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'Do You Believe In Miracles?' U.S. Olympic Hockey's Miracle on Ice

Culture | February 22, 2021

United States Olympic Hockey players jump with jubilation after beating the Soviet Union hockey team on February 22, 1980 during the Winter Olympics. The game was dubbed The Miracle On Ice. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

In February 1980, the U.S. Olympic hockey team won a game against the Soviet Union. It was a game they weren't supposed to win -- because nobody was supposed to beat the USSR, who'd dominated Olympic hockey for decades. The unbelievable nature of the victory inspired sportscaster Al Michaels to exclaim:

Do you believe in miracles? Yes!

Those six words summed up the emotions experienced by millions of viewers worldwide. Michaels' line became one of the most famous calls in the history of sports broadcasting, and the game became known as the "Miracle on Ice."

There Were No Doubts The Soviet Union Would Take Gold Medal Once Again

Source: Pinterest

Going into the 1980 Olympic games, the Soviet Union had won gold in the past four Olympics, dating back to 1964. They had not even lost an Olympic game since 1968 so no one doubted they would triumph the tournament once again. This expectation was solidified even more when, three days before the start of the Olympics, the Soviets defeated the United States 10-3 in an exhibition game at New York’s Madison Square Garden. At this moment, The Soviets were worry-free and utterly underestimated their American opponents. The day before the worldwide affair, columnist Dave Anderson wrote in The New York Times, “Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in the 1960 Winter Olympics, the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments."

Coach Herb Brooks Whipped The US Team Into Shape

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The United States team was composed of amateurs, primarily college players, who were mainly recruited by team captain Mike Eruzione. The average age was 21, which made them the youngest United States team to ever play in the Olympics, and in fact most observers did not even think they would make it into the Olympics. Buzz Schneider was the only player that had taken part in a previous Olympic game. Seeded at number seven against the Soviets, who were seeded at number one, everyone expected the Soviets to not only beat the United States easily, but to also go undefeated.

In contrast to the underdog American team, the Soviet team included all full-time professionals and had not even lost a World Championship game in decades. However, the US was blessed with coach Herb Brooks, who utilized a highly intensive European style of training known as “stress teamwork.” His techniques would nowadays be considered borderline abusive, but Brooks’ goal was to condition them so fiercely that they would be able to outlast the Soviets on the rink. As much as the players may have despised their harsh practices and drills, it clearly paid off in the end.

The Underdogs Shockingly Defeated Their Opponents

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On February 22nd, 1980, the seasoned USSR team faced the novice United States hockey team at Lake Placid, New York. As expected, the Soviets took the lead throughout the first two periods with the help of their new and young star Valery Krotov. At this point, Soviet victory seemed inevitable, but Coach Brooks believed otherwise. Brooks seemed to be the only one who really thought the United States had a chance and he kept encouraging the team by telling them “Play your game. Play your game.” At the start of the third period, the Soviets led 3-2, but the Americans transitioned into high intensity, focusing on their offense, and both teams played ferociously. The United States brought the game to a tie on a power-play goal by Mark Johnson. Eighty seconds later, Eruzione put the puck past veteran Soviet goalie Vladimir Myshkin straight into the goal, giving the U.S. the lead for the first time at 4-3 -- with 10 minutes remaining in the game. They managed to hold on with intense defense until the final moment of the game -- and then it was over. The mighty Soviet team had lost to the scrappy Americans. The United States team, the USSR team, and the crowds were completely awestruck as the winning team and coaches stormed the ice in celebration.

Sportscaster Al Michaels Captured The Miraculous Scene

Source: WVXU

With his soon-to-be-famous line, ABC sportscaster Al Michaels put an exclamation point on an already emotional moment of triumph for the United States. The 35-year-old was ecstatic to take the opportunity to broadcast the game, especially because of the rivalry between the United States and the USSR. “I couldn’t think of a scenario,” Michaels told The Post. “At that point, the Soviet Union is pretty much our archenemy. The Cold War is really cold. The country is just in a bad emotional place: gas lines, the hostages in Iran, everything that is going on.” During the final seconds of the game, when the action was in full gear, the Soviets could have easily still scored another goal. The entire world was at the edge of its seats with an abundance of nerves, almost assuming that the favored team would come up with the tying goal. Al Michaels took the mic and narrated the moment…

Five seconds left in the game.

His announcing partner Ken Dryden chimed in, “it’s over.” Then Michaels exclaimed with childlike enthusiasm the famous words,

Do you believe in miracles? Yes!

Just then, the final buzzer went off and Dryden added, “unbelievable.”    

Al Michaels' Call Is Said To Be The Greatest In Sports

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Not only was the defeat considered one of the most memorable moments in sports, but Michaels’ words are referred to as the greatest call in sport casting. The authentic passion behind the quote, and on-the-spot creation of it, showed the genuine reaction the entire world felt. Dryden recalled, “It was in Al saying it with that kind of shrill, chilling, electric voice and, most particularly, with the pause after it — ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ — and then the punctuation of it, more shrill, chilling and electric of the ‘Yes!’ It just worked. It was just completely appropriate to the moment.” It was a quote that brought America together during a stressful era when they needed unity more than ever. The 8,500 in the crowd and millions watching on television around the globe let out their screams.

“It was pure emotion,” Michaels said. “You can’t make a call like that in the Super Bowl, where half of the audience is going one way and the other half is going the other. But this was you have 99.9 percent of the audience with you on the call. The one tenth of one percent are probably spies from Kiev or something.”

Michaels went on to broadcast ten super bowls, eight World Series, two NBA finals, and nine Olympics, but has said there has never been such a miraculous, emotional moment as the one experienced on ice that glorious day in Lake Placid.  

The Cold War Made The Victory More Intense

Source: ESPN

The United States win over the Soviet Union was more than an athletic accomplishment. The two countries had been long-time rivals throughout the Cold War which was still lingering on during this time. President Jimmy Carter even planned to boycott the upcoming Summer Olympics in Moscow since the Soviet Union had recently invaded Afghanistan. America was coming out of great turmoil, which included the Iran hostage crisis and were desperately in need of some sort of success to celebrate, and fortunately they achieved this from the 1980 Olympics. President Carter was so thrilled that he directly phoned the U.S. team to congratulate them. 

While the game was intense and climactic, it didn't win the U.S. the gold medal, as it was only the semi-final. Two days later, the United States defeated Finland in the championship game and took home the gold medal, which almost represented winning a battle in the Cold War.

Tags: Al Michaels | Hockey | The Olympics

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Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.