“Do you believe in miracles?” This question has had a special place in our hearts ever since the 1980 Olympics. And so has Captain of Team USA, Mike Eruzione who came to speak at Penn State University the other night. For the hour he spoke, he had the audience captivated and laughing with stories of his coach, teammates, and everything along the way.
Comparing the Miracles
Anyone under the age of thirty probably knows the “Miracle on Ice” story best by the Disney portrayal, “Miracle”. When asked about some of the significant differences, Eruzione’s first comment was that Coach Herb Brooks was much friendlier in the movie than in real life. Yikes. He said they showed his “softer side” in the film and proceeded to list some memorable quotes*. He continued on to say that the movie was “about 85 to 90 percent accurate” and that it captured the closeness of the team well. As far as the actors go, Hollywood used actual hockey players and taught them to act (instead of vice-versa) so the hockey scenes were “dead on,” said Eruzione.
The Real Story
“I’m gonna bring you back to the beginning.” This began Mike Eruzione’s story of the road to the gold. Once Coach Herb Brooks selected the 26 players for his team, they traveled to Europe to get accustomed to the larger ice that the Olympic Games would be played on. After beating all the mediocre teams they came across, they eventually played Norway. They tied them 3-3, and Herb Brooks was not happy.
After the game he kept his players on the ice to sprint “Herbies” as the team called them (sometimes referred to as “suicides”). “We named them after our coach,” Mike Eruzione said sarcastically. “‘Cause we loved them so much.” Herb Brooks said they would skate again if they performed the same way the next morning. Well, the next morning they beat Norway 8-0. According to Eruzione, the reason they skated that night wasn’t because they didn’t win.
“We skated because we forgot the value of respect. What Herb would tell us is this: ‘respect yourself or you will not be successful, respect your competition or you will not be successful, and respect your teammates… or you will not be successful.’ We never made that mistake again,” he ended.
Right before the Olympics started, they took on the Soviets at Madison Square Garden. They lost 10-3 but the game helped them immensely in the long run. They understood what they were going up against. And they would be a completely different team the second time around.
Eruzione remembered picking up a newspaper later and seeing a quote from Herb Brooks that said, “I knew we were in trouble when the Soviets were being introduced; my players were applauding them.”
After getting through their first two Olympic games, their third was against Norway. At the end of the first period, USA was down 0-1, and yet again, Herb Brooks was not happy. He yelled for them to play like a team, support each other, and help each other. This prompted David Silk to stand up in front of the locker room and say to teammate Eric Strobel, “Eric, I love the way you wear your hair.”
The rest is history. Mike Eruzione didn’t spend much time talking about the Soviet game. The one thing he did say was that it was just a game for them, the real game was against Finland. If they lost or tied that game, they could have ended in fourth and not gotten a medal. Eruzione said, “if [they] lost to Finland, the Soviet game is irrelevant.”
Life Before the Olympics
Mike Eruzione’s story isn’t one you’d expect of someone so successful. He didn’t know he wanted to play ice hockey at a high level. He didn’t put every waking hour into improving his game. If you asked him as a third-grader what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would have probably told you a football player. Eruzione played three sports when he was younger. Football was always his “passion” and he also played baseball. Ice hockey was just for winter time when the tennis courts froze over. Talk about natural talent, eh?
His plans didn’t even involve attending Boston University, either. One day, his friend asked him to play a summer game of hockey with them. At the game, one of the referees was Jack Parker (BU coach at the time) who asked him to join the BU team. And on behalf of United States of America, I say thank you to Mr. Parker and whoever asked Mike to play a quick game that day.
Life After the Olympics
When asked why he didn’t go on the play in the NHL, he said that he had “no doubt” that he could have, but it would have only been for a few years. He said that he has been more than happy coaching and working at his Alma Mater, Boston University.
When Mike Eruzione was asked about his proudest moment, he had trouble settling on just one. He took us through a few that were at the top of his list: Lighting the cauldron at the Salt Lake City Olympics, earning the title of the “#1 Sports Moment of the 20th Century”, being named captain of the team, scoring the winning goal in the Soviet game, and raising the flag after they won the gold. Despite all of those, he ended with marching in the opening ceremony. “Because if you never get there,” he said. “None of the other things are gonna happen.”
Towards the end of his speech, Eruzione emphasized the intangible skills that made them so successful. They had heart and determination, but above all else, they believed in themselves and each other. They believed they could accomplish something that no one in the world thought was possible. In Mike Eruzione’s words. “It wasn’t a miracle. We weren’t lucky… It was a process.”
*Herb Brooks Quotes:
- “You’re playing worse and worse every day and right now you’re playing like it’s next month.”
- “You look like you have a five pound fart on your head.”
- “Great moments are born from great opportunities.”
- “This team isn’t talented enough to win on talent alone.”
- “Throw the puck back and weave, weave, weave. But don’t just weave for the sake of weaving.” (huh?)
- “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”