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Five Jewish sports miracles

Probably the most famous line in all of sports history, even if one doesn’t know its origin, is Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in miracles?” For all the hard work and grit that athletes have, sometimes there’s an element of fortune, or simply the unexpected happening. In the case of “Do you believe in miracles?” it was when the US men’s hockey team, comprised of amateurs, won the 1980 Olympic match against the Soviet “Red Army,” a group of hockey players who were far from amateurs and in fact had been playing together for years. That unpredictability is part of what makes sports so thrilling. There are the odds, but then there’s the day of. And the two don’t always match.

Diego Schwartzman, left, greets Rafael Nadal after the Men’s Italian Open in Rome, Sept. 2020. (Riccardo Antimiani/AFP/Getty)

For Chanukah, Jacob Gurvis and Emily Burack of Jewish Sport Report put together a list of nine Jewish Sports miracles (eight nights, plus a shamash). We read the list carefully and pared it down to five. In our book, the event had to be miraculous, not just great. In fact we think some of the honorable mentions should have made the list itself, like Theo Epstein leading both the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs to historic curse-breaking World Series championships, ending an 86-year and 108-year title drought!

Below are our five. The full Jewish Sports Report roundup can be read here.

Miracle #1: Sue Bird at the buzzer

Close your eyes. It’s the Big East Tournament Championship in March, 2001, between two women’s college basketball powerhouses: the University of Connecticut Huskies and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. With a few seconds left to play, star Jewish guard Sue Bird grabs the ball from a free throw rebound and sprints down the court. She stops inside the paint and shoots a fadeaway that gives the Huskies the win at the buzzer.

Though the Huskies would go on to lose the NCAA Championships that year Bird’s buzzer-beater has gone down in history as one of the best shots of all time.

There’s an entire book about it, titled Bird at the Buzzer. Bird would go on to help UConn win the NCAA title in 2002, become the first pick of the WNBA draft that same year, and have a storied career — one that includes four WNBA championships, five Olympic gold medals and so much more.

Her dominance in women’s basketball has been so consistent that it’s easy to forget how miraculous she has been. But her buzzer beater in 2001? Definitely still looks like a miracle.

Miracle #2: Diego Schwartzman defeats the “King of Clay” — on clay

On Sept. 19, 2020, Diego Schwartzman achieved the nearly impossible: He defeated the “King of Clay” Rafael Nadal on a clay court, in the Italian Open quarterfinals.

In their 10th meeting, Schwartzman stunned Nadal in straight sets after losing his nine previous matches to the Spanish player who has dominated the surface like no other tennis player in history. Nadal has won a record 13 French Open titles, the grand slam played on clay, and 62 of his 88 ATP singles titles on the surface.

After the match, Schwartzman called it “my best tennis ever.” And he was right. It’s a match we won’t forget for a long time.

Miracle #3: Linoy Ashram wins gold at the Olympics, by .15 of a point

At the postponed Tokyo Olympics, Israeli gymnast Linoy Ashram made history, by the narrowest of margins.

The 22-year-old won gold in the all-around rhythmic gymnastics competition, breaking a streak of Russian gold medalists since the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Ashram narrowly beat out her Russian competitor, scoring just .15 of a point higher than Dina Averina.

The Russian Olympic Committee called the result an “injustice” and submitted an official inquiry. The International Gymnastics Federation dismissed any allegations of unfair judging.

Ashram became the first Israeli woman to ever win a gold medal, and an instant celebrity in her native country.

“I was especially proud of the fact that I could prove to others that even though this sport [has been] dominated by Eastern Europeans, I could win it and I could bring something new to it. And it’s not a given fact Eastern European athletes [win],” Ashram told JTA.

Miracle #4: Team Israel finishes sixth in the World Baseball Classic

Entering the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC), Team Israel was ranked 41st in the world — the ultimate underdog. ESPN called the squad “the Jamaican bobsled team of the WBC.” The team’s odds to win the tournament were 200-1. Talk about David vs. Goliath.

But the group, made up of mostly American Jewish ballplayers, pulled off an improbable four-game winning streak in the international tournament, beating several of the top-ranked teams in the world.

Team Israel swept the opening round of the WBC, beating world No. 3 South Korea, No. 4 Chinese Taipei, and No. 9 the Netherlands. Israel then beat Cuba to open the second round, before losing to the Netherlands and Japan.

The team’s Cinderella run was captured in a 2018 documentary, “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel.” The movie follows the team from the qualifying round in Brooklyn to the group’s trip to Israel, where they toured historic sites and dedicated a new baseball field in Beit Shemesh.

For six days in March, 2017, Team Israel was on top of the world. (Their trusty mascot, a lifesize Mensch on the Bench, enjoyed the ride too.)

Miracle #5: Julian Edelman’s fourth-quarter catch of Super Bowl LI

Julian Edelman was used to having doubters. The undersized wide receiver played every snap of his 12-year NFL career with a chip on his shoulder, constantly proving others wrong. No game encapsulated that better than Super Bowl LI, on Feb. 5, 2017.

With his New England Patriots down 28-20 with 2:28 left in the fourth quarter (they had been down 28-3), Edelman reeled in one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history.

During what would become the game-tying drive, Edelman fought off three Atlanta Falcons defenders to make a miraculous catch in the middle of the field, one that seems more improbable with each replay.

Tom Brady’s pass was swatted in the air by a Falcons cornerback, causing Edelman and three defenders to collide into a pile on the ground, limbs pointing in all directions, with each player trying to find the football. Edelman somehow kept his concentration and got his hands around the ball, weaving through the arms and legs of his opponents to grip Brady’s 23-yard pass. Even a last-second bobble wasn’t enough to break Edelman’s focus.

Edelman finished the game with five receptions for 87 yards, as the Patriots completed the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, defeating the Falcons 34-28.

“There’s something we say around here: You gotta believe,” Edelman said after the game. “And that’s what we kept on saying. You gotta believe; you gotta believe; you gotta believe.”

What Jewish sports miracles are missing? Post them in a comment!

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