1980 was by far the year of the underdog in American sports. The year is etched in America's memory and surely will live there longer than most. It marked the end of the road for some great champions. Some suffered abrupt falls at the beginning of this new decade to darkhorses while others barely survived.
The first year of this new decade witnessed the first U.S. boycott to the Summer Olympic Games ever which were held last summer in Moscow, Russia. President Carter's move kept the Americans home and will surely pave the way for future Olympic tampering. The Summer Olympics are scheduled for Los Angeles and the Winter Olympics will be held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia in 1984.
But politics didn't interfere with the 1980 Winter Olympics. On the ice rink at Lake Placid, a youngster from Madison, Wisconsin was skating his way into Olympic fame. Speed skater Eric Heiden caught the country's attention with five gold medals.
Then the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, competing way over its Red, White and Blue head, won the gold. The performance was so astonishing it stole every heart throughout the nation.
The Winter Olympics are a tribute to what hard work and dedication can actually accomplish. Team USA, a group of underdogs mainly from Minnesota and Massachusetts, defied all odds and beat a heavily favored Russian hockey team in the first game of the medal round. Two weeks earlier in an exhibition game, the Soviets toyed with the Americans at Madison Square Garden, winning 10-3. Months prior, the Russians defeated the NHL All Stars in commanding fashion. Team USA then came from behind to beat Finland and capture their first gold hockey medal since 1960 at Squaw Valley, which created bedlam in the small town of Lake Placid, New York.
Uncle Sam was taking it on the chin about then. Remember the circumstances? Fifty-three American citizens were being held hostage Tehran, Iran. The Russians were invading Afghanistan and President Carter was pondering an Olympic boycott of the Moscow Winter Olympics while massive American job layoffs and inflation was soaring into the heavens. The times were at their bleakest.
Then the Cinderella hockey team broke onto the ice at Lake Placid. Herb Brooks and his team surely was realistic about their chances. And rightfully so, since the USSR was the unquestioned gargantuan of Olympic and world hockey for over twenty years.
Mike Eruzione, the captain of the USA Hockey Team will relive those precious moments forever. Undoubtedly, he will remember scoring the winning goal for the United States against the Russians in the tournament. He will remember counting down the clock "4... 3... 2... 1" and the fan bedlam that exploded on the rink after the gold was a reality. Erozione will also remember goalie Jim Craig wrapped in an American flag, his eyes glazed over, looking for his father so they could share that once in a lifetime moment.
But most of all, Mike Erozione will remember the medal ceremony when 20 Americans, who were nicknamed Big Doolies, stood on the pedestal made for one and accepted their medal... together. In an AP interview Erozione said, "I remember it so well. Standing there on the podium, I felt at the time and I still feel now that one person doesn't win a hockey game or a tournament like that one. I hoped all 20 of us would get up there. I stood there and watched for awhile. And then I said to myself, Hey wait a minute they've got to come up here with me."
That's when Erozione motioned the rest of the team to join him. It wasn't Olympic decorum, but it was all the same beautiful. The Big Doolies belonged together. Sports Illustrated brought some of them together, honoring these remarkable men with the magazine's Sportsmen of the Year Award. It was an obvious, yet fitting award.
It's all over now. Unlike other clubs, Olympic hockey teams self destruct into 20 different directions and careers afterward, at least in our country. There is never a next year for them. They wrote their story once. They are the Sportsmen of the Year.
If possible, this moment in time has added meaning for me and possibly more so than the average Winter Olympics follower. The United States defeated the Russians 4-3 on February 22, which was my birthday. What a present it was for me to remember the rest of my life. I still get chills when I see pictures of goalie Jim Craig wrapped in the Stars and Stripes I admire so much in the middle of that Lake Placid rink.
Happy Birthday to me and thank you for the wonderful birthday gift. Our nation will never forget 1980, the year of those hockey players from "The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave" who defeated the great red bear in ice hockey.
Hey there. I'm Rick Coe and thanks for stumbling on to my blog which contains columns I wrote while working for the now defunct Kellogg Evening News which was located in Kellogg, Idaho.