LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Do you still believe in miracles?
The hundreds of people who gathered in the small town of Lake Placid, New York, over the weekend sure did as they paid tribute to what Sports Illustrated named as the Top Sports Moment of the 20th Century — the Miralce on Ice.
“In sports in general, everyone roots for the underdog, which we certainly were the underdog,” said Dave Christian of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. “We were up against, at that time, what was considered one of the best teams that had been put together.”
Up against enormous odds, a group of unknown 20-somethings were able to unseat the greatest hockey team in the world.
That is, until Feb. 22, 1980.
“(Mike Eruzione) seemed to be the only one confident that we could play with them,” said Mike Ramsey. “Personally, I just wanted to make sure we came out and had a good game and didn’t get embarrassed. It wasn’t until the game was over when we finally realized we could beat them.”
The Soviet Union, gold medal favorites in the 1980 Olympics, had out-scored its opponents 51-11 in just five games.
And just three days before the Olympics even began, the Soviet Union routed the U.S. 10-3 in game at Madison Square Garden.
“That game in Madison Square Garden — we were setting them up,” said Neal Broten with a laugh. “They actually could have beat us 12-1. All of us know that. If you go on a scale from one to 10, we were a two and they were a 10.”
It was certainly a David versus Goliath match-up when the U.S. ran headfirst into the Soviets in the medal round, but these amateur American players took the world by surprise and beat them 4-3.
“We had tremendous performances, not only in the Olympics, but by players all year long,” said John Harrington. “Everybody chipped in and had something to do with that success. I’m amazed looking at that now.
“You saw our guys tonight. They would have had to have a platform a lot bigger than that and a lot more reinforced to have all our fat butts up there at the same time. We must have been in pretty good shape to fit on that thing back then.”
Two days later against Finland, the U.S. won the gold with a 4-2 final.
“I’ve played on a lot of teams and this is the closest team I’ve ever played on,” Broten said. “As a younger guy, I looked up to all these guys. It was a privilege and an honor to represent our county with these guys and do what we did.”
Amazingly enough, the team in its entirety had never been back to Lake Placid since that day.
But on Feb. 21, that all changed when all 19 surviving members of the team reunited in Lake Placid for the 35th anniversary of the game against the Soviet Union.
“It’s an interesting feeling being back here in Lake Placid,” said Jack O’Callahan. “We talk about this in different places across the country all the time. When we come back here, there’s a real sense of being home. It has really been driven home to me here today.”
The players were taken back to their original locker room, where each player had his jersey hanging up — incorrectly.
But the players took care of that by rearranging them to where each of them actually sat in 1980.
“It’s pretty weird because this locker room is a lot smaller than I remember it,” O’Callahan said. “Can you imagine, in this little room, with a guy like (Herb Brooks) yelling and screaming at us? We’re a tight-knit group. We sat in here and we fought through the battles of seven games here in Lake Placid. It was the most comfortable, fun place to be back then.”
The team was able to pull those same sweaters on one more time as they took the stage in front of hundreds of people who made the journey to see these sports heroes.
“That’s probably the thing that amazes a lot of us, just from the standpoint that we’re talking about a hockey game that happened 35 years ago in a small, little community in upstate New York,” said Mark Johnson. “Just the meaning that it had on not only the community and the state, but the country.”
Teammate Jim Craig echoed his sentiments.
“It’s a hard place to get to,” he said. “To have this type of support, knowing how hard it is to get to, is amazing.”
Young and old gathered in the Herb Brooks Arena — some to see them for the second time, including Fred Raymon and Charles Harrington.
“I went to all the U.S. games and all the Russian games,” Raymon said.
Harrington, on the other hand, was in attendance at all the hockey games because he was an usher.
“I never missed one hockey game,” he said. “It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience and to this day, if there’s a hockey game within 50 miles, I’ll be there if it’s possible. This was a truly momentous event for the country at that time.”
Both, who are have become friends since then, were in their 30s during the Olympics and are native New Yorkers.
“Whenever I think of this game, it gives me cold chills,” Harrington said. “The enthusiasm here was not measurable and once we got halfway through the third period, we knew that it was within reach. There was not one person who dared to blink.”
Raymon even recalls the excitement following the game outside the arena.
“There was a liquor store across the street and the owner of the store and his wife were out throwing bottles to people,” he said. “It was just an amazing place to be.”
It was a sight to see for all in attendance as the 19 players sat on stage and had a roundtable type of discussion with each other, discussing some of the notable events from their time together and things made famous by the movie “Miracle,” including the Herbies following the Norwegian game.
“Herb was an old-school coach,” John Harrington said. “He was negative reinforcement. He was going to tell you how bad you were or what you didn’t do well and he let you know that with the idea that he knew he had players that would say, ‘Oh yeah? Well, I’ll show you how I can do that.’ He knew how far he could take each player before they would say they didn’t want to deal with this anymore.”
The highlight of the night is when each United States goal was played on the screen and the players had the chance to comment on what was happening and going through their heads.
To the crowd’s enjoyment, Eruzione’s famous game-winning goal was the most talked about — and most controversial — as John Harrington jokingly said he should have shot instead of passing it and claimed the glory.
To close out the ceremony, the late Bob Suter’s name and number were retired to the rafters of the arena and the national anthem was played one more time for the team which has won over so many hearts.
“It was a tremendous night,” O’Callahan said. “It’s always great to come back to Lake Placid. I think it has been almost 10 years. I come back here and feel so comfortable, like putting on an old sweater. I wish I could do it more. This is a special place for us and we’re really just so thankful to be here. I want to come back here until the day I die.”