Feisty, uncommon Craig shuts down Soviets

Updated: January 20, 2002, 5:41 PM ET
By Bob Phillips | Special to ESPN.com

Signature Game

Feb. 22, 1980 -- The game between the United States and the U.S.S.R. offered a classic David vs. Goliath script: a group of amateurs, taking on the powerful Soviet Union, amateur in name only, on home ice in the middle of the Cold War. ABC, which televised the 1980 Winter Olympics, sensed a ratings bonanza and tried to push back the 5 p.m. starting time to an 8 p.m. prime-time slot, but the U.S.S.R. refused and the game was televised on a tape-delayed basis.

Led by emotional leader Jim Craig in goal, the U.S. entered the third and final period within striking range, trailing 3-2. Craig had managed to stop 27 Soviet shots in the first two periods. Then, at 8:39 of the third, Mark Johnson scored a power-play goal to knot the score at 3-3. When captain Mike Eruzione knocked home a self-described "slop goal," the Americans had accomplished the unthinkable, taking a 4-3 lead over the mighty Soviets with 10 minutes to play at the Olympic Ice Center in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Craig, who had routinely tied up the puck in the crease throughout the tournament to slow down play, began deflecting shots back into play in order to limit the number of face-offs inside the U.S. zone. The strategy worked brilliantly, with Craig shutting down the powerful Soviets the rest of the way.

The U.S.S.R. began firing wild shots and playing dump-and-chase hockey -- an NHL staple forbidden by Brooks. In the end, it was the Soviets who blinked. As the clock ticked down to zero, Soviet coach Viktor Tikhanov refused to pull his goalie, as if doing so would be an admission of weakness.

Brooks was fond of telling his team, "You can't be common, because the common man goes nowhere. You have to be uncommon."

The U.S. team, led by its feisty goaltender, Jim Craig, proved to be the most uncommon team in Olympic history.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • Craig caddied at the golf course in Brockton, Mass., as a youth.

  • Craig was drafted in the fourth round of the 1977 NHL draft by the Atlanta Flames, following his sophomore season at Boston University.

  • His contract with the Flames included a $45,000 signing bonus, and an annual salary of approximately $60,000 for three years.

  • After only four games with Atlanta, Craig was traded to his hometown Boston Bruins for a second-round 1980 draft choice (Steve Konroyd) and a 1981 third-round choice (Mike Vernon).

  • Craig was the first U.S. Olympian to receive his gold medal on the podium.

  • He won his debut with the Bruins before a sellout crowd at the Boston Garden.

  • After his Olympic victory, Craig cashed in on his glory, receiving $35,000 for a Coca-Cola commercial with his father.

  • Craig made a guest appearance on the ABC television series Laverne & Shirley.

  • Sports Illustrated named Craig and his Olympic teammates "Sportsmen of the Year" in 1980.

  • In three NHL seasons, Craig played in only 30 games, allowed 100 goals and recorded no shutouts.

  • Craig was ranked No. 38 on Sports Illustrated's "50 Greatest Sports Figures of the Century" from the state of Massachusetts.

  • Jim gave the American flag that was draped over his shoulders after the gold-medal-winning game against Finland to a close friend, Philadelphia Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh. After Lindbergh was killed in a car accident, the flag was returned to Craig.

  • Now 44, Craig has worked as an account manager selling newspaper advertising inserts since 1984.

  • He also has made appearances as a motivational speaker for companies such as Xerox, Coca-Cola, John Hancock, Jim Beam Brands, Ocean Spray and American Home Food.

  • Craig married his wife, Sharlene, in 1988. Together they have two children: son J.D. (age 12) and daughter Taylor (9).

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