SI.com interviewed a number of former Sportsman on what the honor meant to them. Here's SI.com's Richard Deitsch speaks with Mike Eruzione, one of the 20 U.S. Olympic hockey players who were named SI's Sportsmen of the Year in 1980:
SI.com: Do you remember your reaction when the team was named SI's Sportsmen of the Year?
Eruizone: I remember someone from SI called me, but it was not the the big party they have now. We had a little function and just a few of us went to it. But I do have the trophy on my mantle. It's a beautiful vase and it reads SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR. 1980 U.S. OLYMPIC HOCKEY TEAM. FOR SYMBOLIZING IN CHARACTER AND PERFORMANCE THE IDEALS OF SPORTSMANSHIP.
I remember what an honor it was because when you think about it, Eric Heiden probably should have been Sportsman of the Year. But it was a great honor, obviously, because there are so many great athletes and so many great moments, especially in an Olympic year. I think when you read that article, it explains that it was more than our performance on the ice. I think it was what we represented as a team and I think it's what we still represent today.
SI.com: Do you have a copy of the Sportsmen of the Year issue?
Eruzione: The Sportsmen issue is upstairs in a box with all my different pictures and stuff. I also have the issue where we beat the Russians framed. Isn't the only one you guys have done without words on the front? I sign a lot of Sportsmen of the Year issues. People send them in the mail to me and I sign them and I send them back. when I speak at sales meetings, I talk a lot about the article that E.M. Swift wrote. It's a lesson and message of what we can be. I tell people to read the article because it's one of the best articles I have ever read about our team.
SI.com: What do you feel is the role of a Sportsman in today's culture? Does it extend beyond performance on the playing field?
Eruzione: It should extend beyond the playing field because there are so many great athletes and so many great accomplishments, how do you separate one from another? I think a way of separating it is what they do in the community and what they do off the field. How do they behave off the field? Are they involved in charitable organizations? Do they give back more than they get? I think that's an example to me of what a Sportsman of the Year should be. It is not what he does on the field or what she does on the field: It's what you do off of it. Do you do community service? Do you do charitable events? Things like that I think go hand in hand with what the award means.
SI.com: Why has the victory of the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team continued to mean so much to Americans 30 years later?
Eruizone: Well, I think part of it was the timing. The Soviets. The Cold War. As a country, it is similar to what we are going through today. We have soldiers overseas fighting for our freedom, and in 1980 there were gas lines and inflation was ridiculous. People were looking for something to feel good about it and it was us. I think we represented America and I hope that is not too strong of a statement. What I mean by it is we were working class kids who came from great family values, great backgrounds and had great work ethics. That is what this country is all about. I think people related to us. People saw in us their sons and neighbors and themselves in some ways. We showed this is what makes our country so great and we can still do great things. When I speak at my sales meetings and I do Q&As, you would be blown away with the questions and the stories people have. Sometimes people will tell a story about our team and they will start crying.
I hear all the time about where people were when we won and I love it. Because it's from people who thought they were genuinely there. When people come up to me they'll say "I remember when we beat the Russians." They say the word we. They were not on the team but they felt a part of it. I think that is what separates us. I always get calls when some team accomplishes something and people will ask, Does it remind you of 1980? When they do these polls for the greatest sports moment, they should just retire our moment. Because there are not many athletic achievements that capture a nation. When the Red Sox win a World Series, I am excited because I live in Boston but New York is not happy. With the Olympic Games, it's a nation, and in 1980 a whole nation felt a part of our victory. If we had played the Soviets 10 more times, we probably would have lost nine times. But this was more than a hockey game.
SI.com: Thirty years later, how do you feel about receiving the honor? Has its importance grown or diminished with time?
Eruizone: I think it's grown because I think the award has grown. For my teammates and I to have received it makes me that much more proud of what we accomplished. The fact that you are having me in this particular issue, I represent my teammates. It's not Mike Eruzione, Sportsman of the Year. It's the 1980 Olympic hockey team. I think my teammates respect what the award means and what it has meant.
SI.com: Do you and your teammates get together and marvel over what you accomplished to this day?
Eruizone: I was actually with Jack O'Callahan this month. I talk to Phil Verchotta once in awhile and same with Rob McClanahan and Dave Christian. I'll see Dave Silk around Boston. I might run into Jim Craig every now and then. The Minnesota guys see each other because most of them live in Minnesota. But it's just hard to get 20 of us together. We have only been together twice since 1980. We got together at the L.A. All-Star game in 2002 and when Herb Brooks passed. We were hoping we could do a reunion this year but we were not able to put something together. But it is fun when we see each other. I saw Bob Suter and Mark Johnson in Vancouver. When guys get together, it is like a bunch of kids getting together. We get along well and the insults start flying about who is bald or fat or divorced. You run the whole gamut of shitting on each other. There is a bond and a respect for each other.
SI.com: Did you ever take note growing up about those who were named SI's Sportsman of the Year?
Eruizone: No. I didn't read the magazine growing up but I know the first issue is the same year I was born -- 1954. We didn't have the kind of money to get magazines. The only time I would see one would be if you were getting a haircut or in school. But as I got into college I read it more. Now I subscribe to it and have gotten it for 30 years.
SI.com: Where do you keep the gold medal?
Eruzione: I keep it in a safety deposit box in the bank. I used to keep it in my house and then realized that it is a valuable piece of property. Now after reading about what Mark Wells's gold medal went for, it really is valuable. I also read what Paul Henderson's jersey went for from the 1972 Summit Series -- it went for $1.1 million. So I took my two jerseys immediately out of the closet and wrapped them in safety stuff and now they are in a safety deposit box to be sold at some point. The gold medal will never be sold but the jerseys will. I will take that money and give it to my kids.
SI.com: When you see your Sportsmen cover today, what immediately comes to mind?
Eruzione: When I talk about the team, I always say I represent my family, my teammates and myself. That magazine cover and the cover of us beating the Soviets, there are about 20 players in that photo. It's not about me or Herb or Mark Johnson. It's about 20 guys who came together and accomplished something nobody in the world thought we could accomplish. And everybody felt a part of it, which made it so great.