When a Hockey Team Made Us Believe in Miracles

On February 22, 1980, the U.S. hockey team shocked the world with a 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union team at the XIII Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. As time expired, sportscaster Al Michaels asked television viewers a question that he immediately answered, “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!”

The U.S. team went on to win the gold medal two days later with a victory over Finland.

The 1980 Team and the Miracle on Ice

Although the U.S. team entered the Olympics seeded seventh, the team was more than a rag-tag group of amateurs. A large percentage of the team was made up of top college athletes on their way to the NHL. And Coach Herb Brooks had the team in top shape, as it was led by players like Mike Eruzione and goalie Jim Craig.

The “Miracle on Ice” resonated with Americans weary from the Iran hostage crisis searching for something to celebrate. Events from the 1970s like Watergate also contributed to the fact that Americans yearned to be proud again.

Also, President Carter had already announced that the U.S. would be boycotting the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow because of the Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan. So it was not surprising that a scrappy group of young men taking on the powerful Soviet hockey team in the Winter Olympics would bring us together.

In the U.S., we watched the game on tape delay during prime time. The game had already been played several hours earlier in the day. But in those pre-Internet days, it was easy to believe you were still seeing it live.

As we watched the end of the final period, hoping the U.S. would keep the Soviets from tying the score, had we ever seen a more tense final few minutes to a sporting event?

I was a kid, but I remember watching every U.S. hockey game in the Olympics. By some chance, I had caught the U.S.’s first game against Sweden when the U.S. tied the game with seconds left. From then on, I loved the team, and for me it was my luck that the team would go on to win the gold medal.

Portrayals on TV and Film

I also love sports movies, and the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team is probably the only sports story where I own both an acted-out version of the story and the documentary. I have never seen the 1981 ABC made-for-TV movie Miracle on Ice starring Karl Malden as Brooks, but there would be later excellent movies about the team.

The 2004 movie, Miracle, starring Kurt Russell as coach Herb Brooks, is a gripping by-the-book re-telling of the story of the team. You know how the movie is going to end and there is nothing flashy about the way the story is filmed.  But it is a fun movie and a fitting tribute to the team and to Brooks, who passed away after principal filming but before the movie was released.

Documentaries About the Teams

In 2001, a documentary was made about the team called Do You Believe In Miracles? The Story Of The 1980 U.S. Hockey Team. The movie features interviews with many of the players, Al Michaels, and others.

The film does an excellent job putting the team and its accomplishments in the context of the times. And watching the story still makes me tear up. Currently, the entire documentary is available on YouTube.

But what about the Soviets? More recently, in 2015 ESPN’s 30 for 30 series helped correct the imbalance of the coverage with Of Miracles and Men, directed by Jonathan Hock. This fascinating documentary examines the story of the members of the 1980 Soviet team and their experience in the Olympics. One of the most touching moments is hearing one of the players describe watching the U.S. team celebrate their victory.

Similarly, another documentary examined the Soviet side of the story. Gabe Polsky directed Red Army, which was released in 2014.  Red Army tells the story about the Soviet team from a broader perspective but with significant focus on the 1980 team. The movie follows the history of the Soviet-Russian hockey program from the 1950s to the 1990s.

On this anniversary of one of the greatest sports battles in my lifetime, I’m thankful for everyone involved in the game. And also thankful that decades later they made outstanding movies about the teams.

What is your memory of the 1980 Miracle on Ice? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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