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Miracle on Ice was a WJLA Fail

One of the lasting storylines of these Olympics will be NBC, both for its tape-delay madness and for its delay in recognizing that the U.S. hockey team was going to generate a heckuva a lot of interest. By the end, of course, those things were solved for at least one game, the hockey team's pursuit of a gold-medal mini-miracle, which was shown live, in HD, in all time zones, on the mothership station. (The result will, of course, not be discussed here, ever again.)

Which all brought to mind the TV coverage of the real Miracle on Ice from 30 years ago. This WaPo story was forwarded on by Chris Chase, himself a top-notch sports writer, who had always heard from his father about how a WJLA anchor spoiled the Miracle for a bunch of local viewers. This is a good one, indeed, and it must have kept the typewritoggers of the early '80s plenty busy.

It also goes to show that Communist empires might crumble, and Al Gore might invent the Internet, and cable might take over the world, but no matter how much time passes, people will still call the newspaper to complain about the failure to preserve tape-delayed Olympic secrets.

Channel 7's Flub;When No News Was Good News; Or, No News Was Good News
By Junette Pinkney

Those who wanted to know, did. Those who didn't know, didn't want to. But those who didn't know they didn't want to, forced them to.

Confused? Not if you were watching Channel 7 last night during the Olympic hockey game between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.

The game, which had been played at Lake Placid earlier in the evening, was taped rather than shown live. It aired locally on WJLA-TV, starting at 8:30. In an effort to preserve the suspense for those fans who had not yet heard the news of the U.S. upset over the Russians, ABC's sports commentator Jim McKay announced he would not give away the outcome of the game while it was in progress.

The score was tied 3-3 with about 10 minutes left to play when ABC took a station break. Channel 7's Renee Poussaint, apparently unaware of ABC's attempts to keep the secret, announced that the U.S. had scored a major upset over the Russians by winning the hockey game 4-3.

WJLA's switchboard lit up with calls from over 200 irate viewers who had avoided news and sports reports all evening so they could experience the drama of the game on TV. The ABC bureau in Washington also logged over 200 calls.

Some viewers who couldn't get through to Channel 7 called The Washington Post.

"I'm sorry I'm yelling at you," one furious woman told a reporter, "but this is the worst piece of planning I've seen in years. I'd tell those guys myself but the phone's been busy -- boy, I bet they're really getting it."

"The most boorish, goddamn insensitive thing I've ever heard," was the assessment of another woman caller.

"Devastating," said a third.

Poussaint apologized as she began the 11 o'clock news, saying she was sorry she had "let the cat out of the bag."

It was unfortunate, said a co-anchor, but "these things happen."

By Dan Steinberg  |  March 1, 2010; 1:43 PM ET
Categories:  Media , Olympics  
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Next: Mike Rizzo looks like Eddie Guardado


Dan-we want the local 11 poll. ASAP.

Posted by: jpfterps | March 1, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

i remember that vividly. somehow i had already known that the USA had won (not sure how, given no internet). other stations may have reported it. but my sisted did not know. i was betting her who was going to win. the other part was jim mckay was hosting the game live from the games and was trying his hardest not to say but you could tell he wanted to blurt it out. he also sat infront of a studio windown so you could see people behind him. they were trying not to catch any inadvertant crowd shots which may have tipped their hand.

Posted by: dcsportsfan1 | March 1, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

I was nine-years-old, sitting down to watch the game (which I knew was on tape but didn't know the result of), when my mom answered the phone. It was a friend of my dad's who we often went to Caps games with, and my dad wasn't home. She hung up the phone and blurted out, "Eric, did you hear the USA hockey team won?" I went, "Aw, mom--I was just sitting down to watch the game!"

Posted by: TheFingerman | March 1, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

I remember hearing the final score that evening from Walter Cronkite on "CBS Evening News." It was still a ludicrous error by Pouissant though.

Posted by: evwill | March 1, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

I remember avoiding ALL news that day so I could sit down with my Dad and watch the game. I also remember with hideous clarity having the outcome spoiled by Poussaint. May have been the first time I ever swore (in front of my Dad, at least).

Posted by: jburksva | March 1, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

I experienced the same kind of frustration for the last two weeks from WaPo. I get the daily email update from WaPo and of course the results are in the email title, so all of Vonn and Bode's races were ruined for me when I checked email, even though I didn't click on the email. Every time I got the email I would click Unsubscribe, but would still get another email the next day. I was furious many times. Then I decided to just avoid my email for almost an entire day, which is extremely hard to do. Not angry at you Dan, but WaPo was a HUGE fail for me the last two weeks.

Posted by: TheRealDuffman | March 1, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

I had just departed my grandma's apartment, got in the car and turned on the radio to hear the USA had beaten the Soviets. I jumped out of the car and yelled at my dad, "We beat the Soviets, we beat the Soviets."

Immediately I was overcome with euphoric giddiness as I drove home. At a red stoplight I yelled at fellow drivers,"we beat the Soviets, we beat the Soviets."

When I got home I immediately turned on the television to watch the tape delay despite I already knew the outcome and at the conclusion of the game, my euphoric giddiness erupted again.

I couldn't wait for the Gold Medal game against Norway (or was it Finland?) so I rushed home from church to watch the game.

But it will be forever and ever the win over the Soviets will be remembered the most.

No present or future USA Hockey team will ever top the 1980 Hockey team. The win over the once dominate Soviets is the most cherish sports event in American Sports history.

Do I beleive in Miracles? Yes and it happened in 1980.

Posted by: memyselfI1 | March 1, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

I too remember Walter Cronkite spilling the beans. I was in my fathers hospital room at Sibley hospital. He was near the end with heart disease, (lost him on 2-28-80), and I had travelled from Fropstburg Md that day with the radio off and no tapes in the car. I got to his room and we talked awhile and then I realized the tv was on. I heard the announcer say, "And now here is Walter Cronkite". I never heard the score but I did hear his first four words before I turned it off. No intor or anything just these four little words! "In a stunning upset!"
I started to scream "We beat the f*****g Russians!" over and over again. My dad (who was not a hockey fan) was cheering and Mr Simpson. his roommate, was cheering too. A nurse came into the room to tell us to be quiet and I yelled out again what I had said and she started to yell and tell everyone else. I'm glad I found out that way. It truly made it very exciting for me and my father. It was Finland we beat on Sunday morning for the Gold. It's funny, we could have lost the Gold and any medal if we had lost to Finland. It is still one of my two most cherished moments in sports history. Nothing has ever surpassed it.

Posted by: snoshusams | March 2, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

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