Why they call it a Miracle
By Michael Bedean
Scripps Howard News Service
Somehow, it all worked out in 1980.
They called it a miracle, and it was, for once, really a miracle. Not sports hyperbole. The U.S. Olympic hockey team, thrashed by the Russians 10-3 in an exhibition game days before the 1980 Games began, somehow found a way to beat Russia when it mattered.
|The upstart Americans knocked off the mighty Soviets in the Olympic medal round.|
"You were born to be hockey players," U.S. coach Herb Brooks told his team before the semifinal game against the former Soviet Union.
"You were meant to be here. This moment is yours."
Indeed it was.
Mike Eruzione scored with 10 minutes left to break a 3-3 tie, and the United States held on for a 4-3 victory on Feb. 22, 1980. The
Soviet Union had won eight of the previous nine Olympic golds.
But beating the Russians was only one step. On Feb. 24, Finland stood between the United States and its first hockey gold medal since the 1960 Olympics. Again, Brooks went to work on his players' minds, peppering them with cryptic words.
"Basically, he walked in and told us after the Soviet game that if we lost to Finland, we would take it to our grave," said backup goalie Steve Janaszak, the only American who did not play at Lake Placid, N.Y. "There was incredible apprehension before this game. We were horrified by the thought that we'd be sitting around 10 years
later and wondering how we could lose the gold medal after coming so close. Essentially, we were afraid to lose."
The United States was losing 2-1 entering the final period. Three unanswered goals later, the fans were singing "God Bless America" and waving flags. The Soviet Union's streak of four consecutive gold medals had been stopped, and Finland had been vanquished. And to think, before the Olympics, Brooks was talking bronze.
||You were born to be
hockey players. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours. ”
||— U.S. coach Herb Brooks to his team
But Brooks soon changed his tune, and his players, though many were not fans of his personality, ate it up.
"You didn't have to like him, but you respected the stand he took and his hockey knowledge," center Mark Johnson said. "Sometimes you
got frustrated and mad, but at the end you had to respect him."
They never figured out whether Brooks' mental games were motivational theatrics or whether he was just a contemptuous character. One incident before the Games resulted in a revolt. Brooks threatened to bring in new players, remove Eruzione as captain and
make him an assistant coach.
"Well, he had a palace revolt on his hands," Janaszak said. "It was ludicrous to us."
The team threatened to quit en masse, and Brooks relented.
Another time, Brooks called center Rob McClanahan a "baby" and a "spoiled rich kid" when McClanahan suffered a thigh injury early in
the 1980 Olympics.
"McClanahan was crying and coming after Herb," Janaszak said. "It was some scene. They had to tear them apart. I remember guys were holding both of them down. That locker room scene is still vivid in my mind. But it was another piece of the puzzle.
"It was basically us against the coach. I think this really brought the team together."
The team produced its share of NHL players, including Neal Broten and Ken Morrow. Morrow went on to win three Stanley Cups with the New
York Islanders, and Broten hoisted the Cup with the New Jersey Devils.
Eruzione elected to get out of hockey entirely at age 25.
"It's a hard decision to make, but I just don't think I could play in the National Hockey League with the same enthusiasm as I did in the
Olympics," he said at the time. "I want to be remembered as Mike Eruzione, captain of the U.S. Olympic team. I do not want to be
remembered as a guy who played in the NHL for a few games and then got sent to the minors.
"It's sort of a sudden end to my hockey career, but what more can I do in hockey? To me, the gold medal is the greatest thing that can
happen to an individual."
Michael BeDan writes for the Denver Rocky Mountain News in Colorado.