Vidakovich: False hope in sports can be a thing of beauty
“There are souls in this world which have the gift of finding joy everywhere and leaving it behind them when they go.”
— Frederick William Faber
Over the holidays, I came across one of those rare books that you just can’t put down. You know the kind. It’s a daily visit with a comforting best friend, until you are left sad and alone by the turning of the final page and a parting of ways.
The title of this wonderful book is “The First Phone Call From Heaven,” and its author is Mitch Albom.
The story takes place in the fictional town of Coldwater, Mich., where several residents begin to receive phone calls from recently deceased loved ones. The callers speak briefly, telling their relatives of a beautiful and peaceful place where there are no hardships or worries. Only love.
Once word of the mysterious calls begins to spread, the small Michigan town is flooded with believers, skeptics and curiosity seekers from all walks of life.
Many believe the calls are a miracle — a sign from above, compelling humans to follow a righteous path. Others insist the calls are merely a hoax, originated by people craving attention and trying to find a way to cope with the pain of losing someone dear.
As the debate continues back and forth as to the validity of the calls, one theme emerges in the book’s final pages: Hope has come to Coldwater, Mich. Even the skeptics wish secretly for the calls to somehow be proven authentic so that the lingering doubt in the town will turn to joy.
Everyone is contemplating the wonders of what could possibly be a miracle.
In the days following the completion of the book, I thought about some of the sporting events in my lifetime that seemed hopeless, yet turned out to be somewhat miraculous.
Here are the ones that came to mind first. I’ll call them my Magnificent Seven.
7. Miracle on Ice: The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team wins the gold medal in Lake Placid, N.Y. With a team made up of amateurs and collegiate players, the United States defeated the mighty Soviet national team in a game that many have ranked as the greatest sports upset of the 20th century.
6. Broadway Joe: The Baltimore Colts were 18-point favorites in Super Bowl III in 1969 against the New York Jets from the old AFL. The Jets’ brash, young quarterback from Alabama, Joe Namath, guaranteed a victory for his team despite the almost insurmountable odds.
Jets 16, Colts 7. Thus began the legend of Broadway Joe.
5. Marathon Man: American Frank Shorter ran to victory in the 1972 Olympic marathon in Munich, Germany. Shorter’s improbable victory is credited with starting the running boom in the United States. Shorter went on to capture a silver medal in the same event four years later in the Montreal Olympics.
4. Olympic Gold: Bill Johnson becomes the first American to win a gold medal in alpine skiing by taking the men’s downhill in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Johnson, in Namath-like fashion, predicted his victory, putting an end to the European dominance of the sport.
3. After 88 Comes 0: Notre Dame guard Dwight Clay hits a shot from the deep corner in the waning seconds to end mighty UCLA’s 88-game college basketball winning streak in January 1974. Irish coach Digger Phelps had his team rehearse cutting down the nets in practice the day before the big game. After the victory, they got to do it for real.
2. Fight of the Century: In what could be the greatest heavyweight fight of all time, Smokin’ Joe Frazier landed a spectacular left hook to the jaw of Muhammad Ali in the 15th and final round, sending the former undefeated champ to the Madison Square Garden canvas in March 1971. The fight was not broadcast, so my dad and I watched regular programming on television and waited for the ticker to come across the bottom of the screen every 5 minutes or so. Round 1 goes to Frazier…Round 2 goes to Ali…
What a memorable time.
1. Jimmy V : In an upset of seismic proportions, coach Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State Wolfpack defeated the heavy favorite Houston Cougars in the 1983 NCAA basketball championship game. I rank this one at the top of my list not just based on a surprise victory, but because of the personality, perseverance and spirit of Valvano as he battled cancer to the end of his life. Jimmy V’s message to everyone was to never, ever give up. He told everyone who would listen that we should make sure to do three basic things each day of our lives: to laugh, to think and to have our emotions moved to tears.
Pretty good words to start the new year of your life.
For some good reading, go pick up a copy of Mitch Albom’s book. Give a surprise call to someone special.
You never know. They just may think it’s heaven sent.
Mike Vidakovich is a freelance writer from Glenwood Springs. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.
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