By Kerry J. Byrne
(MAINNEWS) – The United States men’s hockey team, mostly amateur college stars, shocked the fearsomely talented Soviet Union 4-3 in the Winter Olympics on this day in history, Feb. 22, 1980.
It’s gone down in sports lore — and entered wider American culture — as “the Miracle on Ice.”
The victory by American boys in Lake Placid, New York, over the invincible Soviets, winners of four straight Olympic gold medals, proved much more than a hockey game.
It shook the nation out of what President Jimmy Carter depressingly called America’s “crisis of confidence” only seven months earlier in his infamous “malaise” speech.
“We could use another 1980 right now,” Mike Eruzione, a Winthrop, Massachusetts, native and captain of the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team, told Fox News Digital this week.
“The country was in great turmoil at the time and along we came. The work ethic, the values we had — it proved the values that make this country so great. The nation saw what we did and took great pride in it.”
The stunning victory by Eruzione and his teammates inspired a spontaneous, even delirious, wave of unbridled patriotism from coast to coast.
“We could use another 1980 right now.” — U.S. Olympic hockey legend Mike Eruzione
The victory itself, purely in sports terms, was truly a miracle.
The Soviet Union team of 1980 is widely considered perhaps the greatest collection of hockey talent ever assembled
“In February 1979, they faced an NHL All-Star team that featured an astounding 20 future Hall of Famers in a three-game series,” ESPN wrote in 2016.
“The mighty Soviets buckled after being punched in the nose by Uncle Sam’s young skaters.”
“The Soviets won two of the matchups, including Game 3 at Madison Square Garden in a 6-0 rout.”
The Soviets humiliated the same U.S. hockey team 10-3 in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden in New York City just weeks before the Olympics.
They then eviscerated their first five opponents in the 1980 Olympics by a combined score of 51-11.
The Soviets were unbeatable.
“In a time when the NHL’s professional players were barred from the Olympics, Russian pros were free to chase medals — the state officially considered them soldiers who played as amateurs,” the website Russia Beyond wrote in a 2014 obituary of legendary Soviet hockey coach Viktor Tikhonov.
“Athletes were servants of the state, working for achievements that would boost national glory and show the superiority of Marx and Lenin.”
The American boys, with an average age of just 21, the youngest squad in the Olympics, were amateurs.
Yet the mighty Soviets buckled after being punched in the nose by Uncle Sam’s young skaters.
American Mark Johnson tied the game at 2-2 as time ran out in the first period. Tikhonov benched goaltender Vladislav Tretiak — considered the best in the world — at intermission.
Analysts say it was a moment of panic felt by his team.
Eruzione scored what proved the game winner with 10 minutes left to play in the final period.
The Americans, backboned by netminder Jim Craig, withstood a furious onslaught as the final minutes appeared to last hours.
“Five second left in the game. Do you believe in miracles?!” announcer Al Michaels, just 35 at the time, shouted above the din in Lake Placid.
The broadcaster’s jubilant proclamation has gone down as the most famous coda in American sports history.
“It came out of my heart,” Michaels told radio broadcaster Colin Cowherd years later.
The delirious hometown crowd cheered wildly, many waving U.S. flags, as the American boys jumped, embraced and rolled on the ice in a spontaneous unscripted moment of national joy.
“It came out of my heart.” – Al Michaels on his famous 1980 hockey call
The celebration quickly spread from coast to coast.
The national malaise, a decade of economic crises, the divisive conflict in Vietnam and a deepening divide between elites and working Americans had been broken.
“We touched the lives of so many people around the country,” Eruzione said by phone from a rink in Boston, where he watched three of his grandchildren play hockey.
U.S. ice hockey fans wave national flags as they celebrate the United States’ upset victory over the Soviet Union (4-3) in the Olympic semifinal match on Feb. 22, 1980, in Lake Placid at the Winter Olympic Games. The USA advanced to the final, where they played Finland for the gold medal.
“People still come up to me and cry when they tell me what that moment meant to them.”
“We are at a turning point in our history,” President Carter said in his infamous July 1979 “malaise” speech.
It turns out the inflection came from the most unexpected place: on the ice of the Olympic Center in Lake Placid.
It has since been renamed Herb Brooks Arena, in honor of the hockey coach who handed the nation its Miracle on Ice.
The United States beat Finland, 4-2, in the gold medal game two days later.
But the win over the invincible Soviets is the one for which the team is remembered.
Sports Illustrated dubbed it the Greatest Sports Moment of the 20th Century.
The United States went on to a new period of confidence, peace and prosperity in the 1980s.
It was capped by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989; the collapse of the Soviet Union — and its mighty hockey dynasty — in 1991; and victory in the Cold War.
“People still come up to me and cry when they tell me what that moment meant to them.” — Eruzione
Does Grandpa Eruzione ever get tired of talking about the moment of national pride that erupted in the wake of his miracle as a young man, 43 years ago?
“Never. I never get sick of it,” he said, adding that the 2004 movie “Miracle” brought the story to a new generation of young Americans.
“Who am I not to talk about it when I see the joy it still brings to people’s faces? I take great pride and joy in it,” he said.
“I still do. Everybody’s got a story to tell me about that moment. We did something very special for a lot of people.”
He also said, “We are wrestling with so many issues as a nation right now. We are divided again. We need something like 1980 to pull the country back together.”