Thirty seven years ago tomorrow (February 24), Mike Eruzione and the 1980 USA hockey team defeated Finland, 4-2, at Lake Placid to win the Olympic gold medal, a feat that few thought possible. Everyone predicted that the powerful Soviet Union hockey team would roll through the Olympics. The Soviets were the reigning world and five-time Olympic champion and just a year earlier, the Soviets had defeated a team of National Hockey League All-Stars in the Challenge Cup Series.
The Soviets then sent a message when they routed Team USA, 10-3, in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden just before the Olympics. Interestingly, Mike scored his team’s first goal in that exhibition game — his next goal against the Russians would be the one no one has ever forgotten.
It was February 22, 1980, when Mike broke a 3-3 tie against the Soviets and electrified an entire nation. Al Michaels provided one of the greatest sports calls in history
“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The USA team then rallied to beat Finland Sunday and later that day, Captain Mike Eruzione stood on the Olympic medal platform for the playing of the National Anthem, later imploring his teammates to join him in the celebration.
We in Winthrop will never forget the welcome back reception and parade that honored Mike upon his return. This was a hometown kid — who had honed his skills outdoors in Winthrop, at the Cronin Rink in Revere and later at the Larsen Rink — that is now named the Larsen Rink at the Mike Eruzione Center — and accomplished something so big and grand and impactful, that the achievement was voted the greatest sports story of the 20th century.
And frankly, we don’t believe we’ll see anything matching Mike’s goal-medal moment in sports ever again. One has to understand the nature of U.S.-Soviet relations in the time leading up to 1980 Olympics — the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan in 1979, there was the ongoing Iranian hostage crisis, President Jimmy Carter had already decided to boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow, and the Cold War was escalating.
Mike Eruzione’s goal and Team USA’s ultimate victory transcended more than just sports — this was an international event with the whole world watching. Mike became a national sports celebrity and any sports fan can tell you where they were when they heard that America had shocked the Soviet Union. (Interestingly, the game was videotaped for broadcast later that night, something that would never happen today with so many sports channels).
Mike was invited to the White House, featured on a Wheaties box, and became a much in-demand inspirational speaker that carries forth to this day. Two movies have been made about the team and the name “Mike Eruzione” tops the list of American gold medalists — alongside Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay), Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz, Jenny Thompson, Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas, and other legends who made us all proud.
Thank you, Mike. We will never forgot the thrills and joy you brought into our lives through your leadership of the greatest amateur sports team in all of history.
And Mike has never forgotten his roots. His family’s Winthrop Charities has donated immensely to our town’s organizations and groups. Mike has been front and center for all our sports teams, especially his beloved hockey Vikings, who will begin their quest for a state championship next week.