35 Years Ago Today: The Miracle On Ice

For those of us old enough to remember, February 22nd, 1980 marked one of the great moments in sports history.

Miracle On Ice

Thirty five years ago tonight, a group of Americans took to the ice in Lake Placid, New York against the Soviet hockey team. It was, by all objective measures, a significant mismatch. Since this was the era before professionals were allowed to play in the Olympics and hockey was far from being a primary sport in the United States, the amateurs that came together to form the American team were not given much of a chance against a Soviet team that had trained and played together for years and was seen as being among the best in the world outside the National Hockey League. This wasn’t any ordinary American hockey team, though. In the games that came before the match against the Soviets, they had managed to play to a draw against the heavily favored Swedes and then go on to beat, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Romania, and West Germany. The game against the Soviets on February 22nd came in the medal round, and a win would mean that the U.S. team would advance to the gold medal game scheduled for several days later.

In February of 1980, though, it wasn’t the gold medal game that Americans were talking about, though, it was the confrontation on that Friday evening with the Soviets, on Amiercan soil no less. Perhaps because it occurred in the midst of an economic downturn and at a time when the news from abroad was dominated by the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which had begun just three and a half months earlier, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which was less than two months old at the time. Whatever the reason, it seemed at the time that the hopes of the nation were resting on this unlikely team of hockey players, and they didn’t fail to disappoint.

As I noted, the game was on a Friday night, I was eleven at the time and can still remember staying up to catch every minute of it, including practically losing my voice shouting during the final minutes of the game along with Al Michaels. There have been few moments quite like it since then and, while I can’t say I grew up to be much of a hockey fan, I’d gladly watch that game again if it was being broadcast (indeed, I had the thought that tonight would have been a great night for ESPN to run that tape but, alas, that doesn’t appear to be happening). Two days later, the Americans went on to defeat Finland and win the Gold Medal, but as far as most of us were concerned at the time, the important victory had already happened.

Of course, no post on this anniversary is complete without this:

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, Sports
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    The Red Army team, from which the Soviet Olympic team drew its players, certainly had some of the world’s best. Many of them–including defenseman Slava Fetisov, who played in the Miracle on Ice game–came straight to the NHL when the Iron Curtain fell. The Detroit Red Wings had one of the greatest player combinations in hockey history, the “Russian Five,” (Fetisov, Konstantinov, Larionov, Fedorov, Kozlov) who were all Red Army alumni.

    For what started out as a ragtag bunch of college kids with huge intercollegiate and regional rivalries to become a team that killed a hockey Goliath was incredible in itself, but couple that with the symbolism of the win in the Cold War context…man, it was unbelievable. A real miracle, without a doubt.

  2. millenial mel says:

    35 years ago, a hockey game was won.

    34 years ago the soviet union threw in the hat.

    40 years ago, SNL began.

    Tell me about how you rode dinosaurs to class, gramps.

    YOU’RE OLD !

  3. Chris Berez says:

    There have been several documentaries about the “Miracle on Ice,” but just recently ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 series aired an absolutely fantastic documentary called “Of Miracles and Men” that told the story from the perspective of the Russian team. For anyone that hasn’t seen it, I can’t recommend highly enough. It’s not only brilliant to see a new angle on the story, but all these years later, it’s actually a very empathetic and emotional piece. Seriously, try to catch it either by re-airings or look to see if it’s on Netflix yet. It’s a great piece.

    That said, “Do you believe in miracles?!” will never not give me chills and a lump in my throat. I really need to get up to Lake Placid and visit the museum there. It’s small but it sounds like a pretty cool experience nonetheless.

  4. Tyrell says:

    The story of this team and Coach Brooks is one of many great lessons, images, and anecdotes. One is that the US team had played the Russian team earlier and got wiped out.

  5. Mikey says:

    @Tyrell: Yeah, they got shellacked. Everyone (except Brooks, of course) figured it was going to be just another Winter Olympics where the USSR dominated and Team USA would return home medal-less.

    In a way, it was a good thing the Americans got whupped in that exhibition game–the Soviets came in to Lake Placid expecting another cakewalk and didn’t give Team USA a sufficient level of respect. And the rest, as they say, is history.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I remember, boy do I remember. Nothing much to do during the day but go out and put in apps ’cause I was barely employed. Had very little heat in the apt and even less electric cause that sh!t cost money don’cha know….

    But I also had a small black and white TV that got the signal from the local NBC (CBS? ABC?) affiliate and very little to do in the evenings (few friends and even less money) so I watched every US Hockey game from start to finish of the Olympics that year. The finals were actually anti climactic.

  7. John Peabody says:

    The game was played in late afternoon on the East Coast. In those pre-Internet days, ABC could get away with it, and the tape-delay is the game that everyone saw. One radio station in Minneapolis (Herb Brooks’ hometown) carried the game live, but apparently all of the media kept mum so that the drama would be played hours later on television.

  8. Lynn Eggers says:

    “hockey was far from being a primary sport in the United States”

    In the US, maybe not — but remember where the players came from? It was certainly a primary sport in those states!!

    Steve Janaszak, 22 – Saint Paul, MN (Minnesota)
    Bill Baker, 22 – Grand Rapids, MN (Minnesota)
    Dave Christian, 20 – Warroad, MN (North Dakota)
    Ken Morrow, 22 – Flint, MI (Bowling Green)
    Jack O’Callahan, 22 – Charlestown, MA (Boston U)
    Mike Ramsey, 19 – Minneapolis, MN (Minnesota)
    Bob Suter, 22 – Madison, WI (Wisconsin)
    Neal Broten, 20 – Roseau, MN (Minnesota)
    Steve Christoff, 21 – Richfield, MN (Minnesota)
    Mike Eruzione, 25 (Captain) – Winthrop, MA (Boston U)
    John Harrington, 22 – Virginia, MN (Minnesota-Duluth)
    Mark Johnson, 21 – Madison, WI (Wisconsin)
    Rob McClanahan, 22 – Saint Paul, MN (Minnesota)
    Mark Pavelich, 21 – Eveleth, MN (Minnesota-Duluth)
    Buzz Schneider, 25 – Babbitt, MN (Minnesota)
    Dave Silk, 21 – Scituate, MA (Boston U)
    Eric Strobel, 21 – Rochester, MN (Minnesota)
    Phil Verchota, 22 – Duluth, MN (Minnesota)
    Mark Wells 21, – St. Clair Shores, MI (Bowling Green)

  9. al-Ameda says:

    I think that that game is most famous for giving
    Al Michaels his signature broadcasting moment.

  10. Slugger says:

    That was a great match. No one will ever be able to explain the decision to pull Tretiak; I think that his feeling that it cost the USSR the gold is very defensible. Of course, often in sports breaks matter. The 1928 Yankees “only” won 66% of their regular season games, and they had a truly olympic in the sense of the ancient gods lineup.
    For years, I have been trying to raise money to fund a film about the 1972 basketball Olympics. It would be called “Miracle on the Maples” about a plucky team of eastern European boys defeating an arrogant team from the west. It has a thrilling last second ending.

  11. Just Me says:

    I was a child when this happened and don’t really remember much about the politics that surrounded the Olympics-I just remembered the Russians were the guys to beat.

    Today-with no more Cold War and Russians and other former Soviet block nations in the NHL the Olympics have a very different feel.

  12. James P says:

    I say this because I am a Christian and I care.

    You need help. I hope you have the courage to seek counseling.

    You are a very angry man. Your angry will destroy you if you do not do something to address it. I truly do hope that you get the help that you need.

    Perhaps someday you will find Christ and come to have peace in your life. YOu seem very troubled and I frankly feel sorry for you.

  13. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @James P:

    I say this because I am a Christian and I care.

    You need help. I hope you have the courage to seek counseling.

    What the hell?

    Not really germane to the discussion, spanky… Why not tell us about the price of chickens in Bulgaria? Would add about as much value.

  14. John Peabody says:

    Slugger…good call! That is an extremely apt comparison. The last minute(s)(s) was brutal!

  15. Pinky says:

    There’s still only one sporting event that I can rewatch and it moves me every time. Well, technically, not one event – it was the Triple Crown, 1973. Secretariat’s performance in the Derby was excellent. He was even better in the Preakness, a perfect demonstration of competitive spirit. Then the Belmont…there are no words. The greatest athlete of all time.

  16. Pinky says:

    @James P: This is probably the only thread on OTB that that isn’t an appropriate comment.

  17. Chris Berez says:

    @James P:
    Thank you for noticing, James P! I’m glad someone finally did! I am angry. I am very, very angry. I am very angry at Jesus. Why did he declare for the Swedes instead of us? That wasn’t cool. We needed a power forward!