Monday, February 22, 2010

30 years ago today, the "Miracle on Ice" is still remembered as the greatest moment in sports history

It takes a moment of epic magnitude to capture the hearts of an entire nation, not just sports fans. Even others around the world can be greatly inspired. While some of us were not born yet when one of the most memorable moments in American history took place, those that did not witness it have had plenty of ways to learn a lot about why it was.

As the 2010 Winter Olympic Games take place just 30 miles north of the border in Vancouver, undoubtedly I reflect back to 30 years ago today. That would be February 22, 1980. I was just a very little boy back then and hadn't even learned about the game of ice hockey yet. On this day, thanks to one of the greatest motivators and taskmasters as a head coach in the late Herb Brooks, he helped shape a group of 20 college age boys into men. He would make them into hockey players, those that not only dreamed of international glory, but were made true believers that anything can happen.

Brooks led the 1980 United States Olympic ice hockey team to one of the most monumental upsets since Winter Olympic competition began. Dubbed as "The Miracle on Ice", it would be their 4-3 comeback victory over Russia at the Olympic Center (re-named Herb Brooks Arena in 2005) in Lake Placid, New York. The world will never forget the name of this village of 2,600 people nestled in the Adirondack Mountains, a 5-hour drive north of New York City.

The Russians were considered the best hockey country in the world and were a powerhouse with their dominance in the Winter Olympics. Having won every gold medal since 1956, many teams feared them. As it turned out, Brooks had his American squad not be.

Want to see game highlights of the "Miracle on Ice" game from February 22, 1980? Five years ago, ESPN Classic re-aired it. This is a very condensed 7½ minute version
of the game.
(video courtesy: ABC Sports)

Despite Vladimir Krutov putting Russia (back then as the Soviet Union) ahead 1-0 and Sergei Makarov giving them a 2-1 advantage, leading scorer Mark Johnson pounced on a long rebound of Dave Christian's shot and tied the game as the clock ran out to end the first period. It would then lead to a controversial goaltender change as Russia head coach Viktor Tikhonov pulled legendary netminder Vladislav Tretiak in favor of backup Vladimir Myshkin. It would turned out to be Tikhonov's biggest mistake of his hockey career.

Despite Aleksandr Maltsev putting Russia back in front 3-2 in the second period, the Americans did not give up. Brooks had given a well-noted inspirational pregame speech, but here he warned his players that they'll never rest in their grave had they lost this game. Johnson would score again to knot the game at 3-3 with 11:21 left in the third period and captain Mike Eruzione would score the eventual winning goal with exactly 10 minutes remaining for a 4-3 United States lead.

Tension mounted and excitement built higher and higher as that game clock wound down. The crowd screaming and yelling, the birth of the "USA! USA! USA!" chants were born and goaltender Jim Craig held the fort to prevent Russia from ever scoring again that day. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the livecall made by Al Michaels on ABC Sports will be tattooed on the minds of Americans forever were said. "Five seconds left in the game... DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?! YES!"

The dream came true, despite all the political unrest of a superpower "Cold War" between the United States and Russia, our 1980 United States Olympic ice hockey team not only set off a celebration of what is still regarded today as the greatest sports moment in history, but it helped make struggling Americans in a deep recession believe in themselves in many aspects of life.

The United States would later win that improbable gold medal two days after the "Miracle on Ice" with a 4-2 win over Finland.

The story of this game has been documented in the print media such as being featured on the March 2, 1980 cover of Sports Illustrated, then a 1981 television movie called Miracle on Ice as well as a 2001 HBO documentary Do You Believe in Miracles? and finally Disney's movie presentation of Miracle was released on February 6, 2004 starring actor Kurt Russell in the leading role of Herb Brooks.

Kurt Russell delivered a memorable re-creation of Herb Brooks' pregame speech in the 2004 release of Miracle.
(video courtesy: Walt Disney Pictures)

Miracle provided the Hollywood ending.
(video courtesy: Walt Disney Pictures)

Unfortunately, Brooks tragically died in a car accident on August 11, 2003 while driving on Interstate 35 in Forest Lake, Minnesota. It was before Miracle made it to movie theaters. But Americans will never forget what he did to enable the Americans to defeat the heavily favored Russians. A life size statue was erected outside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota in his honor that same year. He would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.

Regardless if you are an American or from any other country, you have to be impressed with not only the fact the United States won, but HOW they did it 30 years ago today.

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