The simple news clip caught me totally by surprise. In an instant I was back in my senior year of college, on my feet and pumping my fists in joy over that incredible, wonderful, improbable 1980 Olympics victory of the U. S. hockey team over Russia.
Thanks to broadcaster Al Michaels’ call, we know it today as the Miracle on Ice.
Before I saw ABC replay the final seconds of that game I knew on a conscious level that the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice was approaching. Nothing, however, prepared me for my deep emotional reaction to reliving that moment.
We all have those deep-seated memories, in which we know exactly where we were and what we were doing when we had the experience. It may be disturbing or it may be joyous – the death of a loved one or John F. Kennedy’s assassination, or perhaps a great personal accomplishment or the birth of a child.
It came from out of the blue that the Miracle on Ice was one of those moments for me.
That February day in 1980 several of my University of Toledo friends gathered in the living room of my apartment near campus. When we sat down to watch the game I really held no belief at all that the United States could win. The American hockey team had already far exceeded expectations. All we could really hope for was avoiding a total blowout against the incredibly strong and talented Russia team.
I did not recall until I saw the coverage last weekend that the game actually concluded about an hour before it aired. In those days before cell phones and laptops, we had not yet heard the result.
If you weren’t alive in 1980 it may be impossible to appreciate just how much of a miracle that victory truly was.
At that time professionals were banned from the Olympics, at least American pros. Not so with the communist Soviet team, made up of that country’s very best hockey players. Although these Russians indeed made their living playing hockey, the Soviets gamed the system by designating their players as soldiers, engineers or students.
This Russian team was good – incredibly good. They had just defeated U.S. National Hockey League teams, even the NHL all-star team, and just days before had blown out the American Olympics team 10-3 in an exhibition game.
In contrast, the U.S. hockey team was a hodge-podge of amateurs, college players and a few with minor league hockey experience. Their average age was only 22, my own age at the time.
Despite all that, America was excited about its overachieving team. Elation was especially high in Toledo, as the captain of the U.S. team, Mike Eruzione, was a former Toledo Goaldigger player and an instant local celebrity. Another team member, Ken Morrow, played with Bowling Green State University.
As the game against Russia progressed it looked like our hope for a good U.S. showing would be realized, but we still dared not hope for victory. The Russians led for most of the game, but the Americans kept battling back to tie.
Even so, as the third and final period got underway the home crowd at Lake Placid, New York, had little to cheer for as the U.S. was behind by a goal. When America tied the game at 3-3, though, the arena crowd – and the small crowd in my living room – came to life.
Minutes later, when Toledo’s own Mike Eruzione scored to put the Americans ahead, that Lake Placid arena – and my living room – went insane.
Ten minutes remained to play, plenty of time for the Russians to come back and blow the game open. We held our collective breath as the Russians kept pushing, kept attacking, and U.S. goalie Jim Owens kept blocking their shots.
As the clock wound down we stared at the television, urging on the Americans as the unbearable tension continued to grow.
Finally the clock hit one minute and time seemed to stand still. I remember the knot in my stomach becoming almost unbearable as the U.S. players kept moving the puck away from the goal, the talented Russians continuing the fight to the very end.
As the final few seconds counted down it sank in – we had won, and Al Michaels made that sports call for the ages: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”
The echoes of that emotional high still resonate, even as I write this days later. I’m happy, I’m still celebrating, and I’m still very much proud to be an American.
Don Allison is a retired editor of The Bryan Times, an author and historian and he can be reached at www.fadedbanner.com