Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 24, 1980: Mission accomplished

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - Herb Brooks was steaming mad. He didn't even know what to say. He was out of inspirational speeches, done with the "you can do it" attitude. The United States hockey team, two days after shocking the Soviet Union, playing with the gold medal on the line, was trailing Finland 2-1 entering the final period.

Everything they had worked for, all the celebrations they had touched off by beating the Soviets, would have been for naught had they lost this game. They could have been shut out of the medals completely had they lost, or at the very least allowed the Soviets to back into a gold. That was unacceptable.

Finally, Brooks thought of what he wanted to say. He stormed back into the locker room and looked around. Then, he spoke: "If you lose this game, you'll take it to your fucking graves." And he walked away.

It wasn't much, but it was direct. And it drove the point home. He didn't need to say anything else. The Americans were ready to play the third period right then and there, not wanting to wait out the rest of the intermission.

The final period the 1980 United States hockey team played together might go down as its best. Inspired by Brooks' message - or was it a threat? - they played a complete period, completely stifiling the Finnish attack. Just 2:25 into the third period, Phil Verchota scored the tying goal on a power play. Three minutes and 40 seconds later, Rob McClanahan gave them the lead, stuffing one home from point-blank range. The fans haven't stopped cheering since.

From there, the result seemed predetermined. When Mark Johnson scored a shorthanded goal with 3:35 left, the Americans' Miracle run was officially complete. They had won their improbable gold medal.

All that was left was the medal ceremony. After the national anthem had been performed, and after the players had received their medals, captain Mike Eruzione turned and called his team up to join him. The seen was chilling, and fitting; 20 men gathered together on a space designed to fit one, celebrating together one final time. The team that had inspired a nation giving everybody one final goosebump moment.

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