February 22, 2010, - 1:51 pm

“Do You Believe in Miracles? YES!”: 30 Years Ago Today, USA Hockey Team Beat Soviets

By Debbie Schlussel

Thirty years ago today, on February 22, 1980, the first major event in the Reagan Revolution happened.  Despite Jimmy Carter’s “malaise days” speech and his admonition to Americans that they shouldn’t expect their kids to have a better future than they had, a group of working class kids, who slept on old prison cots at Lake Placid, beat the Soviet Union’s professional hockey team in the hockey semi-finals at the Olympic Winter Games.  Al Michaels’ famous, “Do You Believe in Miracles? YES!” lives on, as do chants of “USA! USA! USA!”  And ultimately, the team went on to win the Olympic Gold Medal against Finland in the finals. I was a kid then, and boys at my school dressed up as the U.S. Olympic Hockey team for the Jewish holiday of Purim (on which kids wear costumes, as on Halloween).


In January 1981, when Americans, held hostage in Iran at the time of the 1980 Miracle, returned home after 444 days in captivity from Islamic captors, they were shown a video of what they missed.  Many of them said the highlight of that film was the scene of Americans beating the Soviets.  But it wasn’t just that we beat them.  It’s that our amateurs beat their professionals, who’d bean unbeaten for eons.  Plus, it was the first major event in which Americans started to take pride in their country again, amid a horribly ineffective President, the hostages in Iran, double-digit inflation, a depressed auto industry under attack from cheap Japanese cars, and rising gas prices.

Many are comparing yesterday’s U.S. Olympic hockey victory against the Canadians, yesterday, to what happened thirty years ago at Lake Placid.  PUH-LEEZE.  It doesn’t even compare.  Yes, Team USA was booed by Canadians as they entered center ice, yesterday, but it’s nothing new that Canadians–who all live within 100 miles of the U.S. border and would starve, were it not for U.S. commerce and capitalism–hate us.  They booed us in 2003, when U.S.-based NHL teams (starring mostly Canadians and Europeans) played on Canadian ice against their teams.

But the 1980 team, led by captain Mike Eruzione, were not a group of spoiled professionals playing spoiled professionals. That’s strictly what yesterday’s hockey game between the U.S. and Canada was.  It had no meaning or significance, unlike the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” and the team coached by Herb Brooks to a David versus Goliath victory.  In contrast, while some went on to play in the NHL after their Olympic victory, many on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team never made it big or had a multi-million (or even multi-thousand) dollar professional hockey contract.  Instead, they were hungry, young, mostly working class kids who lived every day lives after the fact.

As I wrote in my 2004 review of the movie, “Miracle” (which I recommend to anyone who wants to learn about the 1980 Miracle on Ice), the 1980 team

had spunk, sparkle, and an underdog hunger to win for the U.S. . . .

“Miracle” shows the grueling conditioning Brooks put the team through. It’s doubtful today’s soft pros could withstand a lick of it.

The 1980 team was tough and gritty. They had no product endorsements or part-time jobs by Home Depot and Staples. They were no billions in tax subsidies. 1980 Olympians slept in converted prisons on prison cots, and organizers nearly declared bankruptcy on a $168 million budget. There were no $28 million opening ceremonies or $2 million temporary Olympic cauldrons and sculptures.

But there was heavy American pride.

The U.S. players included guys, like goalie Jim Craig, whose laid-off father desperately needed him to forgo the Olympics for the money an NHL career would provide. They beat the Soviets when months earlier an NHL All-Star team could not.  (Get your own custom hockey jerseys, just like members of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team.)

And the team included players like my friend, Mark Wells, who scored three goals as a member of the USA Hockey Team, but never made it big. As I’ve written on this site, he lives in the Detroit area where, for years after the Olympic victory, he slaved nights as a shift manager for Ram’s Horn 24-hour Restaurants.

So to all of those who compare the Miracle on Ice that happened thirty years ago to yesterday’s piddling hockey night in Canada, please stop. The 1980 win was a victory over Communist tyranny. And there’s no hockey match-up on the horizon between us and Islamic terrorist groups.

Do you believe in miracles? Yes. But the one that happened thirty years ago today isn’t likely to be repeated anytime soon . . . if ever. And that’s a tragedy, especially since we have Jimmy Carter’s re-run now occupying the White House.


Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Posnanski has a great “10 Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know About the 1980 Miracle on Ice.”

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22 Responses

The beauty of yesterdays win was that it was the first time an American team has beaten a Candadian team in the Olympics since the 60’s. Also, if you watch hockey often you would know that yesterdays game was played at a blistering pace. The fact that they lay it out on the line for just a qualifier was awesome. They played hard. Harder than usual.

Having said that, I would not compare it at all to the 1980 miracle on ice. I would say it is one of the best hockey games I have watched all year. The pace set early in the game was held throughout. The snobby Canadian team was sloppy and out played by the US team. It was fun to watch.

I wouldn’t begrudge the NHL players for making money either. They make on, average, way less than MLB, NBA or NFL players whole playing a sport that is much more physically demanding. They play hard almost every game. Skating at high speeds while trying to control a small frozen puck while avoiding hits is not an easy thing to do.

Hopefully hockey is getting more exposure and people will take interest in it as the NFL has become a walking joke. Hopefully the potential upcoming lockout will steer more people away from the NFL and NBA to the NHL.

Ken Blazek on February 22, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    The beauty of yesterdays win was that it was the first time an American team has beaten a Candadian team in the Olympics since the 60’s.

    So what? “In the Olympics” since 1952 Canada has exactly ONE Gold medal that being in 2002, 50 years after the previous Gold by Canada. Canada has never been the enemy. The Russia hockey team was AS IT WAS AND STILL IS FOR BOTH CANADA AND THE USA.

    Besides, all these players today on both US and Canadian teams play inthe NHL , many are or were teamates in the league. Like Rafalski of Detroit and Brodeur when they both played for the Devils.

    The 1980 American team of colege players were amateurs, the Russian team ONLY played hockey, though I would not call them pros, that was their government paid job in the USSR. But the other teams in the competition were not pros either including the Canadian team pof that year made up of amateurs and Canada and the USA did not meet in those Olympics.

    The Russian team had beaten NHL teams in exhibition games. They were considered the best hockey team in the world off those games but weren’t the Indianapolis Colts last month and the New England Patriots 2 years ago considered the best in their sport?

    The Russian team in 1980 was a great team but they had no Ovechkin and Malkov like they do today. That will be the most impressive thing done in these hockey Olympics, either Canada(if they beat Germany today) beating Russia on Thursday or the USA beating Russia in the medals game.

    In the meantime in women’s hockey the definately best 2 teams will play for the Gold medal again on Thursday. Canada and the USA and it should be a great game.

    Jim on February 23, 2010 at 8:41 am

      Just about ALL the hockey players are pros now… Americans, Russians, Czechs, Canadians, whoever.

      I think the Olympics is a big fraud now with all the RICH pros making a big deal otta’ beating other RICH pros in whatever sport it is… except maybe CURLING!!! LOL Curling!! LOL!! What a silly thing…brooms, rocks and ice!

      What next? The Kaber toss and a complete Highland games program. LOL! Then, camel races and goat tossing!! LOL

      Sewsalot on February 23, 2010 at 7:11 pm

The highlight clip had me cheering again.

BernardL on February 22, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Do you think that Michelle Obama sat on her daddy’s knee watching these hockey games (she would have been 16 at the time), just like she said she did when Carl Lewis raced in the 1984 Olympics, which would have put her at 20 years old?

Jarhead on February 22, 2010 at 2:41 pm

What will be our light at the end of the tunnel today?

Worry01 on February 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Are you sure about that date? I remember it was a Saturday and I was at the OLD Cleveland Coliseum watching the final minutes in the North Bar with some of my co-workers at the time before the start of the circus or big rock concert… My calendar says it was a Friday. I was an adult then, (somewhat obvious) so maybe my mind isn’t what it used to be, after all it was 30 years ago 🙁

Phosphor on February 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Phosphor – It was definitely a Friday.

    I_AM_ME on February 22, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Debbie, I was 6 when that happened so it was a blur in my mind. But i have seen countless film and video of this and I do have “Miracle” on DVD.

And to those who call yesterday’s win over Canada comparable to the Miracle on Ice…


And for Al Michaels his “Miracle” call made him a sports broadcasting immortal.

Bob Porrazzo on February 22, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Since you sort of dissed the Canadian fans for booing our players in yesterday’s game (albeit a minor diss) I do have one memory from the 1980 games I would like to share.

One of the more honorable events of the Hostage situation was how Canadian diplomats hid and then snuck out of Iran some (I forgot how many) American diplomats. This was a very heroic and dangerous operation (and was much more than anything dhimmywit Carter was able to do).

During the opening ceremonies of the Lake Placid games, when the Canadian team marched around the stadium, the crowd gave them a rousing standing ovation as a thank you to the Canadian government for what they did for us in Iran.

I_AM_ME on February 22, 2010 at 3:35 pm

One other memory.

Mike Eruzione did not even try to make the NHL since he believed nothing he accomplished there would top his Olympic victory.

I_AM_ME on February 22, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Clone? You lost more freedoms in the last 8 years then at any other time in history. The great decider attacks an innocent country. 5,000 are dead now because of bush. He takes off controls on banks and wall street because they can police themselves. We slide further back than at any time in recorded history and you call obama a clone. Get your head out of the shit pile!!

Bob Morrow on February 22, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    I am so sick of hearing this BS Name the “Freedoms” lost under Bush Please enlighten us
    Warrentless wiretaps? Sorry did not apply to Average Americans only to those making calls to specific numbers in terrorist friendly Nations. as apposed to JFK and RFK listeniong in to regualr american citizen conversations.
    Gun rights? No they were lost under Clinton
    Free Speach? nope only time that happens is when Liberals attack conservative rallies.
    So as I said PLEASE enlighten us as I really want to know what “Freedoms” I have lost under Bush
    As far as the 5000 dead it is horrific but nothing compared to all the dead soldiers lost under previous DEMOCRAT presidents as in WW1 WW2 Korea and Vietnam not to mention more soldiers died under Clinton then Bush and Clinton was not fighting 2 wars now was he?

    martin fee on February 23, 2010 at 8:04 am

Not to take anything away from the great 1980 games, I know a few Russians now living in North America who all say the same thing: that in 1972 when Team Canada (Cdn NHL pros- Bobby Clarke, Esposito, etc) beat the USSR in 7 games (Henderson scored the winner) …They then knew that the Soviets’ time as an empire was nearing its end. They say that the West didn’t realize how that series made the USSR crap it’s collective pants. I take them at their word.

Not Ovenready on February 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    You’re right except it was EIGHT games. The series was 4 games in Canada and then 4 games in Russia. And they had played one tie, they played no overtime in those days. Paul Henderson’s late goal in game 8 which won the series for Canada, with Foster Hewitt the legendary Toronto hockey announcer calling it to this day is the most famous sports play in Canadian history.


    Jim on February 23, 2010 at 8:57 am

Debbie, I of course remember watching this. What a moment for the US. We were united then even after all of the difficulties we had been through. Yes I got a chill up my spine watching that even after so many years. Thanks so much for posting that. PK

Apophis on February 22, 2010 at 8:12 pm

We would starve without the USA? Hmmm. Pretty sure we ship mass amounts of oil and water to your country which you need to survive. You depends on Canadian exports. Get your facts straight.

Drew Dwyer on February 22, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Debbie, thanks for the YouTube clip and link to Joe Posnanski’s column. Brought back some great memories. I was a hockey fan way back then so it was a game I couldn’t miss.
Around the beginning of the third period the local newsman came on with a preview of the nights news and endend with “and the US hockey team beats the Russian Bear” (he later apoligized for the spoiler). At first I thought he meant it as a question but than realized the game was pre-taped. Didn’t matter to me, it still felt great to watch the US win over the undefeatable Russians.
My interest in hockey faded over the years, but watching the 2006 Olympics game between Sweden and Finland with my son brought back some of the excitement and turned him into a fan 🙂
Hockey’s the only pro sport I really enjoy anymore.

theShadow on February 22, 2010 at 11:50 pm

If Obama had been in office back then, he would have apologized to the Soviets the next day.

Tempus Fugit on February 23, 2010 at 5:34 am

The 1980 defeat of the Soviet Union’s hockey team was one of the most memorable events in my life. I remember working on my skating at Warnanko Park in NJ during the game. they were using the scoreboard st the rink to let everyone know the score. When the whistle blew we were all so stunned that we had won.
Our team then were a bunch of hungry kids. I doubt togays team could of beat that soviet team. and there is no way us beating the Canadians remotely compares to the 1980 victory anyone who says so was not alive then or is so suffering from the disease of liberalism that they should be put out of their misery
Professional athletes beating professional athletes is commonplace and it’s almost criminal to compare these two games

martin fee on February 23, 2010 at 7:55 am

    I remember working on my skating at Warnanko Park in NJ during the game

    Exactly what Al Michaels said on Sunday during interview on NBC. Everyone who was alive then remembers where they were twice.

    1- When President Kennedy was assasinated.
    2- When USA beat Russia in Miracle on Ice.

    I clearly remember walking home from public school then turning on the TV when Kennedy had been shot. And also that I watched this Russia-USA game and the USA-Finland game for the Gold that year from Harrisburg, Pa. where I happened to be.

    But I’d add a third date to what Michaels said, everyone also remembers where they were on the morning of 9-11/

    Jim on February 23, 2010 at 9:08 am

Remember one other thing about that game. It was played in the afternoon and only shown tape delayed nationally later that night(I think on a Thursday). I purposely would not turn my car radio on that afternoon nor any radio or TV once back home and made sure I didn’t speak to anyone PERIOD that afternoon and early evening who might have by accident commented on that game.

The game was not broadcast live. Well, that’s not exactly right… it was broadcast live on Canadian TV, so a few people up near the border saw it live. But most of the country — almost all of the country, really — saw it on tape delay, in prime time. The game had ended less than an hour before it was broadcast.

Sports Illustrated

Funny, a lot of people still think they saw the game live. But I know that one of my strongest memories — confirmed by the tape — was of McKay saying that it was tape delay and that if even one person did not know the outcome, well, he wasn’t going to be the one to break the news. I have seen polls through the years that suggested most of the people who watched the game on television did not know the outcome. I know that my father and I did not. That shows you how long ago 1980 was in terms of technology. There’s no way you could keep that a secret now.


Jim on February 23, 2010 at 10:18 am

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