“Tell your whole team I love them,” U.S. President Jimmy Carter commanded Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, when he got him on the phone in the moments following the Americans’ 4-2 gold-medal victory over Finland on this date, a Sunday, in 1980. It was the game two days earlier, of course, that everyone remembers, the one where Eruzione, goaltender Jim Craig (above, celebrating gold), and all their star-spangled teammates overthrew the mighty Soviet Union. Mostly they forget that the U.S. team still had plenty of work to do against the Finns. Under the complicated medal-round formula, an American loss combined with a Swedish win over the Soviets could have left the U.S. in fourth place. As it was, goals from Phil Verchota, Steve Christoff, Rob McClanahan, and Mark Johnson sealed the U.S. win, while the Soviets crushed Sweden 9-2. “Outside the arena an exultant throng counted down the final seconds,” Gerald Eskenazi reported for The New York Times, “then started to cheer as a Dixieland band began to play. When the doors of the field house opened, the crowd of 10,000 (including 1,500 standees) streamed into the Olympic Center driveway with chants of ‘U.S.A’ and ‘We’re Number One.’”
“One of the most startling and dramatic upsets in Olympic history,” Gerald Eskenazi called it in The New York Times when the U.S. beat the mighty Soviet Union on this day in 1980 in Lake Placid, New York — but you knew that already. The score was 4-3 by the end of that fateful semi-final — see below to relive all the drama of the last few minutes, after Mark Pavelich intercepted a Soviet pass. Beating the Soviets earned the Americans the right to play Finland in the Olympic final two days later, where they prevailed once more, 4-2, and duly collected their golds.
One of the memorable images from the aftermath of the Soviet game was of U.S. goaltender, Jim Craig, touring the ice of the Olympic Field House with a flag caped about his shoulders. That’s it in the thread here above, as it appeared in 2015 when the former Boston University goalkeep decided to sell items from his 1980s treasury via the New Jersey auction house Lelands.
Measuring 5’ by 9.5’, these “forensically photo-matched and authenticated” stars and stripes went on the block attached to an appraised value of between US$1,000,000 and US$1,500,000. With the on-line auction inviting opening bids on the latter … none was forthcoming. At a second auction in 2016, when the bidding started at US$100,000, the flag attracted seven bids without selling — the final offer of US$611,591 failed to meet the reserve on a lot that Lelands called “the sports version of the Declaration of Independence, the “Rosebud” sled, or the suit Neil Armstrong wore to walk on the Moon.” (Take your pick, I guess.)
Craig’s 1980 gold medal also failed to sell, as did the sweater he wore against the Soviets. That 2016 sale did move 13 other lots from the goaltender’s Olympic collection, raising a total of close to US$292,000. Craig’s mask went for US$137,849, and his blocker for US$23,033. You could have had his skates for US$17,569, though you probably didn’t; his goalie pants went for a mere US$1,320.
The United States won Olympic gold for the first time in 1960 at Squaw Valley and when someone writes a book about that, modern-day American teams can study it for guidance. In the meantime, American blueprints for Olympic victory will have to make do with the many volumes commemorating that other golden campaign, in 1980, which include Miracle On Ice: Victory For America! and One Goal (“the victory that united a nation in an explosion of joy and pride”) to Going For The Gold and The Boys of Winter. The latter, by Wayne Coffey, is the best of these chronicles, if not not the one we’re talking about here today in our review of Olympic-hockey how-to books. What does Joe Dunn’s Miracle On Ice (2008) have that the rest of those others don’t? More pictures, fewer words, a whole bunch of very angry and obviously steroid-ridden Russians, and the quickest guide to getting hold of the gold.
It’s tough times in the 1970s for America. The energy crisis, inflation, Iranians taking hostage. The world is in turmoil.
Forget all that. Focus on the Olympics. Can anybody beat the Soviet Union? They’ve won five out of the last six gold medals. Their players are wily and old and, also, young and quick. They have square heads, and scowls on their faces.
Hire Herb Brooks. Convene a number of tryout camps. Test your players mentally as well as physically. Pick a team. Condition them. Train them to work hard and be fast.
Play a gruelling exhibition schedule. Lose your last game to the Soviets by a score of 10-3.
Go to Lake Placid. Don’t worry about the Canadians — in fact, you know what? Don’t even mention them. Tie Sweden. Dominate the Czechs 7-3. Beat Norway, Romania, Germany.
Meet the still-scowling Soviets in the medal round. Scowl at them. Let them be aggressive in the first period, taking shot after shot. Have a goalie named Jim Craig be up to the task of stopping them all.
See Krutov finally score.
Don’t be discouraged. Tie the game. See Makarov score. Tie it up again, scowlingly.
Be shocked when the Soviet coach pulls Tretiak after the first period in favour of Myshkin. Wilt a bit, but don’t collapse. Eventually take a 4-3 lead. Hold on to it. Win. Skate around with a flag for a cape while the crowd chants U!S!A! and U!S!A! Call it one of the greatest moments in sports history, a miracle, but don’t forget, you still have to beat Finland if you want to win the Olympics.
Miracle On Ice
by Joe Dunn, illustrated by Ben Dunn
(Edina: Magic Wagon, 2008)