Years ago, as the US hockey team skated out the clock en route to the greatest upset in sports history, Al Michaels jubilantly asked if we believed in miracles. It was a rhetorical question. One that he’d quickly and further jubilantly answer for himself. Subsequently, movies were made, legends born, and history written.
We’ve heard the stories of Eruzione, O’Callahan, Brooks and the other heroes. But it’s Michaels’ call, that iconic inquiry, that is perhaps most familiar, “Do you believe in miracles?”
A simple question but there’s a reason it serves as the springboard by which we tell this tremendously unfathomable story. Just a fistful of words from the mouth of a 36-year-old during a tape-delayed broadcast. That is what unceremoniously defines America’s greatest athletic achievement. Why?
It’s often confounded me as to what draws us to that hectic outburst. Why it’s revered and recognized, a staple in the lexicon of sport.
The game stands on it’s own merit – you know the story so no need to re-hash. And it’s easy to say that we love, for that brief moment, Michaels stepping out of his broadcaster role and into the seat of a fan. Utterly berserk was the accomplishment, berserk was the call. It no doubt fits the moment.
But something about the question is bigger – if that’s even possible – than the outcome on the ice.
You see, we want to believe. No matter the odds, hurdle, mountain, obstacle, or path, we need to believe. Michaels’ call sits so comfortably with us because he wasn’t asking if we believed in the miracle of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team. He was asking why we were even watching in the first place.
Because we want to sit in front of the television and believe that the Louisville Cardinals were able to flex their fortitude that much fiercer because Kevin Ware was with them while he wasn’t.
We want to believe that Spike Albrecht scored 43% of his season’s points – including 17 in the national championship game – during March Madness, because he, along with national POY, Trey Burke, refused to let the Wolverines return to Ann Arbor sans hardware.
We want to believe that Peyton Siva would perform on the biggest stage in the biggest moments because he’d endured four-long years, regular criticism, and some trying tournament losses. On that stage, Peyton scored 18-points (the most he’d scored in 2013). He grabbed six rebounds, assisted on five baskets, and swiped four Maize possessions.
We want to believe in competition like we saw last night. While so many of us didn’t have a dog in that fight, we were the fight. Our own miracles falling victim to Buckeyes or Illini or Gophers or any of an assortment of other mascots who endured on. Because the fight itself, and one of that caliber, allows us to further believe for one more night.
To believe that Chane Behanan can grab six of the game’s final eleven rebounds. That Luke Hancock can individually outscore the Wolverines 14-1 late in the first half to remind us just how sensitive the finality of this game is.
My dog wasn’t in Atlanta Monday night, but I got to see everything that it could be, should be, and that we want it to be.
No, the miracle Michaels was referencing didn’t necessarily center on the metaphoric defeat of a political philosophy. But somehow that perfect question embodied equal parts political demise, athletic triumph, and the beauty of competition that we embrace from the stands, as fans. Do we believe in miracles, Al? We better. It might be the best shot we got.
What transpired last night embodied it all. Because we didn’t know what was going to happen. We can’t predict the Albrechts or the Wares or the Hancocks. Poetic justice won’t always be served.
But on those rare and beautiful occasions when things do shake out poetically – the shot falls and the senior delivers – we believe a little more. We have to for that one victory we all want.
On a Monday night.
In a football stadium.