It is a call we will never forget. “Do you believe in miracles,” exclaimed Al Michaels as the United States hockey team skated to victory in the 1980 Winter Olympics. The brash, upstart American team topped the Russians and Finland to find itself perched on the highest peak of the hockey world.
To say this is the greatest surprise in Olympic history is a great understatement. It is like stating Jesse Owens could run or Mark Spitz could swim. There can be no counter argument.
Barely a month after the Soviets skated through and around the young Americans en route to a 10-3 exhibition victory, the hungry and determined United States squad got back up on their skates to stun the team that many experts labeled as the greatest hockey team in history. The Soviets were a group of experienced stars that included Vladislav Tretiak, who was widely regarded as the world’d best net minder.
“The Miracle on Ice” began days before when the United States faced Sweden. Bill Baker scored for the Americans with just 27 seconds remaining in the final period to secure a 2-2 tie. It was not known at the time that this would result in the only blemish on the United States’ record. Subsequent victories over Norway and Romania caught the attention of millions of Americans, including many with little interest in the sport of hockey.
Next for the Americans was perennial world-power Czechoslavakia. Goals by Mark Pavelich, Buzz Schneider, Phil Verchota and Rob McClanahan helped them to a 7-3 upset. Interest built around the globe. How far could The United States go? Surely, the inexperienced squad would falter in their next test against mighty West Germany. This time, McClanahan and Neal Broten fired goals to secure the lead. Verchota then added a final goal to seal the 4-2 victory.
Perhaps the greatest miracle was that doubters remained, even after the Russians were defeated. Surely “the kids” would crack under the pressure of the championship game against Finland. Certainly, their emotion was totally spent against the Soviets. They would undoubtedly come out flat.
It was not to be, as the Fins were disposed of and the Americans claimed the Gold Medal. Time after time, Jim Craig kicked, swatted and blocked shots from entering the United States’ goal. It was one of the greatest goalie performances in Olympic history.
Not too long afterwards, my best friend and I stood in front of the Little League Baseball team that we managed. We were about to play for the league championship. As the youngsters knelt before us, with attentive ears and glaring eyes, my friend began to speak.
“You have got to be like the United States Hockey team,” he explained. “You have got to believe in yourselves even when no one else does. You have to give all of your effort, like they did. You have got to dive for fly balls and hustle from first base to third. You have got to want it more than they do.”
We won that night, by a score I can not remember. But I do remember that we won because we believed in ourselves, and because we believed in miracles.