The impact was the thing. One morning they were 19 fuzzy-cheeked college kids and a tall guy with a beard, and the next.... We beat the Russians! In Babbitt, Minn., hometown of forward Buzz Schneider, guys went into their backyards and began firing shotguns toward the heavens. Kaboom! Kaboom! We beat the Russians! In Santa Monica, Calif., a photographer heard the outcome of the game and went into his local grocery store, a mom-and-pop operation run by an elderly immigrant couple. "Guess what," he said. "Our boys beat the Russians." The old grocer looked at him. "No kidding?" Then he started to cry. "No kidding?"
In Winthrop, Mass., 70 people gathered outside the home of Mike Eruzione, who had scored the winning goal, and croaked out the national anthem. Not God Bless America, which is what the players were singing in Lake Placid. The Star-Spangled Banner.
One man was listening to the game in his car, driving through a thunderstorm, with the U.S. clinging to a 4-3 lead. He kept pounding his hands on the steering wheel in excitement. Finally he pulled off the highway and listened as the countdown started...5...4...3...2...1.... We beat the Russians! He started to honk his horn. He yelled inside his car. It felt absolutely wonderful. He got out and started to scream in the rain. There were 10 other drivers yelling their fool heads off in the rain. They made a huddle, and then they hollered together—We beat the Russians! Perfect strangers dancing beside the highway with 18-wheelers zooming by and spraying them with grime.
We. The U.S. Olympic hockey team wasn't a bunch of weird, freaky commando types. They were our boys. Clean-cut kids from small towns, well-groomed and good-looking, who loved their folks and liked to drink a little beer. Our boys. Young men molded by a coach who wasn't afraid to preach the values of the good old Protestant work ethic, while ever prepared to stuff a hockey stick down an offending opponent's throat. And don't think that didn't matter, given the political climate at the time—the hostages, Afghanistan, the pending Olympic boycott of the Moscow Games.
But there was more to the story than the moment of victory.
The members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team weren't named Sportsmen of the Year because of the 60 minutes they played one Friday afternoon in February. The game with the Soviet Union meant nothing to the players politically. Even its impact was largely lost on them until much later, confined as they were to the Olympic Village in Lake Placid, listening to one dinky local radio station and reading no newspapers. "If people want to think that performance was for our country, that's fine," says Mark Pavelich, the small, quiet forward who set up Eruzione's winning goal. "But the truth of the matter is, it was just a hockey game. There was enough to worry about without worrying about Afghanistan or winning it for the pride and glory of the United States. We wanted to win it for ourselves."
Not ourselves as in I, me, mine. Ourselves the team. Individually, they were fine, dedicated sportsmen. Some will have excellent pro hockey careers. Others will bust. But collectively they were a transcendent lot. For seven months they pushed each other on and pulled each other along, from rung to rung, until for two weeks in February they—a bunch of unheralded amateurs—became the best hockey team in the world. The best team. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts by a mile. And they were not just a team, they were a perfect reflection of how Americans wanted to perceive themselves. By gum, it's still in us! It was certainly still in them. So for reminding us of some things, and for briefly brightening the days of 220 million people, we doff our caps to them, in toto, Sportsmen of the Year.
Leadership, of course, was the key. These guys didn't descend on their skates from a mountaintop preaching teamwork and brotherhood. Are you kidding? They were all stars, la crème de la crème. Many had egos yea big and heads the size of pumpkins. Fifteen of the 20 had been drafted by NHL clubs and considered the Games a stepping-stone to the big time. They could showcase their individual talents, prove they could handle a grueling schedule, and, thank-you-bub, where do I sign? Herb Brooks, the coach, made it the most painful stepping-stone of their lives.
"He treated us all the same," says every last member of the team. "Rotten."
Karl Maiden, the actor who plays Brooks in the forthcoming ABC-TV movie on the team, Miracle on Ice, has never met Brooks, but he has studied him on videotape, especially his eyes. "I'd hate to meet him in a dark alley," Maiden says. "I think he's a little on the neurotic side. Maybe more than a little. Any moment you think he's going to jump out of his skin."
That's one man's opinion. Maiden, that hard-boiled scowler who has no pity in his heart for anyone leaving home without American Express traveler's checks, was brought to tears not once but twice by the sight of goaltender Jim Craig asking "Where's my father?" after the team had beaten Finland to win the gold medal, first on television, then months later on videotape. Truly, this team plucked many different heartstrings.
Brooks was as sentimental as a stone throughout. After the victory over Finland, he shook hands with two or three people behind the bench, then disappeared into the dressing room. Says Maiden, "He could have smiled just once, during the game with Norway or Romania. But he didn't. Then after working seven months for something, the moment he gets it he walks away from it. You tell me, is that a normal man?"
All right. No. But Maiden is wrong about one thing. If you were to meet Brooks in a dark alley, you wouldn't be frightened. He would barely notice you. His mind would be a million miles away. You'd wonder where. He's a driven perfectionist. His wife, Patty, an attractive, bubbly woman, recalls seeing their daughter, Kelly, crawling around and straightening rugs when she was 10 months old. Patty groaned, "Oh, my god, I've got another one!" Brooks is also a brilliant motivator and, like all great coaches, an innovator. He motivates largely through fear. Schneider, who also played under Brooks for three years at the University of Minnesota, says, "He pats you on the back but always lets you know he has the knife in the other hand."
Significantly, the pat is on the back, the knife is front and center. Brooks isn't one to sneak around confrontation. "I gave our guys every opportunity to call me an honest son of a bitch," he says. "Hockey players are going to call you a son of a bitch at times anyway, in emotion. But they could call me an honest one because everything was up front."
They do curse him, and it requires very little emotion. But most—if not all—of the players realize that if Brooks had been any different, they couldn't possibly have accomplished what they did. "It was a lonely year for me," says Brooks. "Very lonely. But it was by design. I never was close to my university players because they were so young. But this team had everything I wanted to be close to, everything I admired: the talent, the psychological makeup, the personality. But I had to stay away. If I couldn't know all, I didn't want to know one because there wasn't going to be any favoritism."
Players like Phil Verchota, who played for Brooks for four years at Minnesota and then all of last year, have still never heard so much as a "Nice day today, eh, Phil?" out of Brooks. "Say hi, and you'll get hi back," Verchota says. "Not even that sometimes." The man scared the daylights out of them. Gave them the willies. He wasn't human. But he could coach, and they never questioned that for a second.
Which isn't to say they never questioned his methods. (His obsession, of course, was a given.) One of the devices Brooks used to select his final team was a psychological test of more than 300 questions that he had specially prepared. He was looking for a certain type of player, and the test was designed to show how certain people would react under stress. He thought he'd try it. There would be 68 players at the August tryout camp in Colorado Springs, and he had to cut them down to 26 in a matter of days. He would leave no stone unturned.
One player—an eventual Olympic hero—said, "Herb, I'm not taking this. I don't believe in that stuff."
"Why's that?" Brooks asked.
"Oh, it's a lot of bull, psychology."
"Well, wait a minute. Here's what it might show. It's not as important as what goes on out on the ice, but it's something we can use. I don't want to miss anything."
"I don't want to take it," the player said.
Brooks nodded. "O.K. Fine. You just took it. You told me everything I wanted to know." He was steaming.
"How'd I do?"
The next day the player took the test.
What kind of competitor was Brooks looking for? Big strong kids who could skate through a wall? Guys who could fly? Who could pay the price? Who could make the puck tap dance? Good lord, spare us. Brooks wanted young, educated kids who were willing to break down stereotypes, were willing to throw old wives' tales about conditioning and tactics out the window. He wanted open-minded people who could skate. "The ignorant people, the self-centered people, the people who don't want to expand their thoughts, they're not going to be the real good athletes," Brooks says. "They're not going to be able to keep that particular moment, that game, that season in the proper perspective. I believe it. Understand this world around you."
When Brooks talks about "ignorant, self-centered people who don't want to expand their thoughts," he's describing 90% of the National Hockey League. For better or worse, most of the players trying out for the Olympic team were hoping to jump from there to the pros. So they wanted to show the NHL scouts that they could do it the NHL way—ugh, me fight, me chop, me muck. That doesn't work in international hockey, and Brooks would have none of it. The players had to learn a new style of play in seven months. In simplest terms, they had to learn what any touch-football player knows by the fifth grade—that crisscross patterns and laterals are more effective than the plunge. They had to learn not to retaliate, which is almost un-American.
All that was easy because weaving, passing, holding on to the puck is simply a more enjoyable way to play the game. Smashing that stereotype was a cinch. But conditioning? There is no mind in the world that is open enough to enjoy the tortures of Herbies.
Herbies are a relatively common form of wind sprint that all hockey players do, but only the Olympians call them by that name. End line to blue line and back, to red line and back, to far blue line and back, all the way down and back. Rest. Two or three sets of Herbies at the end of practice is about as much punishment as most coaches are willing to dish out. The day before a game, it's a rare coach indeed who'll submit his players to even one Herbie, and by the time you reach the NHL, your Herbie days are pretty much over. Hey, we're in the bigs now. We play ourselves into shape.
Bull. In the 1979 Challenge Cup the Soviets skated rings around the NHL All-Stars late in the games. The Russians can do Herbies till the cows come home. They skate as hard in the last shift of a game as they do in the first, and it has nothing to do with emotion or adrenaline. They have always been the best-conditioned hockey players in the world.
Peter Stastny, the Czechoslovakian Olympic star who defected last summer to the NHL's Quebec Nordiques, says the one thing that most shocked the international hockey community about the performance of the young Americans (average age: 22) was their conditioning. The Soviets had always been at one level, with everybody else at a level below. Suddenly here are a bunch of Americans, for heaven's sake, whom the Russians are huffing and puffing to keep up with in the third period. Who are those guys? In the seven games played in the Olympics, the U.S. team was outscored nine goals to six in the first period but outscored its opponents 16-3 in the third. What got into them? Steroids?
"It's a selling job," says Brooks. "When you want to push people who are living a good life in an affluent society, you have to do a selling job." The sales pitch went like this: Skate or you're off the team. You're gone. No pro contract. No big money. Gone.
In his own words, Brooks was "smart enough to know I was dumb." How do you get a hockey player in shape the way the Russians were in shape? Nobody knew, not in the hockey world. So Brooks went to coaches of track and swimming—areas in which American athletes have been trained to compete successfully on the international level—and found out about anaerobics, flexibility exercises, underloading, overloading, pulse rates, the works. Then he transferred this information to his players, who, because they were educated, because they were open-minded, were willing to listen. Willing to give it a try. Sure, we'll run up and down that hill to the Holiday Inn after practices. Sure. We'll do another Herbie. Twenty-five minutes of sprints today without pucks? Sure, we'll do it. And for six months they hated Brooks's guts.
There was a moment of truth for this team. A moment when they became one. It was back in September 1979 when they were playing a game in Norway. It ended in a 4-4 tie, and Brooks, to say the least, was dissatisfied. "We're going to skate sometime today," he told them afterward. Then he sent them back onto the ice.
Forward Dave Silk recalls it this way: "There were 30 or 40 people still in the stands. First they thought we were putting on a skating exhibition, and they cheered. After a while they realized the coach was mad at us for not playing hard, and they booed. Then they got bored and left. Then the workers got bored, and they turned off the lights."
Doing Herbies in the dark...it's terrifying. But they did them. Schneider happened to have been thrown out of the game, and he had already changed into his street clothes. He was watching in horror as his teammates went up and back, up and back. Again and again and again. But instead of feeling reprieved, he felt guilty. "Should I get my skates on, Patty?" he asked assistant coach Craig Patrick. "Cool it, Buzz," Patrick replied.
It ended at last, and Brooks had the players coast slowly around the rink so that the lactic acid could work itself out of their muscles. And that was when forward Mark Johnson broke his stick over the boards. Mark Johnson, who made the team go. Mark Johnson, who was its hardest worker, its smartest player. Mark Johnson, whom Brooks never, ever had to yell at. And you know what Brooks said—screamed—after skating those kids within an inch of their lives? "If I ever see a kid hit a stick on the boards again, I'll skate you till you die!" They believed him. And they would have died, just to spite him. Says Silk, "I can remember times when I was so mad at him I tried to skate so hard I'd collapse, so I could say to him, "See what you did?' " But they weren't an all-star team anymore. They were together in this, all for one. And Brooks was the enemy. And don't think he didn't know it. It was a lonely year by design, all right.
"He knew exactly where to quit," says John Harrington, a forward whose place on the team was never secure. "He'd push you right to the limit where you were ready to say, 'I've had it. I'm throwing it in'—and then he'd back off."
For Brooks, the trick was knowing where that limit was for every player. They may have been a team, but they were still 20 different personalities. The first time Brooks saw Silk skate at the Colorado Springs training camp, he took him aside and said, "I don't know if you can't skate or you won't skate, but I intend to find out." Silk had been an All-America at Boston University and had the reputation of playing his best in the biggest games. Brooks wanted him on the Olympic team, but he knew that Silk needed more speed. So he promised to ride him, to embarrass him, to rant and rave at him all season. And even then, Brooks implied, he'd probably be too slow. For three months Brooks gave Silk not one single word of encouragement. Silk, you're too damn slow! Then one day in practice the team was warming up, skating around the rink, when Silk heard, "Keep at it, your skating's getting better." He looked around and saw Brooks. "He never even looked at me," Silk says. "He kind of whispered it on the way by. It made me feel so good I wanted to skate around and holler."
When Brooks was at Minnesota, he had an unofficial rule against facial hair. He would have liked a clean-shaven Olympic team too. Trouble was, Ken Morrow, the team's steadiest defenseman, a gentle giant who minded his own business, happened to have a beard already. He'd had one in college, and he rather liked it. And the New York Islanders rather liked Morrow. So rather than risk pushing Morrow too far, rather than risk having the little matter of a beard be the straw that sent Morrow to the big money six months ahead of his teammates, Brooks came up with a rule custom-made to keep Morrow around. Anyone who had had a beard before training camp could keep it. It was new growth that was a no-no.
Brooks treated Johnson differently too. Johnson is a competitor, one of those rare players who finds the puck on his stick all night. He is absolutely dedicated to hockey and was dedicated to the team—a leader by example. Yet until September, Johnson had no idea where he stood. No one did—Brooks had an ax over everyone's head. But Brooks took Johnson aside shortly after the Skate Till You Die episode and told him, "You're the guy who's going to make or break us. When you're really playing, our whole team gets better."
"It was a real shocker," Johnson recalls. "I was just worried about making the club, and he throws a curve like that at you. What can you say? You take a big gulp and swallow it down."
Craig knew he was the man who would be in goal. He had played brilliantly in the 1979 World Cup championship tournament for Brooks, and by waiting a year to turn professional, he had been all but assured of being the starting goalie for the Olympics. But while the personalities of the rest of the team fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, Craig's cockiness and penchant for yapping kept him apart. He wore on people. For Christmas his teammates gave him a giant jawbreaker, hoping to shut him up. But what the heck, he was the goalie, and goalies are kind of flaky anyway, right? But the psyche of a team is a fragile thing, and when Brooks saw he had a goaltender who wasn't going to fit in, he made sure that he wasn't going to start messing things up. So he told Craig to keep his trap shut about whose fault the goals were, to shoulder the blame himself and to buy the beer after the game. Don't muddy the waters. It was funny; Craig and Brooks struck up a friendship during the year. They were voluntary outcasts who worked, played and thought very much as one.
There was a player on the team who had Brooks's ear—the captain, Eruzione. Brooks had wanted him to be captain practically from the start. He was a leader; he was sensitive; he was a catalyst. But the captain had to be elected by the team. So Brooks campaigned. He confided in Eruzione in front of the other players, assigned him responsibilities, showed him respect. He was even prepared to miscount the ballots, but he didn't have to. The players liked Mike too. But even Eruzione wasn't spared Brooks's menacing knife. With three games remaining in their exhibition schedule and the first Olympic game less than two weeks away, Brooks called Eruzione aside and told him he wasn't playing well. Uh-huh. Mike, you're a great captain and a great guy, but you've got to start pulling your oar. Uh-huh. Or else I'll have to tell the press you've hurt your back and are coming to Lake Placid as an assistant coach. SAY WHAT?
He was going to cut his own captain! After 57 games he was going to say, "Come along and be my assistant—you aren't good enough!" Well, the hell with you. And Eruzione went out and scored five goals in those last three games. Not only that, when word got out that the coach was prepared to cut the captain—holy cow, I'd better work my little behind off. And Brooks did the same thing to Craig, telling him it was too bad, but obviously he had worked him too hard, played him in too many games, and now the goalie was fighting the puck and the only thing to do was to get Steve Janaszak, his backup, ready.... SAY WHAT? You're not giving my job away now, not now, not after six months of this crud.... But you're fighting the puck, Jimmy.... I'll fight you, you cur.... I'll show you who's ready and who's not.
So they went to Lake Placid united as ever against their coach. They would show him! Twenty players, the ones who had survived all the cuts, still hungry to prove themselves. Six who had traveled with the team all year were dropped just before Lake Placid. The last forward to be cut from the team was a young man named Ralph Cox. Brooks himself had been the last forward cut from the gold-medal-winning 1960 U.S. hockey team, and the one time all year that his callous front came down was when he cut Cox. "He was such a gentleman that I cried on it," says Brooks. "I had a little flashback of myself at the time. And you know what he told me? True story. He said, 'That's all right, coach. I understand. You guys are going to win the gold medal.' Ralph Cox said that. And when we won it, that's who I thought of. Ralph Cox."
At the time, though, Brooks was thinking, What have you been smoking, Coxy? The U.S. team was seeded No. 7 in the eight-team field and had the toughest draw in the tournament, facing Sweden and Czechoslovakia—the second and third seeds—in the first two games. Further, in the final exhibition game, the Soviets, almost exactly the same team that had whipped the NHL All-Stars a year earlier, had routed the U.S. 10-3. Welcome to the big time, Yanks. The Americans were hoping for a bronze.
They hoped to get two points in those first two games, one win or two ties. If they didn't, they could pack it in, because there'd be no chance for a medal. The scouting report on Sweden said that technically the Swedes were as good as any team in the world at skating, passing and shooting, but in tough games their spirit could be broken. But you couldn't let them get a lead on you. Stay close.
In the first period the young, nervous U.S. team stayed close. The Swedes led 1-0, and they had out-shot the Americans 16-7, but Craig had kept the U.S. hopes alive with outstanding work in goal. And the Americans had some chances of their own—both Rob McClanahan and Eric Strobel missed breakaways in the first four minutes. So now it was behind them, those first-period jitters.
But in the dressing room Brooks was furious. Insane. McClanahan had suffered a severe charley horse—McClanahan, who played on the first line with Johnson, who was left wing on the power play, who could fly—and one of the trainers told him to get his equipment off and put ice on the bruise, that's all for tonight. A trainer, for heaven's sake. And McClanahan did it. He was sitting in there in his underwear, an ice pack on his thigh, and the door flew open and there came Brooks, and was he mad! "You gutless son of a bitch! Nobody's going belly-up now!"
"Instead of coming in and yelling at us as a team, he picked on Robbie," Johnson recalls. "It was the craziest locker room I've ever been in. He's swearing. Everyone else is swearing. Robbie's swearing and crying. Then Robbie follows him out into the hall and is screaming at him, 'I'll show you!' And in a minute here's the door flying open again and Herbie's coming back yelling, 'It's about time you grew up, you baby....' "
At that point Johnson yelled at Eruzione to get Brooks out of there. Can you beat that? The star player was yelling at the captain to get the coach out of the locker room. Finally, Jack O'Callahan, a defenseman who wasn't dressed for the game because of an injury, grabbed Brooks from behind; Brooks and McClanahan were jawbone to jawbone and O'Callahan was afraid they'd start swinging. Meanwhile, the rest of the team was sitting there thinking, We're one period into the Olympics, down one lousy goal, and the coach loses his marbles.
But had he? McClanahan put his stuff back on, and the U.S. team went onto the ice, outshot the Swedes in the second period and tied the game 1-1. McClanahan couldn't even sit down between shifts; his leg was too sore to bend. He'd stand there at the end of the bench, as far away from Brooks as he could get, then hop out when it came time to play. I'll show you! And he finished the tournament with five goals, tying Johnson and Schneider for tops on the team. Sweden scored early in the third period to take a 2-1 lead, but in the final minute the U.S. pulled Craig from the net and Bill Baker boomed home the tying goal off a centering pass from Pavelich with 27 seconds left. The U.S. had pulled out one of the two points it needed and, what's more, everybody got to know each other a little better. "It was mayhem in here," Schneider said afterward. "But that's what's going to win it for us, emotion and talent put together."
Said Brooks, "Maybe I've been a little too nice to some of these guys." Honestly.
The fanfare didn't really start to build until after the U.S. beat Czechoslovakia 7-3 two nights later. That was the game in which, with little time remaining and the game well in hand, Johnson was injured by a dirty check (no pun) and on TV the nation heard the wrath of Herb Brooks firsthand. His proposal to wed a Koho hockey stick with a certain Czechoslovakian gullet provoked 500 irate letters, but it also piqued the curiosity of the nonhockey-minded public. Hey, this guy's all right! And those players. They're so young. Let's keep an eye on these guys—but what's icing?
Norway...Romania...West Germany, down they went, each game a struggle in the early going, pulled out in the third period when those nameless kids who looked about 15 simply blew the opposition away. And afterward the players would line up at center ice and smile those great big wonderful smiles, many of which actually displayed teeth, and salute the fans. They'd hoist their sticks to the fans on one side of the rink; then they'd turn around and hoist them to the other side. It was a terrific routine.
One of the reasons they still were nameless was that Brooks had forbidden them to attend the postgame press conferences, enraging both the U.S. Olympic Committee brass and the players' agents. The players themselves were none too keen on the idea, either, though they understood the reasoning. This team wasn't built around stars, and the press conferences were set up to handle only three players. You couldn't have three players getting all the publicity and not believing they were the stars. So no players attended. Only Brooks. Then when the press accused Brooks of hogging the limelight, he refused to attend anymore and sent Craig Patrick in his place. Now everyone was mad at him. But without the pressure of the spotlight, the team stayed just as loosey-goosey as a colt on a romp. Hey, this was fun! But the Russians were coming.
The day before the U.S.-Soviet game, Brooks held a meeting after practice and told his players that the Russians were ripe; they were lethargic changing lines, their passes had lost their crispness. All season he had told them that Boris Mikhailov, 13 years the Soviet captain, looked like Stan Laurel. You can't skate against Stan Laurel? The players would roll their eyes: Here goes Herbie.... But now, 24 hours before the game, they could see it. The Russians were ripe. The timing was right. Forget that 10-3 pre-Olympic defeat. That was a lifetime ago. It was, too.
"The Russians were ready to cut their own throats," says Brooks. "But we had to get to the point to be ready to pick up the knife and hand it to them. So the morning of the game I called the team together and told them, 'It's meant to be. This is your moment, and it's going to happen.' It's kind of corny, and I could see them thinking, Here goes Herb again.... But I believed it."
The idea was to stay close. "It was in the backs of our minds that we might win," recalls Schneider, "but nobody would say it. They'd think you were off your rocker." Craig made some big saves early, but the Russians scored first. Five minutes later Schneider tied it on a 50-foot shot from the left boards. The Soviets took the lead again, but with one second left in the first period Johnson scored to make it 2-2. That was a big goal. When the Russians came out for the second period, Vladislav Tretiak no longer was in goal; he'd been yanked. Vladimir Myshkin was in the nets, the same Myshkin who had shut out the NHL All-Stars in the '79 Challenge Cup. The Soviets got the only goal of the second period and outshot the Americans 12-2.
Brooks told his players to divide the third period into four five-minute segments. They didn't have to tie the game in the first segment, or even the second. There was lots of time. Stay with them. Make them skate. The first five minutes of the third period were scoreless. Then at 8:39 Mark Johnson tied the game 3-3 on a power play. Bedlam. Go, clock, go! "I remember thinking we might actually have a chance to tie," says Pavelich. But the U.S. team had barely had a chance to think of that improbability when Eruzione scored what Harrington calls "one of the great slop goals of all time." The puck was behind the Soviet net and Harrington and a Soviet defenseman were battling for it. Somehow the puck squirted along the boards to Pavelich, who hammered at it and was promptly smashed face-first into the glass. He never saw the end result. The puck caromed off the boards and slid into the slot, directly to Eruzione, whom Pavelich had not seen. Eruzione snapped a wrist shot past Myshkin. There were exactly 10 minutes to go. U.S. 4, U.S.S.R. 3.
That's how it ended. No one remembers much about those final 10 minutes except that they took forever. No one breathed. The shifts were insanely short because, by the players' admission, no one wanted to be on the ice when the Great Red Bear awoke and there was hell to pay. Craig, who had been tying up the puck at every opportunity during the tournament, slowing down the play, now wouldn't touch it. I don't want it, man, you take it! He was afraid, and rightly so, that if his teammates lined up for a face-off in their own zone and had time to think about the absurdity of leading the Russians, had time to peer up at the clock and brood about the time remaining, their knees would turn to goo.
But they never panicked. Shoot, this was a ball compared with doing Herbies in the dark. Indeed, if anyone panicked it was the Russians, who misfired shots, who started to throw in the puck and chase it—NHL hockey, by gosh—and who, at the end, never pulled their goalie, never gave it that last desperate try that the U.S. had made work against Sweden.
And then it was over. The horn sounded, and there was that unforgettable scene of triumph, the rolling and hugging and flinging of sticks. The flags. My god, what a sight. There was the shaking of hands, the staggered, reluctant exit from the ice. But it wasn't until the U.S. players were back in the locker room that the enormity of what they had done hit them. "It was absolutely quiet," recalls Janaszak. "Some guys were crying a little. You got the idea that the game wasn't over yet, because no one is ever up a goal on the Russians when a game is over. No one really believed it."
It was then that somebody started a chorus of God Bless America, 20 sweaty guys in hockey uniforms chanting, "...from the mountains, to the valleys, no-na-na-na-na, na-na-na...!" Nobody knew the words. And where was Brooks? Holed up in the men's room, afraid to come out and ruin their celebration. "I almost started to cry," he says. "It was the most emotional moment I'd ever seen. Finally I snuck out into the hall, and the state troopers were all standing there crying. Now where do you go?"
Of course, the tournament wasn't over yet. If the U.S. had lost to the Finns on Sunday, it would have finished in fourth place. No medal. Brooks came into the locker room on Saturday, took one look at guys signing sticks and pictures, and began throwing things around and telling them, "You aren't good enough for all this attention! You're too damn young! You don't have the talent!" So the eyes rolled and the lips buttoned—but they listened because what he was saying was obvious to all of them by now. They had come too far to blow it. And on Sunday they won the gold medal by beating an excellent Finnish team 4-2, but they needed three goals in the third period to do it. Really, they weren't even worried. They knew they would do it, because if you can out-score the Russians in the third period, two goals to none, you can sure as heck outscore the Finns. They believed absolutely in themselves. And Verchota, McClanahan and Johnson went out and scored—bing, bing, bing.
They counted down the seconds, slapping their sticks on the boards, screaming to each other, to the refs, to the crowd. Again pandemonium, slightly less frenzied than two days before, the handshakes and the gradual retreat from the scene of their triumph. And then a bit of irony. The cameras captured the goalie, Craig, searching the crowd for his father. It brought tears; it made him a hero in the eyes of the country. But, in truth, he was searching for someone to share this moment with. Like Brooks, he was separate, apart from this team. He had no close friendships, and now he needed one.
The final, uplifting moment they gave us was at the gold medal ceremony, when Eruzione called his teammates up on the platform with him. After that they marched around the rink as if they owned the place, singing and carrying on. They were definitely not cooling it; they were happy young men. And they did own the place. They owned the whole country for a while. It just made you want to pick up your television set and take it to bed with you. It really made you feel good.
It is over now. Unlike other clubs, Olympic teams self-destruct into 20 different directions and careers afterward—at least in this country. There is never a next year for them. They write their story once. Sportsmen of the Year.