"Unreal," Jim Craig kept saying. "It's been an unreal week."
In the space of seven days he had won an Olympic gold medal with the United States hockey team attended receptions by the President of the United States and the governors of Massachusetts and Georgia, rode in a motorcade through his home town, appeared on "Good Morning, America" and won his first game as a professional goaltender.
And two hours after he and the Atlanta Flames beat the Colorado Rockies, 4-1, Saturday night, Craig was in the Omni filming a soft drink commercial.
Since Sunday, when the U.S. hockey team beat Finland, 4-2, to win the gold, Craig hardly has had a chance to pause for breath. Which may be a moot point. He said he was so sick from flu he could "barely breathe."
There were games during the Olympics, he said, when he relied on "every medication I could legally use."
Craig's brother, Donald Craig Jr., who was among the capacity crowd of 15,156 in the Omni Saturday night, said, "I know Jimmy was nervous and didn't feel really well tonight."
But if Craig needed a rest, the Flames could count on the Rockies to give it to him. Colorado, which has the second-worst record in the National Hockey League, did not have a shot on goal during the first seven minutes of the game.
"I just didn't want the first shot on goal to go in," Craig said. "And it didn't."
There wasn't much chance it could. That first shot was a 130-foot throw-away by Lanny McDonald during an Atlanta power play. It did not exactly test the theory held by some scouts that Craig may not handle long shots well.
The first real scoring chance against Craig came with 14 minutes gone, when he stopped Ron Delorme in close. By then, the Flames were ahead, 2-0, soon to be 3-0, and Craig was coasting.
He faced just 25 shots, although five came on a third-period power play that brought the crowd to its feet and provoked the familiar chant, "U-s-a, U-S-A." About 8,000 fans waved the small American flags that had been distributed before the game.
Near the players entrance to the ice, a large Confederate flag waved side by side with Old Glory. Since Craig is from North Easton, Mass., a suburb of Boston, he was taken aback by "that other flag. I'm Yankee and I didn't recognize it," he said.
As he pulled off his red and white Flames sweater with a No. 1 on the back, Craig said, "When they started chanting 'U-S-A, U-S-A," I felt right at home."
Of course, right now he would feel at home almost anywhere in the U.S. He is a national folk hero, suddenly one of the hottest properties in sports.
Politicians stumble over each other trying to shake his hand, and United Artists, Paramount and Universal have contacted him about movie roles.
If he hadn't signed a three-year contract to play for the Flames, he could have been in New Zealand filming "American Sportsman."
There are a million things I could be doing," Craig said. But the only thing he wants to do now is play hockey for the Flames and golf in his spare time. Among the first things he asked after signing with the Flames were, "How's the weather down there?" and "What are the golf courses like?"
Craig is 22 years old and up for a fast-paced life. He appeared cheerful and personable as he swirled through a week of celebrations, meetings and ceremonies. Yet he was worn out by the hero's welcome.
The singing telegrams were nice, and he appreciated the gifts, which included a watch from his alma mater, Boston University, and clothes and food literally thrown at him as he rode through a parade in North Easton Tuesday.
By the end of the week, Craig was longing for the solitude of sand dunes and rocks at Cape Cod.
"I'd love to be at the Cape just sitting on the rocks and watching the ocean," he said. "better still, I'd like for one day to be like my dog Huey. oJust be able to lay around and yawn; what a life."
Craig was apprehensive about joining the Flames, who selected him on the fourth round of the 1977 draft.
The Flames already had two good goaltenders in Dan Bouchard and 20-year-old Pat Riggin. Most of the Flames put the newcomer at ease, but Riggin said Craig's arrival "is a touchy situation. I'm too young to become a professor of the game and watch it from the bench."
Bouchard, who expects to remain the team's No. 1 goalie, shrugged and said, "If he can help attendance, more power to him. The crowds have been so bad lately you could tell a joke and everyone in the building could hear you.
Veteran center Bill Clement praised Craig's unassuming nature. "Jim Craig didn't take the Atlanta Flames by storm," he said. "He has a very humble attitude and just wants to fit in."