This strategy, along with an "old-fashioned slap shot" - which was "drilled home...by Bill Baker of the University of Minnesota, in front of a crowd of 4,000 that half-filled the new field house" in Lake Placid. Only half full meant that perhaps most American Winter Olympics' fans didn't think the U.S. had a chance, and didn't buy the tickets because of that.
Eskenazi went on to explain that on the same night, the Soviet team beat Japan, 16-0, and Czechoslovakia routed Norway, 11-0. It was a sweet "victory" for the Americans to tie the Swedes, because the Swedes had joked that they had sent their "B" team out against Team USA; their "A" team, Eskenazi went on, was playing in the NHL.
Team USA then defeated Czechoslovakia 7-3, and West Germany, 4-2, and won two more to make the "medal round" - in which they really began to be taken seriously. Their next game was against the Soviets. Eskenazi again was the journalist covering the Americans as they faced - and defeated - the Soviets on February 21. "In one of the most startling and dramatic upsets in Olympic history, the underdog United States hockey team, composed in great part of collegians, defeated the defending champion Soviet squad by 4-3 tonight."
How did Team USA do it, and launch themselves into the championship game against Finland? For one thing, Team USA made the most of their shots, indeed, the Soviets out shot the Americans, 39 shots to 16. But Team USA had Jim Craig as its goalie, and he played one of the best games of his life. Craig, a handsome and articulate young man who had played for Boston University, became a hero in the United States following the Games. The U.S. was trailing 3-2 going into the final 20-minute period.
New York Times' sportswriter Dave Anderson reported on the game that really mattered most, the Gold medal contest between Team USA and Finland that the Americans won, 4-2. The game against the Soviets of course had more drama going into it because of the Cold War angle and the reputation the communist Soviet team had for beating any other team at any time. But after the game against Finland, Anderson wrote, "When the buzzer sounded, they hugged each other and tossed their sticks and gloves up to the people who were chanting, 'U-S-a, U-S-a,' and danced with those who had skidded onto the ice with American flags, large and small."
The reverberations from the Team USA victory were loud and positive, and official. That is, President Jimmy Carter welcomed the entire American Winter Games team and hailed them as "modern-day American heroes." Once the shouting and celebration died down, it was revealed that speed skater Eric Heiden, who had won five gold medals in the Games (somewhat overshadowed by the Team USA hockey gold medal), had given President Carter a petition signed by many (if not all) Winter Games athletes, asking him not to boycott the Summer Games. "I hope we don't boycott," said Heiden to the media during a "festive luncheon in the East Room of the White House." "The winter athletes in general just don't feel a boycott is the right thing," Heiden said. But Carter was not to be denied in his desire to have America stay away from Moscow that summer. "To go through all of that personal sacrifice is indeed a great achievement," said Carter, alluding to the Summer Games' athletes' years of hard training and anticipation.
And then to suffer an injury or some other obstacle that eliminates you from final competition is touch to accept," Carter continued. And to go through all that preparation and training and "have your chances dashed by something that really has nothing to do with your own efforts can be an even harder blow," said the president, quoted in the Weisman article. Jim Craig, the goalie for Team USA, joined Eric Heiden in publicly calling for Carter to change his mind.
So much has been written and said about Team USA's "miracle on ice" since that date that it would take a hundred or more pages of a paper to quote from them all. This was a game that will never be forgotten, even now that the Cold War is over and U.S. Olympic hockey teams are no longer made up of college students (professionals from the NHL are now the players in the Olympics). And one of the most well-known sporting publications, Sports Illustrated, has offered several very well written accounts of the amazing exploits of Team USA right after the Olympics and a few years later.
Writer E.M. Swift wrote a piece in March, 1980...
In that 1994 piece, Swift wrote that in Babbitt, Minnesota, home town of Team USA forward Buzz Schneider, after the victory over the Soviets "...guys went into their backyards and began firing shotguns towards the heavens." In Santa Monica, California, Swift wrote, a photographer heard about the U.S. beating the Soviets and walked into a "mom and pop" local grocery store and announced, "Guess what. Our boys beat the Russians." The older gentleman running the store looked at the photographer and said, "No kidding?" - and then he started to cry. "No kidding?" he repeated, tears in his eyes. It was indeed an emotional moment.
In Winthrop, Mass, about 70 people had gathered outside the home of Team USA captain Mike Eruzione, who scored the winning goal to beat the Soviets. Those people who had gathered spontaneously began singing the Star-Spangled Banner, Swift reports. And there was the man who was listening to the hockey game on the radio in his automobile; while driving through a thunderstorm, with the Americans hanging on to a 4-3 lead, he was pounding his hands on the steering wheel of his car.
Finally, as the game wound down to the last few seconds, the man, who Swift doesn't name, pulled off the road and counted down "5...4...3...2...1...We beat the Russians!" He honked his horn and yelled wildly inside his car. Then he got out and began screaming in the pouring rain. "It felt absolutely wonderful," Swift recounts. "There were 10 other drivers yelling their fool heads off in the rain. They made a huddle, and then they hollered together - We beat the Russians!" Here were perfect strangers "...dancing beside the highway," Swift continued, "with 18-wheelers zooming by and spraying them with grime."
Swift described Team USA as not "...a bunch of weird, freaky commando types. They were our boys. Clean-cut kids from small towns, well-groomed and good-looking, who loved their folks and like to drink a little beer." The writer from Sports Illustrated went on to remind readers that this Olympic event took place right during the drama of the American hostages in Tehran (who eventually were released after 444 days as hostages), and while the Soviets were marauding into Afghanistan.
Sports Illustrated (SI) gives an annual "Sportsman of the Year" award that is coveted by players and athletes in all sports. Team USA got that award at the end of the year. But Swift notes that the 1980 Team USA did not ultimately get that honor because they played "60 minutes...one Friday afternoon in February" for their country, or for political reasons. "If people want to think that performance was for our country, that's fine," Swift quoted Team USA forward Mark Pavelich as saying. But the truth was, "it was just a hockey game," Pavelich went on. There is enough to worry about given Afghanistan, and for the pride of the U.S., but Team USA "wanted to win it for ourselves," he added.
Not ourselves as I, me, mine," Swift clarified. "Ourselves the team." In fact most if not all of the players (college players) were in the Games as "a stepping-stone to the big time," the NHL, he went on. They knew that if they played well, the NHL coaches would surely recognize that and "...thank-you-bub, where do I sign."
When the movie "Miracle on Ice" came out, the role of coach Herb Brooks was played by actor Karl Malden. Later, Malden told reporter Swift that he had never met Brooks personally (which is a bit of a surprise, since most actors want to get into the heads of the people they are portraying, if those people are alive), but he did study his behaviors on videotape, "especially his eyes." Malden said, "I'd hate to meet him in a dark alley. I think he's a little on the neurotic side. Maybe more than a little. Any moment you think he's going to jump out of his skin," Malden told Swift for the article in SI. Contrary to what the New York Times' reporter had been quoted…
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