Tribute to Lake Placid, 33 years ago today

It’s the story of the greatest team ever.

Sports_Illustrated_Miracle_on_Ice_cover

And they defeated the Russians 33 years ago today.

In honor of the game, here is Leigh Montville’s piece from the following day’s Boston Globe::

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – The night became an American tableau, a Saturday Evening Post cover, a picture to be framed and hung in banks and post offices and libraries and other official buildings, a poem to be recited in junior high school declamation contests, a song to be sung on Sunday morning public- service television commercials.

Fireworks exploded in the surprisingly warm air above Mirror Lake. The people on the muddy street outside the Olympic arena bumped and jostled each other gladly, happily, congratulating each other on their good fortune at having seen what they had just seen. American flags were everywhere. There would be a howl here, a shout there, three kids pushing past, singing “America the Beautiful” without really knowing all the words.

The mad patriotism of the moment seemed to grab everyone. The United States had beaten the Russians. The score was 4-3.

“Do you want to eat?” a woman asked a slender, fuzzy-cheeked kid from Charlestown. “Maybe you should, you know.”

“Eat,” he replied, as if this were the strangest thought he had ever heard. “If I try to eat anything now, it would come right back up. I couldn’t eat for a million dollars.”

“Well, what do you want to do?”

“I need a beer,” the kid said. “I need a lot of beers.”

It is worth noting, perhaps, that the kid’s name is Jack O’Callahan and that he is a defenseman on this US hockey team that stunned the all-powerful Russians last night and that his stomach problems might have been a bit more severe than most on this street, but it also is worth

noting that he was not alone. The game, the result, had left every stomach in this little town a bit queasy. The game, the result, were that good.

How could you figure it? How could you imagine? This team of college kids and enthusiasm beat the best damned hockey team in the world. Locked into the cool-war, cold-war drama of the time, playing against hard-bitten, toothless, virtual professionals, these hard- eyed little boys of the US never backed down. They came from behind. They overcame the age and experience of the Russians, the game situations that seemed to be tilted against them for all of the night, the pressure that certainly could have knocked them silly. They won.

“How did the final 10 minutes feel?” someone asked Dave Silk, the US forward from Scituate.

“It’s like the old line about North Dakota, “I spent a week there one afternoon,” Silk replied. “The time lasted forever. You’d come off the ice and sit down and it seemed you were there for so long that when you went back on the ice you felt strange. I’d get out there and nothing felt right. My helmet felt too tight. My skates suddenly started to hurt. The entire last 10 minutes, I felt strange.”

“I just can’t talk about it,” O’Callahan said, not out of disinterest, but from sheer speechlessness. “I don’t have the words. It’s beyond words. Just shift by shift, that’s all it was.”

The final 10 minutes were an extension, a magnification of the struggle during the entire game. The American kids against impending doom. Wasn’t that it? When would the Russians score? How would they score? Wouldn’t they surely score? Wasn’t that it, exactly? The American kids fighting this force that surely would finish them in the end.

“I kept telling myself that if we’re going to lose in the end, if the Russians are going to come back – and I’ve seen them do it a thousand times – then I was going to make sure it wasn’t going to be a bad goal,” goaltender Jim Craig of North Easton said. “I didn’t want anyone to say I was nervous or this or that. I didn’t want anyone saying I couldn’t play the big games.”

The important goal, of course, had been scored by US captain Mike Eruzione of Winthrop, a lovely blue dart of a shot that whistled past Russian goaltender Vladimir Myshkin. Scored at the exact midpoint of the final period, giving the US its first and only lead at 4-3, it was only a hope, an expectation, a possibility. It was like the other US goals in the game, an aberration in the tone of the game, the Russians controlling the puck at least 60 percent of the time, taking three shots to every one for the US kids, a US goal a surprise, a reward for pluck more than domination, a fast about- face before a return to the normal, Russian-controlled buzz.

Hadn’t the Russians come back from heavier troubles than this? Hadn’t they done it once against a similar group of Canadian kids this week? Hadn’t they done it against the Finns in the game before that? Weren’t they unbeaten in the Olympics since 1968, since a time when most of these kids were in grammar school?

“You know, though, for the first time since I’ve been watching the Soviets, they panicked this time,” Craig said. “I don’t know why. They skate better than anyone else in the world, they pass better than anyone else in the world, and yet they started throwing the puck in and hoping someone would get it. They panicked.”

“We just wanted to keep playing within our system,” US coach Herb Brooks said. “We had seen the Canadians and Finns lose by being too careful. We wanted to keep playing the way we had played.”

The agony of the final 10 minutes, nine minutes, eight minutes, seven, were played on the clock. The time was squeezed out of it, pushed out as if each second were a last blob from a bent and misshapen tube of toothpaste. Six minutes, five, four, three, “two minutes remaining in the game,” the female public-address announcer said and even her voice was shaking. One minute, number by number, all 60 seconds, finished.

The pictures from the end of this game will be saved for a long, long time. These American kids just going crazy, rolling on the ice, throwing their sticks into the stands, rolling, crazy, crying, enjoying. There was drama here, emotion, release, that was bigger than any hockey game, any sporting event, bigger than it ever was supposed to be.

“You sure you don’t want to eat?” the woman said to Jack O’Callahan.

“Beer,” he said again. “And fast.”

About Justin Barrasso

Justin Barrasso has worked in the Boston sports scene in various different capacities since 2001, including writing for the Boston Herald and WEEI.com.

  • QuantumMechanic

    While it’s cool to see the story, surely quoting the entire thing is copyright infringement.

    Don’t want to see El Glob have any excuses to come after BSMW.