Today marks the 35th anniversary of one of the seminal moments in American sports history – the Miracle on Ice. Believe it or not, the game was not broadcast live, but on tape delay in primetime. The USA-USSR game was played at 5 PM ET in Lake Placid but not aired on ABC until 8 PM ET. Inconceivable to us in 2015, right? I mean, nobody in their right mind would tape delay live sporting events and save them for primetime in this day and age…
Oh, yea, right…
With the game being tape delayed, the result had to be kept secret from viewers. That was much easier back in 1980 without cell phones or computers or Twitter. But it didn’t stop one major market from committing a massive mistake and spoiling the legendary outcome for viewers.
On the game’s 30th anniversary, the Washington Post recounted the story of when WJLA anchor Renee Poussaint spoiled the outcome with the score tied at 3-3 in the third period during a commercial break and we share it with you on the game’s anniversary today as a reminder of how far televised sports has come (at least for the most part):
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.
I couldn’t even imagine having a local newscaster giving away the result of the game you’re watching. Even more amazing, as the Post relates, is Poussaint’s co-anchor trying to just brush it aside by saying “these things happen.”
And you think it’s bad finding out what happens in the latest episode of The Walking Dead before you’ve seen it, or what happens at the end of Breaking Bad before you get through it on Netflix. Imagine having the greatest game in the history of American sports spoiled for you before you could watch the finish. And then imagine it just being laughed off as a mere formality. Thank goodness we don’t live in 1980 anymore. Now if you fall victim to a spoiler alert in 2015 it’s your own fault.