“Great moments are born from great opportunities.”
1980 Team USA Hockey Coach
Today is the 30th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice.” I remember the day well. And as big as yesterday’s Team USA’s victory was over Canada, it was a blip on the radar compared to the 1980 victory over the USSR.
Even if you weren’t born yet you are probably familiar with the event that happened on February 22, 1980 when the US hockey team defeated the USSR. What made the victory so remarkable was we hadn’t defeated the USSR in 20 years. And for all of that time this country was in a Cold War and it was clear that the USSR was our enemy. High drama.
At that time there were two super powers in the world who both had loads of nuclear arms. Threat of a nuclear war was always at hand. This provided a lot of tension and some great material for Tom Clancey’s novels and quite a few Hollywood films. And, of course, it set the stage for the events that would unfold in the famous game.
I was a high school senior in Florida at the time and had never even seen snow much less been to a hockey game. But 30 year ago the Winter Olympics were special in a different way. It was a world before cable TV and the Internet. So when the Winter Olympics were on one of three available stations every four years—it was a big deal. (And in a time before glossy, sentimental TV vignette stories, it was us against them. USA verses whoever, as opposed to pulling for the athlete with the most compelling life story.) I didn’t actually watch the game, but I remember being at work and hearing the news and the celebrations that followed.
What also made the USA hockey team’s victory over the USSR so sweet was the USSR did not have pro hockey so the best players in their country of any age and experience were playing against college age guys from the USA. It was a mismatch. The USSR had won Gold in Hockey in all but one Olympic games since 1956. In an exhibition game against Russia just a few weeks before the Olympic games Team USA lost 10-3.
According to Wikipedia, the USA Olympic coach that year was Herb Brooks who was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and in high school played on the team that won the state hockey championship. He went on to play at University of Minnesota, despite being cut by the 1960 Olympic team he played on the ’64 & ’68 Olympic squads. He then turned to coaching at the University of Minnesota where he won the NCAA championship in 1974, 1976, and 1979.
That set the stage for the “miracle.” The victory (which wasn’t even for the Gold medal that they would go on to win) was called by Sports Illustrated as the “Greatest Sports Moment of the Century.”
Brooks used a good deal of players who played for him at the University of Minnesota (9 of the 20). Keeping with the theme of this blog, I’m sure more than one was from little towns you’ve never heard of. For instance, Neal Broten was born in Roseau, Minnesota. (Broten, by the way, who happens to be in the foreground of the SI cover is the only hockey player to play on teams that won the NCAA hockey championship, the Olympic Gold medal, and the Stanley Cup. Not bad for a guy who came from a town with a population of under 3,000 and who stands 5’7.”)
Four of the players were also from Boston University including the US captain Mike Eruzione. Eruzione would be the player who scored the game winning goal in the famous game.
A couple years ago I received a call to video tape Eruzione who was speaking in Iowa to a youth hockey organization. Just before the shoot I remembered one of the few Sports Illustrated covers I kept over the years was the March 3, 1980 issue with the famous cover shot by photographer Heinze Kluetmeier of the victory celebration. I took the magazine with me to the shoot and Eruzione was gracious enough to sign it.
I remember that victory well. It was good day. Good enough to result in a 1981 TV movie, a documentary that aired on HBO, as well as the 2004 Disney film Miracle starring Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks.
Miracle was written by Eric Guggenheim. Here is part of a Q&A that Debra Eckerling had with Guggenheim for Storylink.
Q. (Eckerling) Why did you write Miracle?
A. (Guggenheim):I’m drawn to stories about redemption and second chances. For me Miracle was always less about hockey and more about those themes.
Of course I also responded to the fact that this was the ultimate David versus Goliath story. But the biggest draw was the coach, Herb Brooks. In Brooks you had the makings of a terrific character. He wasn’t very likeable, but what’s interesting is that he made a conscious choice to be that way in order to bond his team together. And even if that wasn’t apparent, his backstory made him incredibly sympathetic. Also, the notion that a hockey team could lift the spirits of an entire nation was very intriguing to me.
Scott W. Smith
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