MIRACLE ON ICE Memories of upset remain fresh
U.S. players credit late coach Herb Brooks for leading them to gold.
DALLAS MORNING NEWS
With the Cold War swirling and political tensions threatening the 1980 Winter Games, 20 hockey players in USA uniforms produced one of sports' most shining intervals.
On Feb. 22, 1980 -- 25 years ago today -- the U.S. hockey team stunned the Soviet Union, 4-3, in a semifinal game in Lake Placid, N.Y.
ABC sportscaster Al Michaels asked about belief in miracles in the final seconds of the watershed game, which the network did not televise live because of the international federation's directives.
U.S. players, weighing in on the anniversary's meaning, continue to credit the victory to coach Herb Brooks, who died in an automobile accident in August 2003.
Brooks used more than his authority and cunning when he bucked conventional wisdom and ranked unselfish play above blinding talent. The 20 players he groomed for the 13th Winter Olympiad had checked their egos at the altar of team unity before they arrived in the tiny Adirondack village.
"Herb Brooks was probably the most prepared man I ever met," said U.S. goalie Jim Craig, who made 36 saves against the Russians in Lake Placid.
The ultimate prize
The U.S. went on to win the gold medal, beating Finland.
Brooks, recalled as an unparalleled motivator, had insisted that conditioning was a key in preparing for the Soviets, who were 27-1-1 in the previous four Olympiads.
"Every player that played for Herbie looked back and respects the hell out of him," said winger Rob McClanahan, whose relationship with Brooks had its tempestuous moments. "He got results."
Evidence came in recent days, when many of Brooks' 1980 upstarts spoke with humility about their role at Lake Placid. Brooks selected a team, with an average age of 21, that would grasp the power of generosity and sharing whatever spotlight opportunity might present. Twenty-five years later, the pattern held.
Given the chance to preen and elaborate on the hockey feat, Mike Eruzione, the captain of the 1980 team who scored the game-winning goal against the Soviets, instead said he takes his children to Lake Placid to see where Eric Heiden skated. Heiden won five speed-skating gold medals for the United States, smashing world and Olympic records.
In a separate conversation, McClanahan recalled Lake Placid for what he witnessed:
"I watched every one of Eric Heiden's races," McClanahan said. "He was to speed skating what the Soviets were to hockey."
In the home of the 1980 Winter Games, a photo of Brooks greets visitors to the modest rink. The setting reminds fans of a smaller, simpler Olympic era, dream-driven rather than corporation-squired. The 1980 Winter Olympics drew 37 nations. The 2006 Turin Games next February expect 85 countries.
"What you don't realize until you get to Lake Placid is that there's a spirit there," Craig said.
He visited the village with his daughter recently. What struck him, he said, was that the museum was closed but the curator opened it right up and took them on a tour. Craig also said the speed-skating oval reinforced his view of how "overshadowed" Heiden was.
The U.S. hockey players said the village insulated them from the reactions of the outside world. Not until they left Lake Placid for the White House, having secured the gold medal, did they recognize how much the upset meant to fans.
Last year's Disney movie "Miracle" gratified 1980 defenseman Jack O'Callahan, who said he and his teammates enjoyed seeing young people embrace the film.
After the inspiration of Lake Placid, the U.S. Olympic movement was in for some rocky years. The Jimmy Carter-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow jettisoned many U.S. athletes' dreams. That fall, the U.S. Olympic Committee needed emergency aid to stay afloat.
"You went from the giddy highs of Lake Placid to the decision not to participate in Moscow," said Mike Moran, the USOC assistant communications director at the 1980 Winter Games and now a veteran of 14 Olympics.
The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics set the tone for corporate sponsorship and Games with a different texture and message.
The Games would never be the same as they'd been in Lake Placid, where the Russian hockey team reportedly left behind 121 empty vodka bottles.
In the mountain hamlet of 3,000, whatever wasn't perfect was offset by a miracle, actually a master plan, on ice.