By Jim O’Neal
“Eleven seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”
This was broadcaster Al Michaels’ famous verbatim commentary … now as famous as the game … when the USA Olympic Hockey Team skated off the final seconds of a shocking 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in the semifinal game of the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y.
One day before the match, Dave Anderson of The New York Times had written: “Unless the ice melts, or unless the U.S. team performs a miracle, the Russians will easily win the Olympic Gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments.”
In 1981, Anderson won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary on sports … go figure.
Anyway, two days later, Team USA beat Finland 4-2 to win the gold medal!
According to Team Captain Mike Eruzione (Boston College), Coach Herb Brooks (University of Minnesota) said to the team just before the game, “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your f—ing graves!”
Al Michaels was named “Sportscaster of the Year” in 1980 for his coverage of the event. (He was only there because he was the only one at ABC who had ever called a game!)
Due to the time-zone difference in Moscow, ABC decided not to broadcast the game live in most of the USA. Instead, the midday game was taped and rebroadcast in prime time. Most people (including moi) thought they were watching in real time.
Sports Illustrated named the game the Greatest Sports Moment of the 20th Century and there have been several movies (one featuring Karl Malden as Coach Brooks) and TV specials about it.
The whole country acted like we had won the Cold War … and maybe we did.
P.S. A little-known fact: In the very first game against Sweden, Team USA scored with only 27 seconds left to tie 2-2 by pulling goalie Jim Craig as an extra attacker. Without this single goal, the Soviets would have won the gold medal due to an obscure rule regarding a higher “goal differential.”
Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].