Jim Craig

It was 40 years ago, and it still stands as sports' biggest miracle

It was 40 years ago, and it still stands as sports' biggest miracle

It was 40 years ago today and I don’t remember an awful lot of that day. Many of the facts have escaped me over the years.

What I remember most, though, is the emotion I felt just sitting on the living room sofa watching the USA’s 4-3 win over the Soviet hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. In fact, I still get goosebumps while watching highlights of that game and listening to the great Al Michaels belt out his iconic “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” as the clock drained to :00.

It was unlike anything else I can remember in sports -- an event that lifted an entire country amidst the cold war, the Iran hostage crisis and President Jimmy Carter’s announcement that our country would boycott that year’s Summer Olympics.

And it was an upset of epic proportions, an incredible feat for the underdog American team. Consider:

  • This was prior to “Dream Team” stuff, when pros could participate in the Games. So that left the USA team with mostly college players -- average age 22 -- against the much-older, veteran Soviet team that had won four straight Olympic golds with the same cast of what were actually professional players.

  • Just three days before the Games began in Lake Placid, N.Y., the Soviets clobbered the US team 10-3 in Madison Square Garden and nobody was even surprised by the score. The gap between those teams was considered that large.

But the Americans were coached by enigmatic Herb Brooks, a tough taskmaster who had a plan to beat the Soviets with a disciplined passing attack, intense conditioning and the kind of rough checking the European teams weren’t accustomed to facing.

Brooks’ team got through the preliminary round with four wins and a tie and advanced to the medal round against the top-seeded Soviets.

And to be fair, the U.S. team was dominated through most of the game, getting outshot 39-16 and trailed by a goal heading into the final period. But Jim Craig was terrific in goal and made sensational save after sensational save.

The USA team took the lead with 10 minutes to go and held on for the win, to set up Michaels for the greatest call of his wonderful career. That wasn’t the gold-medal game, of course. The American team bounced back two days later to defeat Finland 4-2 to capture the gold.

Brooks quickly retired to the bowels of the arena as his players celebrated on the ice. His plan had worked and a nation celebrated what was as close to a sports miracle as I’ve ever seen.

If you get a chance, watch the movie “Miracle” with Kurt Russell playing Brooks and you can pick up on the emotion of it all.

And if you've ever played on a team that was an underdog or felt like one in life, listen to the “It’s your time!” pep talk he gives his players prior to that fateful game.

And it was their time. Forever.