The single greatest moment in the history of sports happened exactly 35 years ago today.
On February 22, 1980, the United States Men’s Ice Hockey team defeated the Soviet Union’s team, 4-3. The United States’ goals were scored by Buzz Schneider, Mark Johnson (2), and captain Mike Eruzione.
At the time, the Soviet Union had the best hockey team in the world. They had won four straight Olympic Gold Medals in the sport, outscoring opponents 175-44 along the way.
The United States, on the other hand, had a team comprised of amateurs. None of the players were NHL players (although a few of them signed contracts afterwards). They were a very young team, the youngest in Olympic history. The average age of the roster was only 21 years old.
Nobody believed the United States would win. That belief was justified. Why should they have been given a chance? The Soviets were the best team in the world and the U.S. team was just a bunch of kids. After all, the Soviets had crushed them in an Olympic tune-up game at Madison Square Garden not too long before the Olympics, 10-3.
Americans across the country seemed to take an interest, as this was in the midst of the Cold War, and tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were soaring high. Al Michaels, who announced the game for ABC, opened up the broadcast by highlighting the national interest, regardless of the interest in the sport itself:
“For people who don’t know the difference between a blue line and a clothesline, it’s irrelevant.”
– Al Michaels during ABC broadcast, February 22, 1980
It didn’t matter whether or not you knew about hockey. You were watching or listening to that game regardless. This game had big implications for not only the sports world, but also the political and social world.
There was a request for the start of the game to be pushed back into a prime time TV slot. The Soviets declined, and so United States television viewers were shown the game on a tape delay that started almost an hour after the game had actually ended. This wasn’t a problem though, as most people still believe they saw it live on TV that day. (Imagine if this happened in today’s day and age – the result of the game would have been ruined by Twitter and other various social media outlets.)
Before the game, Coach Herb Brooks wrote down some motivational words on a piece of paper to show his team.
“You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”
– Herb Brooks, U.S. Men’s Ice Hockey Coach, 1980
The moment certainly was theirs for the taking. The arena in Lake Placid, New York was filled to capacity. American flags were being waved, and there was a sense of extreme nationalism. The first period ended with a last-second goal by Mark Johnson, tying the game at 2.
The United States forced the greatest goalie in the world to a spot on the bench, after netting twice against him in the first period. It might have been an overreaction by the Soviet coach, but it was a small victory for the United States nonetheless. They had just taken Vladislav Tretiak out of the game. At that time, nothing seemed impossible.
After the second period, the score was 3-2, in favor of the Soviets.
Mark Johnson netted about 8 and a half minutes into the third period, tying the game at 3.
The United States’ captain, Mike Eruzione, scored the deciding goal with ten minutes left to play. He put the United States up 4-3, and they never looked back.
The game was a picturesque ending to months of hard work for the American team. Coach Herb Brooks put them through hell and back, and it finally payed off when it mattered the most.
With around 10 seconds left, Al Michaels’ countdown began. He came up with the single greatest sports broadcasting line ever:
The “Miracle on Ice” stands as the greatest moment in sports history. It was the biggest game, on the biggest stage, and the United States’ group of amateurs shined in the spotlight. They did the impossible. They beat the unbeatable. They made the moment theirs.
Do you believe in miracles?…