by Duane Watson / @sweetswatson
ESPN Films has unquestionably branded itself as the leader in sports movies with their 30 For 30 series. But in 2011 it also launched the SEC “Storied” Series, which focuses on remarkable events from the Southeastern Conference, like the Sam Bowie documentary, Going Big. The latest installment, Miracle 3, documents the 2008 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Of course if there is a movie about the tournament, it likely has to do with some type of crazy upset or incredible story—or both.
Miracle 3 chronicles the unexpected events, starting with the final moments of the Friday night quarterfinal between Alabama and Mississippi State and the extraordinary 48 hours that follow. Mykal Riley’s three-point buzzer beater tied the game for Alabama and sent it into overtime, yet halfway through the extra frame, the first tornado to ever strike downtown Atlanta literally rocked the Georgia Dome. The storm and its 130-mile per hour winds not only temporarily suspended game play, but caused structural damage to the Dome, making it unfit to host the rest of the tournament. More importantly, if the game hadn’t gone into overtime, over 20,000 fans would be spilling into downtown Atlanta in the midst of a natural disaster unprepared.
The interviews with players, coaches, meteorologists and organizers, plus archival footage put the gravity of the damage in perspective, all which could have been a movie in itself. But there was still the matter of basketball to be played, and the SEC had to find a new venue to host the tournament the next morning. The last quarterfinal game between Georgia and Kentucky, which was postponed due to the tornado, would now force one of those teams to play two games in the same day, which was unheard of. The Georgia Bulldogs, who finished last in the conference, would do whatever was necessary—they needed to win it all, in order to earn the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
The drama in the film intensifies with the recounting of each game starting with Georgia’s overtime upset against Kentucky, then again with their victory over Mississippi State only hours later. Which sets the stage for the SEC championship matchup versus Arkansas, for their third game in 30 hours. Yet, more impressive than the Bulldog’s run, was their influence, particularly what it meant to Georgians affected by the tornado. Mike Turner lost his wife; his home and suffered significant injury, yet was still inspired by his team. “I had to not give up,” Turner said. “You don’t give up, the Bulldogs didn’t give up… If they can do it, then certainly I can do it.”
Miracle 3 doesn’t overlook the SEC and their administrative staff who tirelessly worked behind the scenes to make the tournament run smoothly, who “enabled” the miracle. Much like a parent with outstretched arms, helping a child ride a bicycle for the first time, keeping their hands within reach to catch them if they loose their balance or stumble, yet completely unaware of the assistance. Those arms allowed the Georgia Bulldogs, coaching staff, fans and their belief to do the rest.
Miracle 3 is slated to air on Sunday, March 3, at 5 p.m. EST on ESPN and at 8 p.m. EST on ESPNU.