It’s 1979. Herb Brooks is the best college hockey coach in America. His Minnesota Golden Gophers have just captured their third NCAA championship in six years. The 1980 Winter Olympics approach, with the U.S. hosting the Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. The Amateur Hockey Association of the United States hires Brooks to coach the men’s national team in time for the 1979 World Championship. He begins a cerebral process for building the Olympic squad.
CRAIG PATRICK: (Team USA assistant coach and assistant GM) Herb knew who we wanted, because he had been scouting for at least a year, all the college players.
JIM CRAIG: (Team USA goalie) Herb was really quite brilliant. There’s always that saying, “I wasn’t looking for the best players. I was looking for the right players.” He had a character in mind who he wanted, a type of personality, and it had a lot to do with how he was brought up. He had this unique ability to see talent inside people, see an attitude about them and bring them to a level that they weren’t even capable of imagining.
PATRICK: Herb’s major was psychology. I sat in these meetings with him in the process of picking the team with his committee, and he talked every one of them into the guys he wanted. I just sat there and watched, and I was amazed at how he made guys change their minds in meetings.
MIKE ERUZIONE: (Team USA captain and left winger) I knew a little bit about Herb based on some not very good moments. In my junior season at Boston University, we played the University of Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA Frozen Four. Five minutes into the game, we had a bench-clearing brawl. We were the No. 1 seed, and we ended up losing the game. We always blamed Herb, and there’s no doubt in my mind after playing under Herb that it was his intention. It was a planned attack. Herb Brooks and Jack Parker, the coach at BU, didn’t talk for years.
PATRICK: He said, “The guys we’re going to have on this team have been competing for national championships for years, and they just don’t like each other. So the only way I know how to make them a team is for them to really dislike me.”
ERUZIONE: We fast-forward, and now we’re on the Olympic team, and he was a great coach. He was a lot like Jack Parker. Herb had a passion to coach and teach. He was a great motivator, but he was demanding. I tell people he was a lot like your dad. You love your dad, but sometimes you hate your dad, because he makes you do things you don’t want to do. He didn’t care if we liked him, but there was never once a time we did not respect him.
MIKE RAMSEY: (Team USA defenseman) He was much tougher on the Minnesota guys. We used to say the Minnesota guys were his whipping boys. You’re harder on your own kids than other kids. In college, I remember Herb throwing a case of pop across the room, and it hit one of the guys in the head. Not purposely. I think it was just to get our attention.
Brooks gets to work training his troops for the Winter Games, and it quickly becomes apparent that this team will play differently than any American squad before it.
ERUZIONE: Offensively, he was way ahead of his time. What we see now in the NHL is what we were doing 39 years ago. He grabbed that European style of play and just embedded it in us. Herb felt that, on the big sheet of ice, you can’t play the North American game. We wanted to take that European style, the crisscrossing, fly in the zone and throwing it back to the ‘D’ and regrouping. One of the things that Herb preached to us all year was, “Don’t dump the puck in. That went out with short pants.” That’s one of his Brooksisms (laughs). He thought, you worked so hard, so why would you give the puck right back to them?
KEN MORROW: (Team USA defenseman) He’s one of those rare coaches that was playing the game back then the way the NHL eventually got to 20 years later, more than 20 years later. The training we were doing was innovative. We were doing plyometrics and overspeed training on the ice, stuff I’d never heard of.
PATRICK: I’m not sure the players know this, but every one of those drills we did on ice for the whole seven months was based on a 45-second shift. You went all-out for 45 seconds, whatever the drill was, and they didn’t know the timing because Herb had the clock. You had to go 100 percent of those 45 seconds, whatever the drill was. I was pretty amazed at how (fitness coach) Jack Blatherwick and Herb had that all co-ordinated. I believe we were the best-conditioned team on earth that year. I was in shape just watching them (laughs).
The next phase in Team USA’s preparation: a 61-game schedule leading up to the Winter Olympics. It includes exhibition games against NHL teams, trips to Europe and games against Central League teams.
MORROW: There was no accident to what Herb did. It was all planned out. Previous to that, they threw a team together a couple of weeks before the Olympics and then went in, played a couple games and went into the tournament.
BUZZ SCHNEIDER: (Team USA left winger) The Central League games actually counted in the standings for those teams, so those guys were playing for something, and that really helped us a lot. That was a tough week of hockey. There were a lot of good players in that league.
ERUZIONE: We travelled quite a bit. We were almost like a travelling circus. We were in different cities, different towns, playing different teams, there was a lot of bonding because we were on the road so much.
Around Christmastime, the Americans play and win a pre-Olympic tournament against various nations’ B-teams in Lake Placid. More than the event, the players remember the fun they had off the ice.
ERUZIONE: We had a Christmas party and a lot of laughs and giggles, gag gifts and things like that. That’s probably when the Olympics really started to get in our minds, because this was December, and the Olympics are only a couple of months away, and we were in Lake Placid for the first time as a team.
MORROW: Davey Christian would be at the top of the list as far as a guy who kept everybody laughing and loose.
RAMSEY: He was actually sort of quiet, Davey was, but he was the joker. John Harrington was very dry and a serious joker. But Davey was the ringleader on all the pranks.
ERUZIONE: Rob McClanahan and Mark Johnson had a Christmas tree in their room, and somebody broke into the room and stole the tree and threw it out in the middle of Mirror Lake.
MORROW: It wasn’t me. I think the culprit actually admitted to it just recently. I’m not gonna say who it was.
SCHNEIDER: I think it might have been between Davey Christian and Bobby Suter. Bobby Suter was involved in the tail end. He did tell me that.
RAMSEY: I had nothing to do with the tree being stolen. And I won’t say who it was. That’s a secret.
ERUZIONE: And it’s been 39 years and nobody’s come forward yet. I think Davey Christian took it. It’s the one mystery of the ’80 Olympic team. And Mark and Robby were pissed, because they decorated the tree, they bought ornaments and s—.
On Feb. 9, 1980, days before the Olympics begin, Team USA plays an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden against the Soviet Union, considered the heavy gold-medal favorite and the world’s best hockey team. They crush the Americans 10-3.
PATRICK: They wanted to see what this Big Red Machine was. So for the first half of the game, we literally just stood and watched. It was like they were frozen in time.
MORROW: We were young. At the time we didn’t know it, but I think we were in awe. These were guys we had watched on TV play against the NHL all-stars in those series in the ’70s, and some of the guys were in the ’72 Summit Series.
ERUZIONE: Valeri Kharlamov was unbelievable. And there were the young kids, Vladimir Krutov, Sergei Makarov. I remember playing against Helmuts Balderis at the World Championship. I thought he was off the charts. Boris Mikhailov, you knew who he was. Anybody who followed the Soviet Union knew who their big guns were. Vladimir Petrov was a great player. Slava Fetisov was a young 21-year-old defenseman. Look what he became.
MORROW: Makarov was a pro. The guy would do a spin move on you, he did one of those for a goal in the game. He had blazing speed. He could make these incredible creative moves you haven’t seen before.
SCHNEIDER: They ran it up against us. They play so methodical. If you have a bad night, you can get beat 15-1. They start the same way they finish.
They ran it up against us. They are methodical. If you have a bad night, you can get beat 15-1.
– Buzz Schneider, Team USA D-man
PATRICK: Halfway through the game when we were down 7-0, we started to skate with them and started doing things like we were supposed to be doing, and it was 3-3 the rest of the game. Some of that could have been the Russians saying, “Oh, we were up 7-0, no big deal, we got this game.” But we skated with them, and that was certainly a usable thing for Herb when he needed to talk to the team about playing the Russians again.
MORROW: I think Herb was crazy like a fox. People said he was nuts to play that game a week before the Olympics, and after the outcome he looked even crazier to play that game. But it turned out to be a bigger factor than most people realize. It got a lot of our nerves out. We got on the ice with these guys. That shock factor wasn’t there in the Olympics.
CRAIG: If you’ve never played a certain golf course, you might get away with some things because you didn’t know any better. But once you play it, you can prepare better.
MORROW: Seeing the Russians interviewed in some of these documentaries just recently, they talk about how that game affected them. Overconfident. Probably taking it easy. Not being as sharp as they should have been because of what happened.
CRAIG: There’s a difference between an underdog and a winning underdog. An underdog already knows he can’t win. A winning underdog is, “Everybody thinks I can’t win, but now I know how to.” And that’s what that game did for us.
The Olympic tournament begins, and the Americans keep their expectations realistic. Most of the players dream of a bronze medal, knowing that the Soviets are the top team and the Czechs and Swedes are tough competition for the top three. In their first group-stage matchup against heavily favored Sweden, Team USA ties the game with 27 seconds left on a goal by Bill Baker with Craig pulled. Then, the U.S. shocks Czechoslovakia with a 7-3 win. After that, the Americans breeze through Norway (5-1), Romania (7-2) and West Germany (4-2), compiling a 4-0-1 record. Not surprisingly, the Soviets go undefeated, stomping their rivals by a combined 51-11 margin in five victories.
Four teams advance to the medal round: Team USA, Sweden, the Soviets and Finland. Each plays the teams from the other group once, meaning the Americans will face the Soviets, then Finland, with a three-in-four shot at a medal. No one expects anything less than Soviet domination in the Feb. 22 matchup against the U.S.
AL MICHAELS: (ABC play-by-play announcer) My broadcast partner was Ken Dryden. Our hotel was just a few blocks from the arena. We began to walk over at about 1:30 in the afternoon because the game was at 5:00, and the conversation was along the lines of me saying to Ken, “If it’s just, like, 3-1 in the middle of the second period, that’s about as good as we can hope for.” I figured it would be 6-0 at the end of the first or something ridiculous. I had seen all the teams multiple times, and the Soviets just toyed with people. They would win a game 3-0, but it looked like it was 20-0.
I think the ‘USA! USA!’ chants that we hear all the time now started in Lake Placid
– Mike Eruzione, Team USA left winger
Adding to the hype around the game: the undercurrent of the Cold War.
MICHAELS: So much was going on at that particular point. The country, the United States, was a little down in the dumps. There was a recession. The prime rate, the interest rate, was close to 20 percent. It was crazy. There were gas lines. We had hostages being held in Iran. The Soviets had threatened to invade Afghanistan at that point. And if they did, (U.S. president Jimmy Carter) was threatening to boycott their Summer Games, which we did. And they paid us back by boycotting the Los Angeles Games in ’84.
ERUZIONE: We never thought about it. It was never discussed. Even when we won, it wasn’t, “Hey, we beat the Soviets, and now we’re gonna pull out of Afghanistan, and the hostages are gonna be released.” For maybe 80 percent of America, it was political, “We beat those Soviets, and we showed them what a great country we have.” For the hockey fan, it was a hockey game. But in Texas, California, Arizona, places that weren’t hockey hotbeds then, it was more about America and the flag and The Star-Spangled Banner and what a great country we have. I think the “USA! USA!” chants that we hear all the time now at sporting events all started in Lake Placid.
MICHAELS: I’m older than the players and paying a lot of attention to what was going on in the world. I’m sure they were to a limited degree, but they were playing hockey and totally focused on hockey. Kenny and I were clearly aware of what was going on, but we didn’t want to make this out to be one of those things where, you know, “Our society is better than theirs.” We couldn’t do that, but, clearly, we understood the context of it.
NICO TOEMAN: (IIHF linesman) The International Ice Hockey Federation prepared us very well for this game. They talked to us before the game. We were prepared but very nervous. What they said to us is that it could be very, not hostile, but the crowd will be very wild because it was the U.S. The IIHF made sure we were not influenced by the crowd.
The puck drops. At 9:12 of the first period, Krutov tips in a point shot from Alexei Kasatonov for the game’s first goal. The Americans answer roughly five minutes later when Schneider crosses the blueline on the left wing and hammers a slapshot at Vladislav Tretiak, the superstar Soviet goaltender, from roughly 50 feet out. It beats Tretiak to the top right corner: 1-1.
SCHNEIDER: Mark Pavelich, the excellent centerman, he drew everybody going to the right, the goalie’s left. He threw a cross-screen to me. And I caught Tretiak going from left to right. Mark Pavelich set the whole thing up for me, so all I had to do was put it away over the glove-hand corner.
The Soviets strike again at 17:34 of the first. This time it’s Makarov, finishing off a perfectly executed give-and-go with Alexander Golikov. The Soviets lead 2-1. But in the dying seconds of the period, Christian fires a slapper the length of the ice. Tretiak coughs up an enormous rebound. Johnson gets behind the defense, scoops the puck, waits out a surprised Tretiak and scores with a second left on the clock. It’s a 2-2 game.
PATRICK: Everybody else had given up on the play. Tretiak said later in life, “Our defense gave up on it, so I thought the play was over.”
TOEMAN: I watched the clock. I knew it was a second left when the puck went into the net. So I went straight up to (head official Karl-Gustav Kaisla) and told him.
CRAIG: To be quite honest, Tretiak let in some very bad goals. We had a total of 16 shots in the game, and if you look at the two goals Tretiak let in…not to be disparaging, but they weren’t the type of goals the greatest goalie in the world should be letting in. He let a slapshot in from 55 feet off the angle, and then he let in a 120-foot rebound.
RAMSEY: We were thinking like the movie Dumb and Dumber, when he says, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance” (laughs). Then Mark scored that goal with one second left, and all of a sudden it felt like, “We can play. Let’s play ball.” For anyone to say that we thought we were going to beat them, though, they’re lying.
The teams emerge from their dressing rooms to start the second period and, to the Americans’ utter shock, it’s Vladimir Myshkin, not Tretiak, manning the Soviet crease. Coach Viktor Tikhonov has benched Tretiak.
SCHNEIDER: I just looked at Herb. Herbie recognized it, too. I couldn’t believe it, but I could only think, “It’s good for us.” I don’t know what the reason behind it was. I didn’t know if he was hurt or something happened.
PATRICK: When Herb saw that, all he did was pace at the back of the bench. “Play your game.” He just wanted us not to change anything. Just the fact that they change goalies, it shouldn’t affect the way we play. He kept going back and forth, “Play your game, play your game.” He must have said it 40,000 times.
CRAIG: With the Soviets, there was a power struggle going on. They went from Anatoly Tarasov to Tikhonov, two different types of coaches. I believe Tretiak was the reason why they won early on, but I just think Tikhonov thought they could win with anybody. He wasn’t really too concerned about it, and he was trying to gain control of the older player.
ERUZIONE: Myshkin was the goalie when the Soviet Union beat the NHL All-Stars 6-0 (in the 1979 Challenge Cup). So I tell people that’s like taking out Martin Brodeur and putting in Patrick Roy. This kid wasn’t a slouch.
The Soviets dominate the second period, outshooting the Americans 12-2 and converting on a power play when Alexander Maltsev scores on a gorgeous breakaway move. But Craig does a tremendous job keeping his team in it.
CRAIG: I compartmentalized. I broke it into three separate games, and I focused on what I thought were the 30 toughest minutes and the most important minutes, which was the first five and the last five minutes of periods, the parts where momentum swung the most. I would undress and redress after every period.
MORROW: I think you can talk to anybody that’s played hockey at a high level, and they’ll tell you that when a goalie’s playing well, it just filters out to the rest of the team in front of them. When a goalie’s not playing well, you’re on your heels, and you’re not doing what you normally do, because you’re tentative about everything. And so what he did is allow us to play our game. Our game was an attacking, high-speed game.
The Americans reach the second intermission down 3-2. They’re thrilled that they have more than a puncher’s chance to win the game with a period to go.
ERUZIONE: The mood in the room was off-the-charts exciting. Guys were pumped up.
MORROW: We weren’t standing around watching this team. We had built up some really good momentum ourselves throughout the whole tournament. Just getting better and better each game and coming from behind in almost every game. And our conditioning was second to none…We outscored teams 16-3 in the third periods. Never been in better shape in my life. Not even close. What we did in the Olympics is what the Soviets used to do to teams. If the game was close at all, they used to blow teams out in the third period because of their conditioning. Herb wanted to take what they did and throw it back at them.
PATRICK: I know a lot of the other Russian guys because I went into the Hall of Fame with Fetisov. So I’ve gotten to know these guys over the years. The thing that comes up all the time: they couldn’t believe we could skate with them. They were shocked.
Early in the third period, Krutov gets called for high-sticking, sending the U.S. to the power play. Dave Silk gains the zone. Soviet defenseman Valeri Vasiliev takes him down, but the puck slides onto Johnson’s stick. He rips a wrister past Myshkin’s blocker to tie the game 3-3. Less than two minutes later, Eruzione collects a loose puck in the Soviet zone and creeps to the top of the right faceoff circle.
ERUZIONE: It’s a shot I’ve taken hundreds of times. I played a lot of hockey over my life. When I was in college at Boston University, I had a centerman named Rick Meagher who was a great player in college and obviously an NHL player, and Rick and I played together for almost four years, and so many times I’d take that pass from Rick, coming from left to right, and taking that shot, whether it was practice or a game.
It’s amazing how many things go through your head in a short period of time, because I’m not that smart a guy (laughs). But I just thought, if the defenseman stayed, I was going to use him as a screen. If he came at me, I had John Harrington and Billy Baker on my left-hand side going toward the net. I had the whole far side. When it left my stick I thought it was in, but the only thing I was worried about was I thought I pulled it just a little. And when I saw the highlight later, I saw it went under his arm, because I don’t think Myshkin saw it. Like most goaltenders, they try to get big and cover whatever they can. His arm was extended out, and it went between his arm and his body.
The bench goes crazy. The home crowd in Lake Placid goes crazy. It’s pandemonium at the Olympic Center.
MICHAELS: The building had been relatively quiet except for when the U.S. had scored because the Soviets were so dominant and most of the game was being played in front of Jim Craig. So it wasn’t as if it was a wild crowd. But the last 10 minutes it was a wild crowd.
RAMSEY: Once we got going, they were into the game. That played a huge part in us winning and us continuing. After the 10-minute mark, they gave us energy.
MICHAELS: As an American, it’s the one time that you can almost do rooting on the air, because I’ve never been a guy who roots on the air.
TOEMAN: This was the wildest, most excited crowd I had ever met in my life. Everybody’s drunk, throwing frisbees. You are not allowed to pick them up. They wanted us to leave them on the ice and just let somebody else pick them up. But I caught one in the air and threw it back into the crowd, and the crowd was yelling and screaming. The IIHF didn’t like it much. I was not supposed to catch that (laughs).
MICHAELS: The building is so loud. We were on a platform on the balcony level. It was built for us. It was a wooden platform. It wasn’t part of the structure. So it’s kind of, like, bouncing. It’s bouncing up and down. I’m amazed it didn’t collapse. You can feel it. The sound had feel. The guys in the truck, they’re excited, too. They’re yelling. And I remember thinking, “I’m like a horse with blinders. Look straight ahead. Call the game. Call the game.”
The Americans lead 4-3 with exactly 10 minutes to go. For the first time all tournament, Team USA has something to lose.
MORROW: When Mike scored, I looked up, and there was exactly 10 minutes to go, and I just said to myself, “This is going to be the longest 10 minutes of your life.”
SCHNEIDER: They were the shortest 40-second shifts I’ve ever seen. Nobody wanted to be on the ice when they scored.
PATRICK: I could feel my heart in my mouth. It was incredible how long that took, how gut-wrenching it was. The players got to do something about it, but as an assistant coach, you’re just standing there dying with every step on the ice.
ERUZIONE: I kept looking at the clock, looking at the ice, looking at the clock, looking at the ice, at the clock, at the ice, at the clock…
I just said to myself, ‘This is going to be the longest 10 minutes of your life’
– Team USA D-man Ken Morrow
MORROW: My only thought as a defenseman was just get the puck out over the blueline. Get it out of your end and try and keep it in their end. What ends up happening is – with all good intentions – you end up playing most of it in your end.
RAMSEY: We’d have three guys lying down across one way or another. One guy dives headfirst trying to block a pass, and other guys dive in the other way. It was chaotic, but the guys all competed so hard.
CRAIG: If I wanted the puck to be tied up because I thought we were tired or we needed to get a whistle, then I’d be yelling, “Get a whistle! Get a whistle!” The goalie’s job is almost like a quarterback out there, so I’m telling them to keep the play going. We don’t want them to get a faceoff. We don’t want them to be able to pull the goalie. We don’t want them to get players off the ice. Very focused, not thinking of winning until the buzzer goes off.
The final seconds tick down, and Michaels delivers the now immortal call on the broadcast: “Eleven seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”
MICHAELS: I got unbelievably lucky. I’m not thinking about a line, so whatever I said at that point was going to come out of my heart. And the reason I got very lucky is that, instead of the Soviets putting intense pressure on at that point, the puck comes behind the net, and then it gets shot out to center ice with five or six seconds left. And now I know. The Soviets are not near the puck at that point, so now the game is over. So I’ve got five seconds to let whatever emotion is in me come out and say the words. I can’t believe those words came out and those words live. But that was serendipitous. That’s what came out of my heart and not my brain.
ERUZIONE: The first thought in my mind was, “Oh my god. We beat the Russians. We beat the Russians.”
SCHNEIDER: I just couldn’t believe it. I think I played against that team about 12 times, and that was the first one we won. You want to do well and play well against the best team in the world. You beat them fair and square. That’s a great feeling.
MICHAELS: Of all the statistics, the shots on goal are the craziest to me. The Soviets had 39 and the United States had 16. How many hockey games have you seen in your life where the team that gets outshot 39-16 wins the game?
ERUZIONE: We went in and had a great celebration as a team. Just emotional, hugging and crying. A lot of us were pretty spent at that point.
Because the game is played at 5:00, ABC airs it on tape delay, meaning the U.S. players can watch the game they just played hours earlier.
SCHNEIDER: My parents and wife were out there. I was married at the time. After the game, we put on our U.S. jackets. I was with Jack O’Callahan and his family. We end up walking up to the Holiday Inn, and we watched it on TV with everybody else.
MORROW: I remember going back to my trailer after I iced my shoulder. We didn’t have a TV. We had a little AM radio. I turned it on, and that’s when it struck me what we had done. Herb kept us isolated, so we weren’t really aware of what was going on around the rest of the country at the time. We were in our own little bubble. When I was turning on the radio stations, all these talk shows, all they were talking about was the hockey game. People were calling in and talking about hockey. I was like, “Wow.” That was really the first moment for me of, “Gosh, this was pretty big.”
ERUZIONE: I went back to the village, had a few beers. We snuck them into our trailer in our hockey bag, and at that point we could do whatever we wanted in Lake Placid, so security people didn’t bother us at all. Put a case of beer in the bag, have a couple beers with guys on the team, and get up the next morning to practice.
The Americans feel like champions already, but a game against Finland looms two days later. A loss could not only knock Team USA out of the gold-medal slot but off the podium altogether. The morning after the Soviet win: a wakeup call.
SCHNEIDER: They had the table right in the middle of the dressing room, and there were a bunch of sticks for us to sign. We were walking in and signing sticks on the training table with magic markers, Herbie came in, and he knocks the sticks off the table and says, “Hey, you guys haven’t won anything yet!”
ERUZIONE: Herb flipped out on us, screaming and yelling. “Who do you think you are!” and I’m like, “God, why is he so pissed off? We just beat the Soviets.” But he needed to do exactly what he did. He skated our butts off that morning.
MORROW: Herb probably did his best coaching job that day. He put us through a real hard practice. Coming off a win and having to play a Sunday morning game, he wanted to snap us out of this daydream that we’re in, and he did.
Standing in the Americans’ way: one final game against the Finns. A win will clinch gold.
MORROW: All of a sudden, we go from the underdog, where there’s no pressure, to the pressure of having to win a game and the chance that we might not even get a medal. That’s how the point system worked.
ERUZIONE: Herb said, “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your f—ing grave.” And he stopped, he walked out, he stopped at the door, he pointed his finger back at us and said, “Your f—ing grave.” And he was so right. It would’ve stayed with us forever.
CRAIG: That was a much more difficult game than people understand. There’s an incredible amount of pressure. Remember, this is one game. This isn’t a series where you have seven games to decide it. The Finnish goalie (Jorma Valtonen) started out really hot, and if you look at that Finnish team, I think six of them went on to play big careers in the NHL, so this was a very, very good team.
After two periods, the U.S. trails once again. The score is 2-1 for Finland.
CRAIG: Herb was so pissed off after the second period – the fans were booing us – that I don’t even think he came in.
PATRICK: Herb comes to me and says, “Craig, they stopped listening to me.” I said, “No, they’re fine, they haven’t stopped.” He said, “No, you have to go talk to them.” So I go in the locker room. I said two words. I said, “Hey guys…” and they jumped up. I think Mark Johnson was the first one to jump up, He was the quietest of guys, and he was a quiet leader, a real leader. He said, “Shut up, Craig. Shut up, Craig. We didn’t come this far to lose to the Finns.”
And they all jumped up. They’re all jumping up and down. Like, “Yeah, Craig, shut up, we’re gonna win this game. We don’t need you to tell us that!” So I sit there and took it for a while, and then it finally died down. I gave myself a fist pump and said, “Yeah, great.” And I went back out in the hallway and Herbie said, “How’d it go?”
ERUZIONE: We came out, and I remember Jack O’Callahan, he must’ve said it 100 times, “There’s no way a bunch of f—ing Finns are keeping us from the gold medal.”
The momentum carries over. The Americans rally for three third-period goals and win 4-2. The gold is theirs. Now they can celebrate. Brooks doesn’t participate, however.
ERUZIONE: After we beat the Russians, he never said, “Congratulations, great game, great win.” After we beat Finland to win the gold medal, he never said, “Way to go, congratulations.” He let us enjoy the moment. If he came out on the ice, the guys would have went, “Oh, now all of a sudden you want to be our friend.” He stayed true to form till the end, even until the day he died. He let us enjoy all our success, and he never embraced it with us. I’m sure he did with his family and friends.
It was out of control. You go from nobody knows you to being the hockey god right way.
– Team USA goalie Jim Craig
Almost four decades have passed since the Miracle On Ice. It changed the lives of almost everyone involved and continues to affect them today.
TOEMAN: Before the game, it was just another hockey game. After the game, we knew this was history. We wrote history. Especially two days later when the U.S. beat Finland, we knew this was going to be a game that the people, especially in the U.S. because of the Cold War, will remember for a very, very long time.
CRAIG: Our team and the players became overnight heroes. People adored you. You couldn’t walk on the plane. It was just crazy. I was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, like, “Oh my god, I’m the first American hockey player on the cover of Sports Illustrated” (laughs). It was out of control. You go from nobody knows you to being the hockey god right away.
ERUZIONE: People come up to me, and they’ll say, “I remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated. I remember where I was when the Challenger blew up. I remember where I was on 9/11. I remember where I was on D-Day. And I remember where I was when we beat the Russians.”
MORROW: I still get mail every day. I still have people that, as soon as they find out I played on the team, will come up to me with tears in their eyes. Thousands of people have told me that’s how they became a hockey fan and that’s how they started playing hockey. It’s humbling.
ERUZIONE: I’ve had people come up and start crying. Just literally crying because that was the moment they spent with their dad or their mother or their grandfather, and they watched it as a family, and it meant a lot to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. Who am I to take that joy away from them? So I don’t mind talking about it. I get it.
MICHAELS: People say to me, “What’s No. 1?” I go, “Huh? What’s No. 1?!” That’s on a shelf that’s so high I can’t reach it with a fireman’s ladder. That will never be topped. The Super Bowls, World Series, I did Marvin Hagler/Thomas Hearns, maybe the best fight of the 20th century, and all those were great. But they come and go. People remember them, but this is a total standalone.
MORROW: I’ve had military people and other people tell me that was the start of the end of the Cold War. I’ve had one guy tell me who was part of the Olympic Committee that what we did basically revived the Winter Olympics, that there was talk that the Winter Olympics were on shaky ground until that happened.
ERUZIONE: When I talk to people, I want them to know that it wasn’t just one game. If Billy Baker doesn’t score against Sweden, who knows what happens? If Mark Johnson doesn’t play the way he plays, who knows what happens? So I enjoy telling the story because it gives them a better sense that it wasn’t a miracle, it wasn’t a fluke. A miracle is a catchy name, and it sounds nice, but it was an accomplishment by a group of guys who believed, who worked hard, who sacrificed a lot and accomplished something that was so amazing.