I really don't like using this word in terms of the Lehigh victory this weekend. Sure, it was some win. It sure seemed several times like Harvard was going to pull it out, and it was amazing how the defense won. But the word "miracle" feels, well, too strong. I'd prefer to use a word like "guts", "grit", or maybe even just "lucky".
But my week, and the week in Philadelphia sports in general, just seems to tail into the word "Miracle".
It starts, oddly enough, with an unknown Netflix movie my wife's mother lent my wife and I before it was to be sent back. We got the movie, and planned to watch it Thursday night, with the explanation that it had Kurt Russell in it, and it had something to do with (I swear this is true) "Angels". I racked my brain - what on Earth could it be? Big Trouble in Little China? The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes? It turned out - yes - that the movie was Miracle, the story of the 1980 US Men's Hockey team winning the gold medal in the Lake Placid Olympics. It's one that was, to this wannabe movie critic, not bad.
Like the choice of the word "Miracle" this week, the comparison between the movie and what happened this weekend for Lehigh is imperfect. Harvard is a talented team, but they weren't the dominant team that the USSR was in the realm of men's hockey. (Maybe the only simplarity is that they just wear red.) But Kurt Russell, the head coach, preached the entire movie about focus, continuing to battle for the whole game and being disciplined. I had no way to know it at the time, but it sure resonates now as a theme that coach Coen talked about in the press conference about "battling for 60 minutes".
What is more of a "miracle" is the way that the Phillies came back from seven games down in mid-September to somehow, against every odd known to man, overcome the imploding Mets earlier today, to take the NL East and will be hosting a western team this Wednesday.
Like the developments at Murray Goodman this Saturday, I'd never seen anything like it. The Phillies, playing so well down the stretch when it mattered the most? Winning with pitching? Beleiving they still could catch the Mets, even down 7 games?
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see where I'm going with this. Lehigh, winning with punting and defense? Making the biggest plays of the day afer being on the field for 40 minutes? Believing in themselves, even when a great many of the fans in attendance maybe did now?
There's one more "miracle" that happened this weekend, also of a personal nature. My father, a Dartmouth man, called me from Hanover, NH during the Lehigh game to tell me about what a great time they were having on homecoming weekend - and how the Big Green held on for a 21-13 win against the Penn Quakers. It was Dartmouth's first win over Penn since 1997 - which was the last time Dartmouth actually had a winning record.
The win for the Big Green was the opposite of a "miracle" finish for Penn. Down 21-6, they blocked a punt to set up a touchdown to get to 21-13. The Quakers then recovered an onside kick and drove to the Dartmouth 6 yard line, only to see their fourth-down pass attempt fall incomplete. It's more accurate to say Dartmouth survived.
Which comes to the final realization about the word "miracle". It's that the difference between a "miracle" and an excruciating loss like the Penn game is sometimes razor-thin. You realize how close the defeat really was.
But "miracles" in football are also something to build on. They have a way of defining seasons, showing teams what they're made of, and making teams better. It shows the team who they are, the importance of execution, and the value of battling for 60 minutes, even when it seems like it's over, and in believing in yourself.
I like what this Lehigh team seems to be made of.