This Day In Sports: ‘Do you believe in miracles? Yes!’

February 22, 1980: This was the biggest day of all at the Lake Placid Winter Games, and one of the biggest in Olympics history—the day Al Michaels made perhaps the most famous call in sports history. “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The underdog United States Olympic hockey team, coached by taskmaster Herb Brooks, defeated the seemingly-invincible Soviet Union 4-3 in the “Miracle On Ice” to set off a national celebration. A couple weeks earlier, the Russians had humiliated the Americans by seven goals in a 10-3 shellacking.

Maybe you heard about it on the radio, as (incredibly) it wasn’t shown live. Maybe you saw the prime time tape delay on ABC. More likely, you’re too young to remember it and read about it in history books—or saw the movie “Miracle On Ice” with your parents. The Soviets came into Lake Placid as the four-time defending gold medalists, and their squad was made up of what amounted to professionals. The U.S. roster was composed mostly of amateurs—only four players had as much as minor league experience, and even then it was very little.

The game pitted two Cold War rivals against each other. President Jimmy Carter had already begun discussion a boycott of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, elevating the tension. Brooks pregame statement to the team, “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.” is the stuff of legend. The Americans, who had already upset Czechoslovakia, surprised many by finishing the first period in a 2–2 tie. The Soviets were up 3-2 after the second, though, and looked like they had taken control. But inexplicably, the Soviets pulled Vladislav Tretiak, considered to be the world’s best goaltender. The U.S. tallied twice in the third—then held on for dear life.

When the final horn sounded, it was bedlam. Brooks bolted for the locker room and bawled his eyes out. The nation was united as one (a strange concept in today’s America). Sports Illustrated (remember Sports Illustrated?) declared it the top sports moment of the 20th century. The best trivia question out of all this was: “Who did the Americans beat in the gold medal game?” The victory over the Soviets was in the medal round—there was still one hurdle to overcome. A loss would have been an unimaginable letdown, and Finland led 2-1 after the first period, but the U.S. went on to win 4-2. There was another celebration—albeit anticlimactic.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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