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WMTPG, Vol 8: E.M. Swift on the 1980 US Hockey team (the Big Picture look back)

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Double Down, Jul 14, 2014.

  1. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Back at again with our bi-weekly edition of "What Makes This Piece Good?" Thank you for your continued support of this series. Please PM me with suggestions of stories you'd like to see discussed in a future.

    Previous links entries in this series can be found below:

    1. Buster Olney on Mariano Rivera's cutter.
    2. Mike Bianchi on Dale Earnhardt's funeral.
    3. Sally Jenkins on Kwame's Brown's rookie year.
    4. Selena Roberts' Knicks/Heat playoff gamer
    5. Rick Reilly writing around Patrick Ewing
    6. Randall Patterson on the prodigy who wasn't.
    7. Brady Dennis on the power of a 300-word narrative.

    Since we went very, very short in our last edition, we're going a little longer this time. And we're reaching way back into the archives to bring you a story from 1980, a story that EM Swift — who spent 32 years at Sports Illustrated — wrote about one of the most iconic teams in the history of our country, the US Olympic hockey team that defeated the Russians (and Sweeden!) to win gold.

    No matter who you're writing for, when a popular team wins a championship, there is a major desire for more information. For some kind of explainer that gives you an intimate look at how it all happened. You might have two days to turn around this kind of piece, or you might have a few months. But even with as much as media has changed in 34 years, there is still an appetite for these kind of pieces. In a lot of ways, they end up being the definitive take on what happened. Not too many people are reading a game story two years after the fact, but stories like this one that Swift wrote can sometimes live on for a decade or more. I was 2 years old when the 1980 Olympics took place in Lake Placid. But because of this piece, I feel like I understand why the Miracle on Ice crew was so important to the country.

    Here is Swift's story, written because the team was named SI's Sportsman of The Year.

    This story has, for me, one of the great closing paragraphs in the history of SI. But in your opinion, what makes this piece good?
  2. Captain_Kirk

    Captain_Kirk Well-Known Member

    Story gave a great look back, and the pictures gave the same look forward. My memory may be a bit hazy here, but I don't recall the back story ever coming out before this article, at least in this depth. Herbies, Stan Laurel, Ralph Cox---all those were things we first learned from this article. At least I did.

    The photos that accompanied the story brought the story up to date in a where are they now sense. Some we knew--Johnson in his Penguins uniform, for example; and some we didn't. Pavelich and Harrington, I believe standing in front of a Swiss market where they were now playing in Europe.

    And the close is something I've remembered all these many years later. 'They write their story once. Sportsman of the Year.'
  3. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member


    We tied Sweden in the final moments of the first game of the tournament.

    The rules at the time meant that result was included in the points for the medal round.
  4. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Active Member

    I read this piece as soon as it hit my mailbox. I bought the issue again on eBay a few years ago to revisit holding it in my hands and reading it. It was wonderful both times. Between them, I'm sure I've read it dozens of times. Terrific work.

    And like Captain_Kirk said, I learned almost everything I knew about the team at the time from that story, as hockey wasn't exactly on my radar before those Olympics.
  5. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Damn it, I knew I should looked up that Sweeden/Finland shit before I posted.

    I would wager much of the Miracle on Ice "legend" can be directly tied back to this piece.
  6. dirtybird

    dirtybird Active Member

    It's all scenes, vignettes and personalities strung together with a completely deft touch (and impeccable flow).

    The crying grocer and the pulled over drivers celebrating on the side of the freeway in the lede still give me chills. The herbies episode only gives just enough details to completely show the scene. It's only 387 words in four graphs, the last which is just great.
  7. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Any more thoughts on this one before we move along? I'm fascinated by how many people Swift must have interviewed for this. The transcribing alone would have killed me.
  8. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    I'm a late-comer to this thread -- been busy again -- but finally had a chance to sit down with it.

    I'm glad E.M. Swift wrote this story once. And I'm glad I got to read it once. I had not done so before.

    I can remember, not totally clearly, but pretty well, watching on TV the last three games that this team played, and I, too, liked that last line in this story.

    I also loved the blunt imagery of this paragraph:

    "He treated us all the same," says every last member of the team. "Rotten."

    It seemed to sum up the story, and how it happened. And it made me think and believe that Swift did, indeed, ask each and every member of the team exactly that question, which would have been unusual because reporters usually try not to ask the same questions of everyone they interview.

    Gives you a good idea of the power and impact and importance of Herb Brooks to this team and this story.

    Now, if only the problems of all cold -- or shooting -- wars could be solved with a hockey game...

    I did find it interesting and ironic that something not at all meant to be politically meaningful had exactly that effect.

    Even though the team did indeed have such an impact, I nevertheless find it hard to believe one scene among the story-leading anecdotes: That the unrelated drivers of several different cars all pulled over to the roadside at the same time upon the game's end celebrated the U.S. team's victory over the Russians.

    Other than that, to answer Al Michaels' question, I believe in miracles. :)
  9. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Why is it hard to believe?
  10. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    Oh, I'm not saying it didn't happen. If Swift saw it, or heard about it, or got told about it and then reported it, I don't doubt that it did occur.

    I guess I mean I find it hard to believe as in, I just have trouble seeing that happening...I mean, say you're driving along a particular road/highway, you happen to be listening to the game on the radio, and you decide to pull over and celebrate...and then 10 others do, too? How do they even know what you're doing over there?

    I don't know -- seems like there's something missing, something I don't know, and it's something I have trouble seeing a bunch of other strangers doing together at the same time...I mean, where I'm at, drivers don't even do that for pile-ups where serious injuries are occurring. What, somebody actually needs help? Just keep driving, right on by...

    So I have trouble seeing it happening for purposes of a spontaneous celebration.

    But then, I guess the same could be said of the "Miracle on Ice," right?
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