For those of us who have been around for longer than we care to remember, it is hard to believe that 35 years have passed since seemingly every Winthrop resident gathered at the Belle Isle Bridge and lined the town’s streets to give a huge hometown welcome to Olympic hockey hero and Team USA hockey captain Mike Eruzione, wearing his light-beige Olympic cowboy hat, who arrived at Logan Airport with an escort of Winthrop police and fire trucks en route to the Elks’ Lodge for a raucous victory celebration.
1980 was the height of the Cold War between the U.S. and the-then Soviet Union (President Jimmy Carter later that year imposed a ban on American participation in the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan) when Eruzione scored the goal to defeat the vaunted Russians in the semifinals, 4-3, in Lake Placid. The U.S. team then went on to beat Finland in the gold medal game (which by no means was a foregone conclusion) to put the finishing touch on what Sports Illustrated would name the greatest moment in sports of the 20th century.
Olympic sports (and the world) were far different then than they are today. Olympians in 1980 still were required to be amateurs, although that term was relatively meaningless for the Eastern Bloc countries, whose athletes were amateurs in name only. Many of the Soviet skaters were active-duty military and played in a league with world-class training facilities.
On the other hand, the U.S. team was comprised entirely of college and recent-college grads who truly were just a bunch of kids playing against the hardened veterans from the U.S.S.R. In the four Olympics prior to 1980, Soviet teams had gone 27–1–1 and outscored the opposition 175–44. In head-to-head match-ups against the United States, the cumulative score over that period was 28–7 in favor of the Soviets.
So yes, the U.S. victory truly was a “Miracle on Ice,” all made possible by Mike Eruzione’s winning goal with about 10 minutes to play that broke a 3-3 deadlock.
Mike is in Lake Placid this week with his Olympic teammates for a reunion. He will be featured this Sunday on ABC News to be interviewed by George Stephanopoulos and also will be interviewed by NBC News.
Despite the international accolades that have followed Mike Eruzione since that epic moment 35 years ago, he never has forgotten his home-town roots. Mike, his wife Donna (who are now grandparents), and the Eruzione family continue to be huge boosters of our town and Winthrop High sports programs through his foundation, Winthrop Charities. The Mike Eruzione Center at Larsen Rink is vivid proof of how Mike has given back to our community.
So for those of us who were around for the events of that winter week in 1980, let’s enjoy some of the memories of that time: announcer Al Michaels’s great call, “Do you believe in miracles?”; USA goalie Jim Craig asking, “Where’s my father?” after the big win as he skated from his net and the TV audience could read his lips; Mike on the podium as the National Anthem was played and then imploring his teammates to join him on the medal platform; Mike and his team visiting with President Jimmy Carter at the White House; and Mike and his team on the cover of a Wheaties box.
And for those who are of the younger generations, let the events of 1980 be a lesson that anything is possible, not only in the world of sports, but in any endeavor of life, through hard work, grit, and determination.