On February 22nd 1980, America witnessed the greatest upset in the history of sports. In international hockey, the USSR was Goliath and Team USA was David. On this date 40 years ago, David took down Goliath as Team USA beat those Commie Fucks 4-3 in the semi-finals of the 1980 Winter Olympics.
The Soviet Union hockey team was one of the most unstoppable forces the sports world had ever seen. Leading up to the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Soviets had won four straight Olympic Gold Medals, losing only 1 game over that span. For more perspective, the Soviets had won 14 out 17 World Championships between 1963 and 1979. The run for the Soviets between the 1960s and 1970s was without question the greatest run we have ever seen in the history of sports.
No NHL Players Allowed
Due to all of the major tournaments taking place in the middle of the NHL season, NHL players were not permitted to play in the Olympics. This obviously put the USA at a huge disadvantage as the teams were always comprised of the best college players.
There was no lack of talent, but putting a team together of 18-22 year olds who have never played together was a tall order. They usually stood no chance competing against the giants of International hockey like the Soviets. Even the NHL players couldn’t compete with the Soviets. This was evident in the 1979 Challenge Cup when the Soviets beat the NHL All-Stars2-1 in a 3 game series. This included a humiliating 6-0 defeat in the decisive game 3.
I guess it didn’t really fucking matter how much talent you put out there against the Soviets. They were the best assembled hockey team and it wasn’t really close.
Enter Herb Brooks
After representing Team USA as a player in the Olympics, Herb Brooks was hired as the coach of Team USA for the 1980 Olympics. Herd had his own way of doing things, and he didn’t make many friends along the way, but boy did it work.
Brooks notoriously angered the Olympic committee by selecting the team himself without consulting anyone about it. The controversy didn’t stem from the fact that he didn’t consult anyone though. It stemmed from the fact that he did not just take the best players on his team. He took the players who he thought would make the best team. This was key in his success in those Olympics. As evident by the Challenge Cup, just putting a bunch of great players on the ice was not enough to beat the Soviets.
Herb put his team together the way he wanted to and in the end he made everyone else eat their words.
Before the start of the Olympics, Herb set up an exhibition between Team USA and the Soviet Union. Whether that turned out to be a good thing or not is not for me to say.
This exhibition did not turn out well though. The Soviets annihilated Team USA 10-3 in an embarrassing showing right before the Olympic games. Everyone who questioned Herb before this was really wondering how this American team would fare in the Olympics.
The main reason for the concern was that the final score was no indicative of how the game actually went. The Soviets could have won this game 25-3 if they wanted to. They looked disinterested and almost bored at time according to some reports. At this point, nobody though Team USA stood a chance in the upcoming tournament.
Team USA opened their Olympic games with a tie against Sweden, the third ranked team in the world at the time. This was not a disappointing result, but it left the Americans wanting more.
They went on to win their next 4 games by a combined score of 23-8. This run set up their date with the Soviet Union in the Olympic semi-finals.
Miracle On Ice
On February 22nd 1980, the United States hockey team took the ice against the Soviet Union in what was sure to be another blowout. PSYCHE!
The Soviets scored 10 minutes into the game to take a 1-0 lead, and at that point panic must have been setting in. That is until Buzz Schneider blasted one past Vladislav Tretyak to tie it up at 1. Three minutes later the Commies scored again to take a 2-1 lead. Team USA would not go down like that though. As the seconds in the first period ticked away, a shot was put on net but saved by Tretyak. However, Mark Johnson was skating in from the bench and caught Tretyak off guard to put the rebound in before time expired tying the game at 2 and the end of the first period.
At this point it really seemed possible. People really believed that this group of college hockey players could upset the Soviets.
Going into the second period the Soviet coach, Viktor Tikhonov, shockingly pulled star goalie Tretyak. This didn’t mean much as the US got shut out in the second period while the Soviets took the lead 3-2 heading into the third and final period.
Mark Johnson struck first in the third period scoring a power play goal to tie the game at 3. What happened in the next 5 minutes would shock the whole fucking world!
Mike Eruzione, coming straight off the bench, fielded a pass from Mark Pavelich and sniped one right past Vladimir Myshkin to give the US their first lead of the game.
At this point the United States led the Soviet Union 4-3 with 10 minutes left in the game. How in the world would team USA hold that lead for 10 minutes?!
JIM FUCKING CRAIG! That’s how!
Craig made 36 saves in this game. He was the best player in the ice and he is one of the main reasons this upset was able to happen. Team USA only took 16 shots all game. Craig faced more than double that and he was a brick wall all night long!
The rest is history and if you haven’t seen or heard the video above than do yourself a favor and watch it.
Obviously, Team USA would go on to defeat Finland for the gold medal. Three weeks prior it seemed impossible that the 7th ranked team in the world could accomplish the feat. Alas, Herb Brooks and Team USA did it!