I remember it vividly. On Friday night my parents let me stay up late to watch the USA-USSR ice hockey game at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. I was never a big hockey fan, but I spent many afternoons after school playing hockey on the ice at Masar Park in my hometown of Montville, New Jersey. I couldn’t skate very well, but I could play goalie in shoes.
I watched most of ABC’s coverage of the 1980 Olympic Games. By the last Friday of the games–the night of the USA-USSR hockey contest– I had memorized the names of all the USA players. (To this day I can tell you that Steve Janaszak was the back-up goalie. He never played a minute). I had a notebook with stats from all their previous wins (and the opening game tie with Sweden). Now here I was, sitting in front of the television with a tape recorder to watch what would soon become one of the greatest upsets in sports history. For the next few years I played that cassette tape over and over again, listening to Al Michaels deliver one of the greatest calls in sports history–ERUZIONE, MIKE ERUZIONE!… DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES? YES! (And then Ken Dryden quietly uttering in the background–“unbelievable.”).
On Sunday morning, the game against Finland, we did not go to mass. Instead the entire family gathered in the living room to watch the United States gold medal victory.
On Monday, I was back on the ice at Masar Park. I was Jim Craig! This was the start of my training for the 1984 games. I thought I had a legitimate shot of making the team. I just needed to work hard.
Later that week I wrote an essay on hockey in my English class. It was the first time that anything I ever wrote was read in front of the class as a model of good writing. Mrs. Quiroz liked the essay’s passion and the way I peppered the narrative with the words of Al Michaels. (If the hockey thing did not work out, I was definitely going to be a sportscaster).
On Thursday I received my copy of Sports Illustrated with the gold-medal winning hockey team on the cover. (Thanks to my Aunt Pat, I had been receiving Sports Illustrated since I was six-years old). The next week Jim Craig was on the cover of the magazine in his Atlanta Flames jersey, the start of short and uneventful NHL “career.”
About twelve years later I would write articles on the Lake Placid games for the Historical Dictionary of the Modern Olympic Games.
I think I made fifty bucks and got a free copy of the dictionary. I would never have pursued this writing opportunity if it were not for the 1980 games.
I could go on and on about the way that the 1980 Olympic Hockey team inspired me, a kid growing up as a sports fan at the end of the Cold War. And perhaps I will get a chance to pontificate some more, especially after reading that Jim Craig is soliciting people to share their memories of the U.S. Olympic Hockey team for a forthcoming book. (I doubt my story is sensational enough, but it is worth a shot).
I also remember the Lake Placid Miracle on Ice vividly. I was in college at St Olaf in Minnesota, which is prime hockey country. I remember the whole dorm being absolutely silent except for the sounds of each room's TV; that is, until an American goal was scored and the whole pace went up for grabs…
And your post reminded me again of *my* most inspiring Olympic memory, it was just four years earlier: Franz Klammer's amazing all-out downhill run at the '76 Innsbruck Winter Olympics. While it didn't inspire me to something quite as positive as a writing career, it was instrumental in my choice a few years later to 'go west young man' and be a ski-bum :).