It was 25 years ago that the U.S. Olympic ice hockey team pulled off a monumental upset of the mighty Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. Nearly all of the players from that famous team will be in Lake Placid, New York, for a celebration of their feat Wednesday night.
The small upstate New York town of Lake Placid has been marking the 25th anniversary of its hosting of the Winter Olympics this month. It recreated the opening ceremonies on February 12 and the celebration runs through February 27. The highlight will come Wednesday night with the presentation of a A Night of Miracles, Memories and Magic. It's an ice skating show and tribute to the 1980 athletes.
One did not have to be an ice hockey fan, or even a sports fan, to appreciate the accomplishment of a team of college and undrafted players that was given little chance of success in 1980. The United States had not won an ice hockey gold medal in 20 years, and since then the country's hockey program had sunk into obscurity.
But the Americans had a determined coach who believed in them. Herb Brooks demanded excellence and drove his players relentlessly through their training and exhibition schedule.
The week before the Olympics, however, did not provide the boost the young squad needed. In their final warm-up match before the Winter Games, the Americans were trounced by the Soviets in New York City's Madison Square Garden, 10-3.
Coach Brooks told his team they did not "have enough talent to win on talent alone." They had to be "uncommon." And when everything was at stake, they were.
In their opening 1980 Olympics game, the U.S. ice hockey team salvaged a 2-2 tie with Sweden on a goal with 27 seconds left. The Americans followed that up with wins against Norway and Romania and then rallied from two goals behind to beat (then) West Germany, 4-2. That surprisingly put them in the medal round with the mighty Soviets up next.
The Cold War was at one of its peaks and the Russians seemed invincible, especially on the ice. They had won the previous four Olympic gold medals. Coach Brooks told his team before the game, "This moment is yours."
The Soviets led 3-2 with 20 minutes to play. But near the halfway point of that final period the Americans tied the score, and less than two minutes later team captain Mike Eruzione scored what would prove to be the game winner.
The television play-by-play call by Al Michaels of the final seconds of the historic 4-3 victory have become almost as legendary as the upset win. "Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? Yes! Unbelievable," he said.
Two days later, the so-called "miracle" was complete, as the United States rallied for three third-period goals to beat Finland, 4-2, for the gold medal.
Goalkeeper Jim Craig, who played such a critical role in the success of the team, does not like to use the word "miracle" when referring to the game in his motivational speeches.
"It was a coach that had an unbelievable vision with great passion,” he said. “He picked the right team. We were focused on a goal, and we executed his game plan flawlessly."
Craig's 1980 teammate Rob McClanahan shares similar thoughts on the huge role Coach Herb Brooks played.
"The one thing he did is he helped us actually do more than we even thought ourselves were capable of. And it sounds maybe, not stupid, but you plan the work and you work the plan. And Herbie was as prepared as anyone for any moment," Mr. McClanahan added.
Sadly Coach Herb Brooks won't be at the 25th celebration of the Miracle on Ice. He died tragically in a car accident in August, 2003. The players of that victorious 1980 U.S. Olympic team, 13 of whom went on to play in the National Hockey League, will undoubtedly share their fondest memories of him.