FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, February 13th, 2020
TRANSCRIPT – AL MICHAELS & MIKE ERUZIONE 40th ANNIVERSARY OF MIRACLE ON ICE MEDIA CONFERENCE CALL
Thursday, February 13, 2020
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today’s call to look back on the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
We’re pleased to be joined today by Mike Eruzione, the Team USA captain in 1980, who scored the game winner in the miraculous semifinal win against the Soviet Union. Joining Mike on the call is NBC Sports play-by-play voice Al Michaels, who called the Olympic hockey tournament alongside Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden. The exact 40th anniversary date is next Saturday, February 22. Mike and Al will both be part of a special reunion that day in Las Vegas.
Next Wednesday night, February 19th at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Al sits down for a special conversation with Mike Tirico, looking back at the 1980 Olympics. Again, that’s next Wednesday, 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, and there will be a preview of that interview this Sunday on NBC’s Hockey Day in America coverage.
As we have a lot of participants on today’s call, I’d like to get everyone’s questions in. We’ll ask for questions to be kept to the 40th anniversary. With that we’ll have an opening comment from Mike and Al and then we’ll take your questions. A transcript will be available later today or tomorrow morning on NBCSportsGroupPressBox.com.
With that, we’ll turn it over for an opening comment to Mike Eruzione. Mike?
MIKE ERUZIONE: Well, thank you very much, and to all the listeners, it’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years. You know, I think over the 40 years, I’ve been so fortunate and blessed to be a part of so many great people that I’ve met and stories that I’ve heard and what this moment in 1980 meant to people for a variety of reasons. For some it was a hockey victory and for some it was a political meaning, something as a country for a shot in the arm, and I think realizing what we did 40 years ago, I guess we brought a lot of pride back to a country that was looking for something, and it happened to be us.
The stories I hear, 40 years later, it’s depending on their age, ‘I remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated, I remember where I was in 9/11, I remember where I was when the Challenger blew up, and I remember where I was when we won.’ And I always say, ‘We? I didn’t know you were on the team.’ But people felt a part of it, and it’s nice to know 40 years later that it’s not on the tip of people’s tongues, but it’s nice to know that people remember and share some great stories about what we did so long ago.
AL MICHAELS: Well, Mike is right. I mean, 40 years has gone by almost in a blink of an eye. It’s really hard to believe. Last night I actually sat down and watched the movie Miracle. I hadn’t seen it in eight to ten years, and granted, they took some literary license, but you really got back into exactly what was taking place and how it took place, and again, a little bit was over the top, as is the case with most movies trying to recreate real life, but I thought they caught the essence of it. I thought Kurt Russell was tremendous in the role of Herb Brooks. He really got it dead on.
It was obviously something when you look back upon, and Mike is right, it brings so much joy to so many people to this day. They love to talk about it, and I know I’ve been asked this a hundred thousand times, do you ever get tired of talking about it. The answer is no, because people love to talk about it. It’s a great event, and there were so many fantastic stories that have come out of it, and since it took place, Mike and I have had a chance to do a number of events around the country, and it’s fairly astonishing when — I know we did an event in Phoenix five or six years ago, and it was over and the line to get Mike’s autograph went through about half the hotel. They told us that Bill Clinton had been there the prior day and had maybe done a fifth of that.
So this thing still sings, and we’ll take some questions, but the last thing I’ll say is that one of my favorite stories is Mike Eruzione calling me maybe eight to ten years ago and saying, the greatest thing about this is every time I come home and maybe I’m a little down, I need a little pick-me-up, I’ll put the tape in. Every time I shoot, the puck goes in. It will forever.
So with that, Dan, back to you.
MODERATOR: Let’s take some questions.
My question is for Mike. Mike, I think we all know what those moments meant for the country at that time, but what does it mean to you now? These kids that are in Lake Placid, the bobsled kids, the luge, the skeleton kids, the skiers, they’re not 40. These are kids. These are 19-, 21-, 23-year-olds, and they all still talk about how much that moment inspires them, and obviously they were not born in 1980. What does it mean to you that this is now really affecting a second generation?
MIKE ERUZIONE: Well, again, I think I said it from the beginning. I think my teammates and I are just taking great pride in knowing that we’ve kind of set a standard for — I hate to say it this way, but you believe in miracles, you believe in working hard, you believe in sacrifice, and anything can happen. So I think the underdog, and that’s what was part of our story, is that people can look at our team and make any — and I can’t tell you how many teams I’ve talked to and schools I’ve visited and coaches that have called me before the big game, ‘can you say something to my team.’ I just think it’s something they can look at and can think that if they did it, I can do it or we can do it. And I think still, that message of what makes this country so great, is that underdogs, people who never believed could accomplish anything, can still accomplish it.
So I think that’s kind of the fun message for me. When I meet with these people, I meet with these young kids, again, I tell a funny story, I have grandkids now, and three of my grandkids, they’re seven, six and five, and they skate at the Mike Eruzione Center in my hometown, and they don’t even know who Mike Eruzione is, but they know about the Miracle. They know about this moment. They still don’t know really what it was.
If you would see the letters that I get in the mail, and I get a ton of letters, and it’ll always start out, ‘Although I was not born in 1980, I heard about this; I watched the movie “Miracle;” my grandfather told me about it; I watched the HBO documentary; can you send me an autographed picture.’
So I think the moment still stands to young boys and young girls and young men and young women that look what our team did, and maybe they can do the same thing.
Al, you’ve done hockey before. I think you were in Sapporo and did those hockey games, but you weren’t necessarily known for doing hockey, so I’m wondering how it came about that you became the hockey announcer at the Olympics, and as the American hockey team became the preeminent story, was there any twist that you might lose that assignment to one of the bigger names at the network at the time?
AL MICHAELS: So I did one hockey game, that was in Sapporo in 1972, and I did one game, the Soviets against Czechoslovakia for the gold medal by myself, so I went out to the arena and announced this game. And so in 1980 or just prior to that when they were making the Olympic assignments and Roone Arledge was running ABC Sports, we had on that staff, I mean, that was the Mount Rushmore of announcers: Howard Cosell, Jim McKay, Chris Schenkel, Frank Gifford, Keith Jackson, Bill Fleming, you name it. I was the only guy who had done a hockey game. I had done one; nobody else had done any.
And on top of it, so when I was growing up in Brooklyn, my father would take me to Madison Square Garden, the minor league hockey, the New York Rovers, and then I graduated to the Rangers when I was eight or nine years old, we’d go to those games. I knew what icing and offsides were. So this is 40 years ago. You didn’t need to know much more than icing and offsides and just do the rudimentary play-by-play.
It’s such a different world today, but I got that assignment. I was happy. I think the assignment everybody wanted up there was everybody going into those Olympics was Eric Heiden going to go for five gold medals in speed skating, which he eventually would win, and that assignment went to Keith Jackson, so I was minimally disappointed when I didn’t get that, but when I got hockey, I was pretty happy about it because among other things, when you’re doing a Winter Olympic sport, you want to be inside. So I was staying nice and toasty and warm, and of course as it progressed, there was never any opportunity for anybody else to come in and do those games, because again, at that point, by the time the Soviet game had taken place, I had done six games, and none of those guys had done any still.
So I was fairly confident we would roll down to the end of the tournament and away we went. But you talk about getting fortunate. As I tell people to this day, there were not a lot of miracles on the biathlon course. I could have been assigned to that. So it all worked out.
Al, I know you said you watched the movie last night. Just how many times have you had a chance to watch the Soviet game and Finland game? I know occasionally it’s come on like ESPN Classic and stuff, but just wonder if you still have the tape and pop it in from time to time.
AL MICHAELS: I do, and irregularly I’ll watch it. The fun thing for me now is I have a 13-year-old grandson who plays hockey, and he’s pretty good, and he lives in Southern California. I mean, this is where hockey has now come, to the point where in Southern California these kids are playing around the clock, and he’s a great little player. He’s on a traveling squad. He actually played in a tournament at Lake Placid in October, which was unbelievable, and his little team won a gold medal.
So I’ve been able to sit down with him and a couple of his teammates, we go through the game. So that makes it a lot of fun. I just don’t sit at home at night and pop it in necessarily because I’ve seen it so many times.
But the great thing is in a way when you watch it back or you watch highlights back, you almost become like in the third person, like somebody else is doing this and announcing this game. I exult the way I think the way most of the country did and do when they see highlights of it. So it’s kind of an out-of-body experience in a way, but it’s a beautiful thing.
Mike, I know that you’ll all be getting together in Vegas next week, and I hope to be there, but I’m wondering if you could speak for a moment about the people who won’t be there, Bobby Suter and Mark Pavelich and just your thoughts on — and of course Herb Brooks, having lost those people in the last few years.
MIKE ERUZIONE: Well, first of all, nice to talk to you. We’ve known each other a long time. I’m actually going to see you in LA when I do something with the LA Kings in March.
You know, obviously when you think of — I can go one by one by one. Let’s first talk about Mark Pavelich. Unfortunately Pav is dealing with some issues, some health and mental issues, and we’re hoping he gets the help and the treatment that he needs, and as a team we totally support him. He was a great teammate and a really good person, and unfortunately there’s been some issues in his mental health and his health in general. We hope he finds what he needs.
Obviously tragic to lose Herb at such a young age. The first thing I thought about when Herb passed was not only was he a great coach and a friend and an important part of all of our lives as players, but he was going to be a grandfather and a father and an uncle and somebody that had tremendous respect not only in the hockey community but within his family, so it’s sad when you hear that.
And then it was really hard when Bobby Suter passed. Bobby was a great teammate. Bobby didn’t play a ton of minutes in Lake Placid, but he performed his role to a tee. And I’ve said this many times, and I think even in the book that I just wrote, I talk about Bobby as being one of the best teammates I ever played with.
You know, anybody who’s in sports, you lose your friends, you lose your teammates, people that you share a great bond with, so yeah, our team has done nothing in 40 years but deal with spectacular events, great moments, greatest sportsmen of the 20th century, highlighted many times in a different variety of places, but the two sad moments for us, and I guess if you want to include Pav in there, but when we lost Bobby and we lost Herb. Those were the two devastating, sad moments of 40 years of nothing but fun.
I think this one is mostly for Mike. Obviously winning the gold medal was a transcendent sports moment, but Al’s call of it even enhanced it, I think, as we’ve gone through the years and made it even bigger than it was. I’m curious when did you first become aware of Al’s call of the final seconds of that game?
MIKE ERUZIONE: It was actually I think only a couple of weeks after the Olympic Games because after the game against the Soviets, ABC grabbed Jim Craig and I and they proceeded to do some interviews actually down on Main Street with Jim Lampley, and the guys on the team went and watched the game, and I had never seen that — I didn’t see the game. It was years later that I finally saw the game, but I had heard about Al’s call, and I went, ‘Wow, that was great, that was awesome.’
You know, I never thought it was a miracle, but it was a catchy phrase and it sounded right. I thought Al’s best call, which I thought got lost in this whole thing, was “This impossible dream comes true,” when we beat Finland, because it was an impossible dream, and I’m not talking about the Red Sox. I’m talking about this was a dream that we had as players to go to the Olympic Games and win a medal, let alone have a chance to win the gold medal.
Everybody gets caught up in “Do you believe in miracles?” Yes, but I thought “This impossible dream comes true” was even greater, and Al and I have played some golf together out in some of the celebrity events, and we’re talking down the fairway and we always hear it, ‘Hey, Mike, hey, Al, do you believe in miracles?’ Yes. I’m walking through airports. I walk through an airport and somebody will say, ‘Hey, Mike Eruzione, do you believe in miracles.’
So it’s the catch line that everybody talks about, and it was spectacular, and that’s why Al is such a great commentator. He captured the moment and what it was. But I still think the second line after Finland kind of got lost in the shuffle because I thought that was spectacular as well.
Al, I assume this decision was made above your pay grade at the time, but do you recall any push-back or discussion about tape delaying the Soviet game? Was that a thing you were aware of or concerned about before the game?
AL MICHAELS: I was totally aware of it because what took place was when the schedule came out well before the Olympics, the second-place team in one group was going to play the first-place team in the other group. We were the second-place team in one group, the Soviets first, and that game was going to be played on Friday at 5:00, and then the reverse, the one and two from the other divisions would be played at 8:00.
So when it began to look, as the U.S. tied Sweden, upsets Czechoslovakia, routs them, and all of a sudden there’s a win over Norway, and now our guys at ABC are beginning to think, ‘What are we going to do if the U.S. gets into the Soviet game on Friday because it’s lining up as the 5:00 game?’
So the U.S. beat Romania, beat West Germany, and now we’re there. The West Germany victory was on a Wednesday night, and I remember at that point, I remember very distinctly, Roone Arledge and a young programming executive by the name of John Martin and another young programming executive by the name of Bob Iger – who you may have heard of, he’s gone and done a few things – they went into meetings with the Russian Hockey Federation. And I’ve talked to Bob about it a number of times, obviously, through the years, and there was remuneration, there was whatever we were going to do, we were willing to pony up — we, ABC, pony up to get the games flipped so that it became a matter of it being signed off on by the Russian Hockey Federation.
So at that point, remember the whole — what was going on at that time is the cold war was very cold, they’ve invaded Afghanistan, so we’re not on very good terms with the Soviets on any level, and the hockey federation kept saying no, no, no, no, no. Maybe they wanted more, and at a certain point, ABC finally had to stop, they couldn’t get the game changed, and the Soviet federation I think announced that, oh, they wanted the game at — the game couldn’t be played at 4:00 in the morning in Moscow, it would have to be at 1:00 in the morning, but that was a bogus, false narrative they were creating. I guess they just wanted more and more and more and more, and there was a point where Arledge and his lieutenants had to stop. But I know that ABC tried very hard to get those games flipped so the 8:00 game could be shown live, and of course it wound up at 5:00, and the decision was made to tape delay it, and that’s the whole story.
But was showing it live at 5:00 ever an option?
AL MICHAELS: It might have been, but the feeling was 5:00 in those years, nobody is home, it’s 2:00 on the West Coast. I think there was a little bit of discussion about it, but at the end of the day, they wanted to go primetime.
Now, could you pull this off now? Not a chance in 18 million years. But if you go back to what happened 40 years ago, cable TV is in its infancy, no internet, no national newspaper, USA Today was not even being published at that point, no social media, none of what we have today. So you could truly keep a lot of people in the dark as to what the result was.
Now? Impossible. But then it was possible. And that was the decision that was made to go with it in primetime on tape.
Al, can you recall how you felt as the game went on? Were you maybe getting nervous as the conclusion was being reached, or were you just trying to call the game without trying to live up to the moment?
AL MICHAELS: I was definitely trying to just call the game, because you know, Ken Dryden, who’s phenomenal, Kenny had retired, had never done any broadcasting, was a great partner, a great analyst, and he did so many things during the telecasts. He and I were walking over to the arena. The hotel was four blocks away, and I remember the bottom line of the conversation was if it’s only like 3-1 Soviets midway through the second period, maybe we can keep the audience.
So that game, remember the U.S. is trailing three separate times, 1-0, 2-1, 3-2. As it turns out, the U.S. had been out-shot 39-16, so the Soviets really dominated so much of the game, and there was never a moment where I really felt, hey, the U.S. could win this game because you’ve got the tying goal 1-1, then you’ve got Mark Johnson’s goal, which that was gigantic obviously at the end of the first period. Second period was dominated by the Soviets, they lead 3-2, then all of a sudden now you’ve got Johnson scoring again and then Mike’s goal. Now with exactly 10 minutes to go, whoa, holy mackerel, is this possible? And then at that point the crowd is just going out of its mind.
The guys in the production truck forgot to let the key get undepressed or however that works downstairs. They pressed the key down, left it down, and meanwhile now I’ve got a building that’s shaking, a crowd that’s going crazy, and I’ve got to hear all this craziness going on in the truck. So all I did was work in an intense state of concentration. To think about what would be said at the end of the game or how it would be said never could enter my mind was the Soviets are putting pressure on. I’ve got to call it, I’ve got to call it pass by pass, shot by shot.
And then just serendipitous that with six or seven seconds to go, the puck comes out to center ice, and now the game is going to be over. The Soviets have no time to mount a last rush. The puck is in the neutral zone. And the word that popped into my head was miraculous. That’s just the word that popped in, and it got morphed into a question and quick answer, and away we went.
But all I’m trying to do at that point is call the game, don’t blow a call. But the Soviets could have tied the game. How insane would that have sounded if I would have said that as the Soviets tie the game with one second to go? As it was a matter of — it was from my heart. It had nothing to do with what it meant to the country or anything beyond sports, but as somebody who’s loved sports since I was five years old, this was an upset. This was a gigantic, gigantic upset, and so that’s why the word miraculous came into my brain, and I said what I said. But that had everything to do with what an upset, what an incredible moment this is, and not something that I ever thought would live in posterity, because remember in those years, too, nobody had a home video machine, videotape machine, so this is not something you think lives forever. Now of course anything anybody says gets played 18 gazillion times, but that was never a thought back in 1980.
Mike, just looking at the team as a whole, and you’ve got star college players from all across the country coming together, how much did Herb Brooks and his toughness and sometimes being really, really tough on players, how much did that bring you guys together as a team knowing that you guys kind of had to have each other’s back when he would be really tough on you guys?
MIKE ERUZIONE: Well, I think that was an important part of our team. I think Herb — that was his idea from the game was us against him. We weren’t going to — he was going to be the bad guy, and people don’t know how important Craig Patrick was to our team because that old adage, good cop, bad cop, and Herb was hard. He was demanding. But that’s how coaches coached in the ’70s, as well.
But six months of the drilling and the demands that he put on us as a team, we needed a little break sometimes, and Craig Patrick was able to bring that to us.
But I think part of the reason — his way to coach that team, he had so many kids from the University of Minnesota, so many Minnesota kids on the team, prior — and I say this, prior to the Olympic Games, Boston University and Minnesota didn’t get along real well. Neither did Wisconsin and Minnesota, and neither did Bowling Green and Minnesota. There was the rivalries, and when you had a team full of players that were coached and picked because they were the best players, he felt and he thought it would be best suited if he was the bad guy, if everybody hated him, and that bonded our team together and stayed close.
He used to say there’s a method to my madness, and I think part of that method was that he was going to prepare him to be the bad guy and for us as a team to bond together and banter against him, and we did. But not out of disrespect. I’ve always said, there were a lot of times we didn’t like Herb, but there was never once a time we didn’t respect him. So he got the point across to us as a team early that it was going to be us bonding together, and he was right. It worked.
Mike, this question might be best suited to you. If you could talk about the role of Mark Wells, the last player to make the team, the last man in, faced with health issues, as well, now; he sold his gold medal in 2010 for $40,000. But if you could speak about his role, last man in, and anything you might know as he gets ready to meet you in Vegas in about a week?
MIKE ERUZIONE: I see him. He comes to our fantasy camp every year in Lake Placid. I talk to Wellsy once in a while. He’s now living in Florida. The health issues, I’m not sure. I haven’t talked to him that long ago to see how he’s doing, but he seemed to be doing better with regards to his health.
But Wellsy was an important part just as everybody was. You know, one thing people never probably looked at, and I haven’t even looked at it that much because I’ve never really seen any of the games, was we played four lines, and Wellsy centered Verchota and Strobel as a fourth line, and trust me, that was an awfully good fourth line.
You know, you watch hockey games today and they shorten their benches. But Herb never shortened the bench. We’re playing the Soviets, and we’re playing one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. So, I mean, Wellsy did a great job with Phil and Eric.
The only — that line could have been the first line if you put Mark Johnson because Mark was our best player. Whoever Mark centered was going to be the first line. But when we rolled four lines — and again, I remember the Soviet game, we would, in a minute and a half to two minutes, play four lines. I mean, you’d be out there for 30 seconds max, 15 seconds sometimes, and Wellsy came out with his line, with Phil and Eric, and just did a great job. He was, again, an integral part of our team because he was out there playing every shift like we were.
Mike, everyone talks about the loss to the Soviets at Madison Square Garden. I think you played like 61 or so pre-Olympic Games. Do you remember any of those things, particularly one that was played in Buffalo at this tiny little prep school against Yale? I know you guys won that night 6-1, but people around here are kind of recognizing that game and how the team came through all these obscure cities. Just talk about the build-up talking about playing all those games.
MIKE ERUZIONE: I think we — I don’t know the exact number; I thought it may have been 68 games, somewhere in that range. One thing that people don’t know is we played a lot of these games to raise money to pay our expenses, and I remember playing a game in Minnesota and we got apparently part of the gate. It wasn’t like today; there weren’t major sponsors stepping in and paying all the bills. Part of it, we called it the traveling circus sometimes, we played every possible place you could play, and part of it obviously was to prepare ourselves, and part of it was to raise money to pay our bills.
But I remember the game in Buffalo because the captain of Yale at the time was a kid named Danny Brugman, and Danny is from my hometown of Winthrop, Massachusetts, and Danny and I had a picture taken together, which again, it’s funny you bring this up because a few weeks ago Danny’s two daughters were trying to raise money to compete in the Olympic Games as sailors in the next summer games, so Danny and I signed the picture of him and I that we took together in Buffalo when we played that game, and we autographed it, and we kind of auctioned it off to see if somebody would give us a few bucks to their daughters as they raise their funds and their money.
But I remember the Buffalo game, and I remember pretty much the whole tour. We played a lot of games, and we traveled everywhere, and we did banquets and luncheons and seminars and whatever to help pay for our costs.
I have a question for Mike. I’m wondering how much that 1976 Frozen Four game actually carried over into camp between the BU kids and the Minnesota kids.
MIKE ERUZIONE: It never carried over other than fun. O’Callahan still says he beat up all those Minnesota kids, when we had the bench-clearing brawl. No, it never carried over. We laughed about it, and even today to this day, we joke about that happened — what happened happened, and it was never discussed when our team was on there.
I remember in the movie they tried to show the history and the fight between McClanahan and O’Callahan, and I can guarantee you one thing, Robby never would have fought O’Callahan. They should have selected Verchota to fight O’Callahan because that would have been a little more of an even fight. It was something that we never talked about.
Again, when our team was put together in 1980, all 26 players, and I say 26 because there were 26 guys on the team, there was a bond and there was a friendship and a love and respect that we had for each other, and we put the history behind us and it was time to put a USA jersey on and not a Gopher jersey or a BU jersey or a Wisconsin jersey. You’ve got to remember Badger Bob and Herb didn’t get along very well in those years of the rivalry between Wisconsin and Minnesota.
It wasn’t just BU. None of us liked those guys from Minnesota.
Al, I wanted to ask you going back and listening to the tape these days, we can find it on YouTube, and there’s a lot of sequences in the game where you refer to the players by their first names. You’ll say, here’s Craig, Jim. Was that done consciously so we can like identify with the kids back then?
AL MICHAELS: You know, it may have been, but not knowingly. Remember, I had very little experience in calling hockey, so I think that just sort of happened. It’s very funny that you would pick up on that because Ken Dryden — Ken Dryden used to rib me about that. It was a matter of maybe who has the puck and then he passes the puck.
In hockey, the way the flow goes, you receive the puck and you pass it, so for me maybe it was Craig, and then whatever, Jim — he wouldn’t pass the puck, but Eruzione, Mike — it’s interesting, I know what you’re talking about, I see it myself, but it’s just a matter, I think, of me just trying to get my feet wet announcing hockey, and that’s the way it popped out.
If I could, a quick one for Mike. When you guys come back on the ice second period and you see Tretiak is on the bench, what’s the reaction at that point?
MIKE ERUZIONE: It didn’t matter to us. And I’ve said this over the years. Tretiak let in two goals in the first period. Myshkin let in two in two periods. Myshkin was the goalie when the Soviets beat the NHL All-Stars by a score of 6-0, Myshkin was the goalie.
It’s like taking Patrick Roy out and putting in Martin Brodeur. So as far as we were concerned, it didn’t matter who their goalie was. Maybe Tretiak was hurt, maybe he was having a bad night. We’ve seen great athletes sometimes just have off games or off days. Maybe it was an off night for him.
But the one thing I will say, during the Olympic Games, and this is why Herb was a great coach, we were never concerned about what other teams were doing. If you ever watch highlights of the games and tapes of the games, you’ll hear Herb say constantly, Play your game, Play your game. In the Soviet game and the Finland game, he said it a thousand times a game.
So we were never concerned about what other teams were doing. We needed to play the way we had played throughout the Olympic Games, throughout the year, and continue to do the things that Herb wanted us to do as a team and play that way. If the Soviet game got out of hand or maybe if we fell behind by a couple of goals, then maybe we would have to change things. But the way the game stayed and the way the game was played, even though we didn’t play really well in the first period, we took a lot of penalties in the second period and didn’t play well, but we were only one goal away. So why alter the way we were playing regardless of who their goalie was or who was playing. We were just concerned about what we were doing and how we were playing.
AL MICHAELS: Let me piggy-back on something here because it’s a story that’s fantastic and I don’t want it to go away before this call is done. Mike brought up Tretiak. Two things: Number one, when Myshkin came in, the Soviets had never really practiced pulling the goalie. So at the end of that game, Myshkin is still in the net. So it’s not six on five. So that’s how unusual it was for the Soviets to even be in that position.
But just in terms of Tretiak, Tretiak of course is a national hero. I got to meet him in Sochi because he was one of the two Soviet athletes who had lighted the Olympic flame at the Winter Olympics, and I really wanted to get him into the studio and interview him as I was doing the daytime host role, and I get him in there and we were talking about the game and he talked about that his coach had said it was the worst mistake he had ever made when he pulled Tretiak.
But then I said to him after talking about what had taken place there, I said, I always wanted to know, when the U.S. wins the game and the guys are like so excited and so thrilled, and if you look at the Sports Illustrated picture with Jack O’Callahan and the toothless grin and the sticks are being thrown up in the air, they’re just falling all over each other, it’s that joyous, and then we had a couple of shots at ABC at that point, cut-aways of the Soviets standing along the blue line waiting for the handshake, and they’re there, a bunch of them with their chins on the knob of their sticks just waiting for this thing to end. And I said to Tretiak, I said, ‘What were you thinking as you’re watching the U.S. celebration?’ Tretiak said he thought they were the happiest people in the world and we wished we were them, and it was just perfect.
Mike, you talked about the Finland game. What did Herb Brooks say to the team when you were trailing in the final game, and how do you think we would be looking back on 1980 if you and your teammates hadn’t finished the job and won the gold?
MIKE ERUZIONE: Well, that’s a great question because I still think to this day people think we only played one game, that in fact, the only game we played was against the Soviets, and people didn’t know that if we lost or tied Sunday against Finland, we could have come in fourth place and not even won a medal, depending on the circumstances of other games.
You know, Herb, I just remember the third period, and my teammates and I have talked about this over the years, and we very rarely — and believe me when I tell you this, we very rarely talk about the Olympics. When we get together, we don’t talk about what happened in Lake Placid, we talk about our lives today and what we’re doing and where we’re going.
But I just remember the third period, losing 2-1, and Jack O’Callahan must have said it a hundred times, there’s no way a bunch of Finns are keeping us from a gold medal. I think Herb set off that emotion in the room, and he walked in, he stood in the middle, he pointed his finger and said, ‘If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your grave,’ and he walked out. He stopped at the door outside the locker room, he pointed his finger and he said, “your grave,” and walked out. And clearly there were a couple of words in front of “grave.”
But he was so right. To come so far, to work so hard and for us to accomplish so much, to let it slip away would have stayed with us forever. We did not go to Lake Placid to win one game. We went there with the hope and dreams of winning the whole tournament, and we were 20 minutes away from that.
And I think — and I haven’t seen the Finland game, I probably haven’t seen it in 40 years, but from what I remember, I think the third period against Finland was the best 20 minutes that we played throughout the whole Olympic Games, and we dominated the third period and we won 4-2.
And again, I think when I think of our team, and I’ve only seen the Soviet game I think twice or maybe three times, I’ve never seen any of the other games, but I was given a statistic the other day from someone that said during the Olympic Games we outscored our opponents 16-3 in the third period, and I think that’s a tribute to what Herb put together and the type of players he had.
And again, back to your question about the third period against Finland, (indiscernible) third periods throughout the whole Olympic Games, and Herb just kind of said it right to us, ‘This is what is going to happen if you don’t win this game.’
Mike, we talked about all the things around the Soviet game and you mentioned some of the things here about rolling four lines and things of that nature, and I just wondered from your perspective, what are some of the things that you wished people knew about that game? You said you don’t consider it a miracle. I’m sure you guys played very well in that game, particularly in those 10 minutes after your goal. I wonder how did you guys manage to shut them down when they were coming in waves? I don’t think they had a ton of great chances aside from maybe a post and not long after your goal, and you guys kind of shut them down. It seemed like your team was an exceptional defensive group as a unit, and I just wondered how you guys shut them down for that last 10 minutes.
MIKE ERUZIONE: Well, I remember — and again, I was told, and I’ve got to look at the game analyze it, but I was told in the last 10 minutes or so they just had eight shots on goal and three of them were from outside the blue line.
And then I go back to our conditioning. I go back to all those drills we did all year. We out-skated some of them. We dominated teams in the third period because of that. But I think a few things always to me get lost in this whole shuffle. Again, one, that we played more than one game. Billy Baker’s goal against Sweden was huge. I mean, if we don’t tie Sweden, who knows how we come back the next night or two nights later against Czechoslovakia. So I think Billy’s goal was lost in that shuffle.
I think what was lost there is the fact that — and you talked about it with an earlier question, the fact that we had four lines and played four lines, and I’ve said all the time, we do not win without Mark Johnson. Anytime we needed a goal, we kind of looked at the bench and go, okay, Mark, now is a good time for you to do something. And Jimmy played spectacular, and Jimmy was an important part. Without Magic and the confidence that he’d feed into our team, the goal that he scored with one second left on the clock in the first period, that was incredible, going into the locker room tied instead of being behind.
There were moments like that that I think people forget about, and I think, and I’ll be very honest, what’s been frustrating for me for 40 years is people talk about Mike Eruzione, they talk about Jim Craig and maybe talk about Jack O’Callahan and maybe talk about Herb Brooks, and not enough of my teammates were recognized for how they played: Kenny Morrow was spectacular; Davey Christian going back and forth on defense. That’s not easy to do against the competition we played against.
I wish more of my teammates were recognized for what they did because it wasn’t three of us or four of us, it was 20 players, two coaches, the doctors, the trainers, everybody in two weeks in Lake Placid put forth an effort that was amazing and spectacular that led to us winning. And we didn’t, like I said, play just one game; we played series of games, and Craig Patrick said it best after we won; he said, “Your team deserved what they got,” and that was to win the gold medal. That’s how I look at things, and maybe people don’t look at it the same way sometimes.
And just one last question. After mentioning all those great players, what I’ve always wanted to ask you is you were a goal scorer in college and in pro before that, but that shot that won the game, I mean, obviously the result was as big as anything, but in terms of the actual quality of the shot, where does that one rank for you in terms of the shots that you took over the course of your career?
MIKE ERUZIONE: Well, it’s probably the biggest. You know, and Al can verify this because I scored a goal against the Soviets on (indiscernible) game, almost the exact same place and the exact same spot in Madison Square Garden. Tretiak was the goalie then. It’s a shot that I’ve taken in practice, and when you play a lot of hockey your whole life, but clearly I was fortunate at Tufts University to score some goals and in high school and when I played Toledo. But when you score a goal in the Olympic Games that ended up becoming what it became, it clearly ranks as a highlight for me. But, and again, I say this with a big but, if Mark doesn’t score his two goals and if we don’t play the way we played, who cares about my goal; it might have been irrelevant.
But when it went in it gave us the lead, and that’s how I looked at it, and I think when the game ended, it kind of dawned on me I had the winning goal, and I was happy about it. I think my dad was more excited about it than I was, but I just was fortunate that I got to contribute at a time in the game that helped us win.
Mike, I’m interested, what was your experience like working with the producers on the actual film, the “Miracle” film, and trying to get that to be as accurate as possible? How has that film impacted the way — especially when you talk to a lot of young American players today, and they say the film was a really important thing for them growing up. How has that affected your legacy as a team?
MIKE ERUZIONE: I think you might be surprised that I had nothing to do with the “Miracle” movie. I was involved a little bit with the first movie, the Karl Malden-Herb Brooks, but the second movie I wasn’t involved in at all. I did not want to be involved in the movie. I felt if I was involved then my role would be different, and the guys on the team would have went, he didn’t do this, he didn’t say that. Oh, no, you were an advisor; no wonder why you did this. I stayed away from the movie. I think they interviewed a bunch of us and asked us questions, but we had no input into the movie.
I’ve always said, I think it’s really the Herb Brooks story and we’re a part of it. I think the HBO documentary was spectacular, and I think that probably had a little more of our team involved than the movie, and I thought the movie was done well, and Al said it earlier, Kurt Russell was brilliant as Herb, although maybe a little friendlier and a little softer in the movie.
But I think what it had was an impact on the game of hockey in general. Like I said, kids today, they’ve all seen the movie. When I speak at sales meetings, I’m in a position now where most of the people I’m speaking to weren’t born in 1980, and I always ask the question, How many of you were born in 1980, and they’ll raise their hand, and then I’ll say, how many people watched the movie “Miracle,” and almost everybody raises their hand.
The story is being told years later, and my grandkids haven’t seen it yet, and at some point someday they’re going to watch it and they’re going to understand a little bit more about the story and I’ll be able to kind of tell them about it.
So I think what the movie did for us as a team was kind of just kind of rejuvenated our team as far as people knowing who we were and what we are and what we were about. It’s a great story, it’s a great motivational movie, it’s a great story for kids who dream, kids who want to accomplish things that people told them they could never do.
I can’t tell you, like I said, it’s been 40 years, how many coaches have told me, how many teams have told me they watched the movie “Miracle” right before a big game. Michael Phelps I think told me that he showed all the swimmers, I thought it was in Australia at the Olympic Games, and they all watched the movie “Miracle.” So it’s become somewhat of a rallying cry for teams when they’re faced with challenges.
The movie has done a lot of great things for a lot of reasons, for a lot of different reasons, but it was nice that they were able to capture the moment on film. 50 years from now somebody is going to watch that movie. Obviously I’m not going to be on tape, probably on some reel somewhere, but for us as a team we were proud of somebody taking our story and putting it into a movie.
AL MICHAELS: And I’ll say, since I did work with the production group on that movie, they asked me, number one, to come in and help them voice over certain of the action sequences because they couldn’t use — it would not have made any sense — it would have been very disjointed to take my real call during the Norway game, and somehow it wouldn’t connect to anything. So I said, I will voice over certain things for you to connect the dots. In other words, I know what you’re trying to do, and I will do this for you, but I would only narrate what I remember to be and research to be the actual truth of how this thing worked. I could say things like as they were doing scenes from the Romania game, two nights ago the U.S. did this. That all happened. So and then at the end of the game they wanted me to voice over the last 25 or 30 seconds, and I said that not over my dead body at that point. They used the actual tape from Lake Placid.
But as far as the movie was concerned, I give a lot of credit to Gavin O’Connor, who was the director. He did a great job. Big hockey fan. He wanted to get as close to the real story as possible. The only way this works is the studio gets involved. It’s like any movie, you’ve got — unless maybe Scorsese is doing it, nobody wants to talk to him because they know — they’ll tell him to get out of the room. You’ve got a lot of studio executives saying we should do this, we should do that, and Mike talked about the fact that this is mainly the Herb Brooks story, it was. There were a couple of executives that Gavin had told me earlier on wanted to turn this into a total love story between Herb and Patty Brooks.
This is the type of thing that Gavin would have to fight and battle and get through and all of that. But he stayed, I believe, as close to the truth as he possibly could under the circumstances, and Mike summed it up. To this day, this is what a lot of young people know about Lake Placid, and he’s right, any number of coaches, youth coaches — I’ve even had NFL coaches who played this movie before a game in the NFL.
So this thing sings, it resonates, it provides tremendous inspiration, and it will for a lot more years.
Mike, two quick questions for you. What do you miss most about Herb?
MIKE ERUZIONE: Just him calling and yelling at me. And then in some ways serious and in some ways kidding. Here I am years later, I’m married, I’ve got three kids, and my phone would ring and my wife would say, it’s Herb, and I’m like, oh, my God, what did I do wrong now.
Again, he’s a man that I had tremendous respect for, and he’s a coach that I truly admired. We had gotten a little closer over the years. When he got inducted into the hockey Hall of Fame, he asked me to be his presenter, and then unfortunately he passed. His wife Patty called me and asked if I’d give a eulogy. So clearly there was a tremendous respect that Herb had for me that I didn’t know because he always kind of kept me at arm’s length.
But again, at this point in my life it would have been nice to see Herb now over the years and just connect and talk. He’s a grandfather and I’m a grandfather, and I think we would have had a really different kind of relationship then we did when we were player-coach.
You were talking about the players earlier and that really resonated with me and how you kept in contact with the players. Ralph Cox was featured in the movie, obviously the last player to be cut from the team. Do you guys still keep in touch with him?
MIKE ERUZIONE: Yeah, and let me also say this. Ralph Cox and Jack Hughes both got cut at the same time, and for whatever reason they used Ralph as supposedly the last cut. Jack was (indiscernible) on our team, played at Harvard, and Herb had to make a decision to get down to 22 players. Ralph was the guy that they kind of highlighted.
I still see Ralph a lot. Ralph is a Boston guy. He was my roommate all year during the Olympic year. When we have reunions of the ’80 team we also invite Ralph and Jack and anybody else other than Les Auge who was another one of our teammates that unfortunately passed away. He was one of 26 players. So whenever we have a reunion, guys get together, Ralph has come a couple times. We had a 10-year, 15-year reunion and Ralph showed up and came, and unfortunately Ralph wasn’t in Lake Placid but we considered him part of our team.
I tell a funny story, I think it was last year, I went to dinner at a restaurant in Boston and I was sitting by myself having dinner, and the bartender came over and said, here’s a bottle of wine on the gentleman down at the end, and I went, what guy is this, and I looked around and it was Ralph, and Ralph came down and like four bottles of wine later we left the restaurant. I do see Ralph. He’s a good friend and a great person.
I know it’s been talked about a little bit already, but just really curious on what message you want to convey when people ask you those hockey fans who weren’t around in 1980 or were too young to remember. What do you really want to tell them about the significance of that game, what it meant for not only USA Hockey but the country in general at that time?
MIKE ERUZIONE: I’ll grab it first. I think significance to hockey was people finally looked at the American player and the college player as a viable, talented group of people. I think prior to 1980 Americans weren’t given the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League. I think you could play major junior but you couldn’t play in the NHL. You had plenty of players who weren’t even looked at to come over.
I’ve said this before, I think in 1980 it might have opened the door for Americans. Today’s players have clearly knocked the door down, but the Pat LaFontaine’s, the Chris Chelios’s, the Brian Leetch’s, the Tony Amonte’s, I can go on and on, Keith Tkachuk’s in those years, and then Brett Hull and these guys went on, and now look at what you have in the NHL and how many Americans are playing professional hockey.
Maybe we opened the door and today’s players have knocked it down. But I also tell players we were a hell of a lot better than people thought. Kenny Morrow won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders and (indiscernible) was part of that, team. Neal Broten, Mike Ramsey, Dave Christian played 15, 16, 17 years in the National Hockey League. So you know, we weren’t goofy bunch of guys that got together, and Herb used to call us the lunch pail hardhat group of guys, but we had some talent. We had some skills. And Craig Patrick, a great coach who put everything together. I just want people to know that our team was — we were pretty good.
I don’t think today’s team — our Olympic team in 1980 would beat the Patrick Kane’s and the Auston Matthews’ and some of the great Americans that play the game today because they’re so much bigger, faster and stronger, but in 1980, the collection of players that Herb put together was an awfully good hockey team, and if you go back to the Craig Patrick’s and (indiscernible), so that’s what I want people to remember and know about our team.
AL MICHAELS: I’ll think back upon it always as it galvanized the country. It was an event that brought people together. There are terrible events that bring the country together for short periods of time, obviously 9/11 being most significant. The country comes together and then they kind of splinter apart again. This brought the country together in a way that I’ve never seen. This was such a great event and such a happy event and such a thrilling event, and for it to happen in the sport of hockey, which was Canada’s sport and had pretty much become the Soviet Union’s sport, and down the pecking order is the United States, but this hockey game was able to galvanize the country.
I think Eddie Swift wrote the piece in Sports Illustrated when the team was named the Sportsman of the Year for 1980, and he had a line in there and it was perfect. “It made you want to hug your television set.” That’s what these guys did, and I know the people who see the movie, who remember it, will always think very fondly back upon what to me is — and Sports Illustrated ranked it in 2000 as the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.
MIKE ERUZIONE: Can I just add one more thing. I’m glad you talked about Eddie Swift’s article because I remember the title of it. It was a lesson and message of what we can be, and the idea that we talk about goals (indiscernible) talked about what that moment meant because of the group of guys coming together with incredible old-fashioned values, working-class kids from working-class families. If you want to research all my teammates, check our backgrounds, check where they’re from, and (indiscernible), and I think that’s what’s special for me and my teammates was that the country rallied behind a group of good guys, good kids. My teammates are very successful today in what they do because they weren’t just great players, they’re great people, and I think that’s what people really need to finally see and realize, and you could see that almost through the television set, what we were like as players.