loud: Remembering Miracle on Ice

John Rooke
February 21, 2020 - 12:14 pm

Thinking out loud…while watching M*A*S*H reruns and discovering I still have not seen them all…

  • You remember where you were, don’t you?


  • If you were a citizen on this planet, a sports fan or political junkie of any kind at the time, you probably remember where you were at the moment when you learned the US Hockey team beat the original Evil Empire, 4-3 – the vaunted, once-unbeatable, greatest-team-ever-assembled Soviet Union during the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, NY.


  • Did I mention this came at the height of the Cold War, too?  It was a perfect storm of sports, politics, world events and human emotion all rolled into one big, global-sized snowball. 


  • This weekend, Feb. 22 is the 40th anniversary of Al Michaels’ most-famous “Do You Believe in Miracles?” call for the ABC TV cameras and audience.


  • Yes, the then-Soviet professionals had crushed the same US amateurs in a pre-Olympic exhibition, 10-3, at Madison Square Garden.  I was at Hofheinz Pavilion in Houston, earning my stripes calling a Texas-Houston women’s basketball game, when news filtered out of the stands of what had transpired on the ice that day in upstate New York. 


  • The game wasn’t even televised “live,” since it would have knocked highly-rated afternoon soap operas off the air.  But it was shown on tape-delay that night, and I certainly did not miss it.  It was history, and all of us at the arena that day knew it.


  • So was Michaels’ call.  Historical.  Iconic.  Simple.  And exquisite. 


  • “Miracle” was the title of the 2004 movie depicting the US run to gold in 1980.  Kurt Russell played coach Herb Brooks and portrayed him very well.  And yet, the win over the Soviets wasn’t the gold medal game, if you’ll recall.


  • That came two days later, in a 4-2 win over Finland.  Michaels’ line in that one?  “This impossible dream has come true!” 


  • It’s been 40 years?  Say it ain’t so.  Seems like just yesterday.  And I believe it played a big part in who many of us are in the sports business today…and why we got into sports in the first place.


  • Because you play the games to see who will win.  To compete.  For a chance to measure yourself against the best, no matter the odds.


  • Mike Eruzione.  Jim Craig.  Dave Silk.  Jack O’Callahan.  They were the Massachusetts boys – all BU Terriers, too – who stood toe-to-toe against the mighty Soviets and didn’t blink.  Funny, but years later when I asked Eruzione about the moment (we were at Disney World, of all places), he told me it was all surreal.


  • Like, he sometimes wondered if it had ever really happened.  But it did. 


  • History forever changed.  It wasn’t just a hockey game, either.  Good had beaten Evil.  Democracy had bested Communism.  And amateurs had outsmarted big, bad pros.  One for the ages, for sure.


  • Alpha Diallo’s monster week last week earned him the Big East Player of the Week honor, the first Friar to claim it since Rodney Bullock in 2016.  Now, if he can just do it again for three more weeks.


  • The down, up, down roller coaster ride for the Friars is back up, after winning at Georgetown and gaining a sweep over the formerly bubblicious Hoyas.  A season on the brink back in November has suddenly become relevant again. 


  • Better late than never?


  • An oft-maligned group of seniors played a huge role down the stretch in that win over the Hoyas, including center Kalief Young – who may have played one of his better career games.  Kalief has always had slick feet, but as Joe Hassett once said, he also had “feet for hands.” 


  • Numbers that matter:  Providence is 6-1 when they hit 10 or more three’s in a game.  And how about this one?  Props to Friar fan Ben Boffi for the tip, but going through the box scores, the Friars are 12-3 when Young plays 20+ minutes. 


  • For the second week in a row, half of the Big East is ranked in the AP and USA Today Top 25 polls, including Saturday’s Dunk opponent Marquette coming in at #19.  Opportunity, show thyself one more time.


  • NJ.com reported this week Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard is apparently dealing with some “bad attitudes” on his bench, with some players upset over their playing time as the Pirates struggle a bit here down the stretch.  They got down 25 to the Friars last Saturday before mounting a comeback that fell short.


  • And what does Willard do in response?  He threatens to cut his rotation further.  Good for him.  Inmates – and players – should not, do not run the asylum.


  • And Seton Hall is still 6-1 on the road in the Big East…so there’s that, too.


  • I get it.  Kids want to rush the floor; they see it on TV and they want to be a part of it.  But it’s such a cliché, and now you can be fined for the act – which PC was.  Ed Cooley says he’ll pay the $5K fine the Big East levied on the school.


  • Two things – 1) Can we agree that rushing the court should be saved for beating a top-ranked team at home now?  2) Can we promise battle-pay for the Dunk security staff so they can actually keep kids from acting and looking stupid?


  • Or would we be enabling them? 


  • Villanova’s Jay Wright is not going to be the next coach of the NY Knicks.  Can’t imagine there is any amount of money that would get him to move off the Main Line and into Manhattan. 


  • John Beilein tried it, going from the University of Michigan to Cleveland…and didn’t last the season.  Nope.  Bad idea.


  • UConn’s Akok Akok ruptured his left Achilles tendon in the Huskies’ home win against Memphis last weekend and is out for the remainder of the season.  The team is 14-11 on the year and down to eight scholarship players in their final AAC go-round.


  • URI’s current run is built on a perimeter defense that ranks in the national Top 10 of late – but it’s likely to get a test starting this weekend at Davidson.


  • Taking care of the ball has also been a big part of the Rams’ success, with both Jeff Dowtin and Fatts Russell ranking highly in assist-to-turnover ratio…dropping more dimes than they drop the ball.


  • Where is Brown? In a three-way tie for third in the Ivies with six games to play, one game out of first place.  Only four teams advance to the postseason tourney – the Bears can’t afford to slip up on the road against Columbia (6-18) or Cornell (5-16) this weekend.


  • University of Pittsburgh football, basketball = probation.  It’s hard to keep up with Tobacco Road from Steel Country, but what you reap, you sew. 


  • The ACC this week became the second “Football Five” conferences to support a policy change on student-athlete transfers.  Along with the Big Ten, ACC schools will be pushing for a one-time, immediate transfer for all student-athletes without having to first sit out a year at their new school.


  • Currently, those students playing football, men’s or women’s basketball, ice hockey and baseball are not immediately granted eligibility when they transfer.  But twenty other sports already allow for a one-time transfer…in case you were wondering.


  • As such, the NCAA announced this week that a plan should be presented to membership in April for adoption, to be put in place for the 2020-21 academic year.  One-time, immediate eligibility, no waiting.  More than one transfer will still require a student-athlete going through a waiver process.


  • Plus, the school being transferred from will need to give the departing athlete a release, and several schools have a history of not exactly being cooperative on that front.


  • This means you will soon hear cries of “stop stealing my players!” from football and basketball coaches, to be sure.  Why recruit high schoolers when you can recruit a college kid who has already been trained by someone else?


  • My buddy “Big E” sez he brought a friend home from work for dinner one night, unannounced to Mrs. “E.”  She was none too happy and started right in with scolding him in front of the friend.  Exasperated, she finally asked “why did you bring him home tonight?”


  • “Big E” told her “because he’s thinking about getting married and I promised him a demo.”


  • I gotta agree with the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, on the explanation from management on the Mookie Betts fiasco: “It went about as well as Deval Patrick’s presidential bid and the quest to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston.”  Just sayin’.


  • Especially in light of the contracts doled out by the team a year ago to Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale.  Sox management knew they’d probably reset on salaries for 2020, so the explanation (“It’s not a salary dump”) for Mookie’s departure looks disingenuous at best…flat-out stupid at worst. 


  • Thanks to Boston Sports Journal’s Sean McAdam for asking the tough, obvious question there.  Which got zero response except for customary team-speak.


  • The reaction and backlash from fans at Fenway should be swift, and sound, especially in light of increased ticket prices at the park. 


  • “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  The famous 1976 movie line from “Network” and actor Peter Finch, playing crazed news anchor Howard Beale, would be a welcomed, if unexpected response.


  • But no, many clueless cretins will still show up – especially early in the year – and they’ll be happy to overpay for everything, bend over and grab their ankles while singing “Sweet Caroline” without a care in the world. 


  • The Red Sox will be counting on you.


  • I’m reminded of Kevin Bacon in the 1977 movie “Animal House,” bending over to grab his ankles during his fraternity pledge initiation – Whack!  “Thank you sir!  May I have another?”  Whack!


  • And Tom Werner’s proclamation to those who would listen that this “wasn’t a salary dump, it was to give us flexibility” must have been what Harry Frazee said when he sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. 


  • Atlanta outfielder Nick Markakis this week?  A little over the top, of course.  But his response to the Astros’ mea culpa on the sign-stealing story with “everything has been handled in a bad way…the players are scot-free…every single guy over there needs a beating?”


  • Nick, just shut up.  You’ll ruin it for everyone else.


  • A sports book has set the over-under on Astros beaned this season at 83.5.  Before you say “under,” baseball players carry grudges.  The sport has always self-policed.  And MLB can’t possibly determine what is and isn’t purposeful intent.


  • Houston’s new team colors will be black-and-blue by seasons’ end.


  • Speaking of just shut up – ex-Giants’ star Aubrey Huff was uninvited to the 10-year anniversary celebration of the 2010 San Francisco World Series title this summer because of some of his “questionable” social media via Twitter.


  • Which is worse – Huff’s tweet that he’s teaching his kids to shoot guns in case Bernie Sanders wins the election because he’s a socialist, or the snowflakes in the Giants’ organization, one of whom assaulted his wife and was welcomed back to the team, took offense to it?  Yikes.


  • Never doubt the power of Twitter. Did you see in the ProJo where one-time Monty Python comedian John Cleese was in the city for an appearance, and complained to his 5.7 million followers that his room at the Omni was cold?  He wanted to bring in a heater to correct the problem – and the hotel wouldn’t allow it.


  • Apparently, someone from maintenance was silly-walked right over to his room to correct the issue.  Post-tweet, of course.


  • Anything that shortens the NFL preseason is a good thing, IMO.  17 regular season games?  If the money is there, the players will play is all I know.  And it has been 42 years since the last schedule change, from 14 to 16 games, back in 1978.  Humans evolve, and so should football.


  • But, didn’t your momma always tell you too much of a good thing will upset your stomach? 


  • Not for nuthin’, but now we know the real reason behind the Raiders moving to Vegas – Oakland is cheap.  It seems the A’s this season will be OFF the radio, instead moving to the TuneIn app and they will only stream their game broadcasts.


  • In other words, the A’s are the first team in baseball history to abandon the very medium that put baseball on the map in the first place – radio.  Too cheap to pay local rights’ fees?


  • The kicker here – radio stations on the A’s network will still get the games.  Just not in Oakland.


  • The Worcester Business Journal reported this week construction is behind schedule on mixed-use development around the new Polar Park for the soon-to-be ex-Pawtucket Red Sox.  And this stuff comes before the stadium.  Cost overruns, too, as reported a few weeks ago.


  • For a deal done based on the promise of no existing taxpayer money being used…it’s becoming clearer by the day that someone will someday be left holding the bill.  And it won’t be the Woo Sox, or whatever they’ll be calling themselves.


  • Didn’t watch a single second of the NBA All-Star game last weekend.  Why?  It’s kinda like watching the NFL Combine, aka “Men in Tights.”  Where’s the real competition?


  • Although apparently, plenty of people did watch the annual charade.  Viewership of All-Star Weekend was up over last year, even though the NBA’s regular season TV ratings are still down.


  • The Sports Business Journal reported this week 27 of the 30 NBA teams are saying the Regional Sports Networks (RSN’s) that carry their games are down an aggregated 13% over last season.  Half of those teams are down 20% or more in viewership.


  • In adults 18-34, however, ratings are up about 15%.  The kids, they’re taking over…and that may just be what the NBA wants…and needs.


  • Watched a couple of M*A*S*H re-runs this week and realized I hadn’t seen them before.  Considering these are exquisite late-night TV fillers suitable for treating many nocturnal troubles, I guess I shouldn’t find that surprising. 


  • But I was surprised and saddened to learn that M*A*S*H’s beloved Nurse Kellye, actress Kellye Nakahara Wallett, passed away this week at age 72 after a fight with cancer.  She played Lt. Kellye Yamato and was one of the few actors who portrayed her role over the entire 11-year series run, from 1972-83. 


  • The final episode, which ran 37 years ago this month, is still the most-watched episode in TV series history, with more than 105 million viewers and a 60 rating/77 share. 


  • Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to jrooke@weei.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...


Don’t forget to tune into Providence’s 103.7 FM, every Saturday from 7:00-9:00 am for Cordischi and Coit!  Call in at 401-737-1287 or text at 37937.