Mike Eruzione – have you ever heard of him?
Let me help. Mike was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, on October 25, 1944. At 5 feet 10 and 180 pounds, he was not an imposing athlete, even in his prime. A college hockey player, his dream was to play in the NHL. But he was drafted by the WHA, not the NHL. The WHA (World Hockey Association) was a fledgling league that never competed successfully with the NHL. And Mike never even made it to the WHA. His professional career played out in the minor hockey leagues of the IHL and AHL, where he played left wing for the Toledo Goaldiggers and Philadelphia Firebirds. He was cut from the Firebirds in 1980, and his professional career was over.
But that’s where history begins.
Because Eruzione was no longer a pro, he could try out for the American amateur hockey team, going against college players for a spot on the team. Mike made the team and was elected captain, based on his seasoned age in the midst of players barely out of high school.
That amateur hockey team is better known as the Olympic team. They played in Lake Placid, New York. It was there that the unthinkable became reality – 37 years ago today.
In the medal round, or semi-finals, the American team came up against the vaunted Russian team, many of whom were NHL All-Stars and award-winning veterans. It was the ultimate David vs. Goliath.
On this day, David won.
It was never supposed to happen. This would be like a mid-level college football team beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The American team beating the Russians and then winning the gold medal (which they did two days later) would be the ultimate feel-good story.
And yet, it happened.
In the final period, the scored was tied, 3-3. Then Mike Eruzione scored the winning goal. And at the sound of the final horn, legendary broadcaster Al Michaels asked, “Do you believe in miracles?” And the term “Miracle on Ice” was birthed.
You know the names of the greats of American sports history: Ruth, Ali, Jordan, and Unitas. But you didn’t know Mike Eruzione’s name.
And here’s the lesson – country above person. That’s it. We remember that the Americans beat the Russians. We don’t care who scored the winning goal. Credit goes to the team.
And that’s how it should be. When one man becomes bigger than the team or country, we have lost our way. “Miracle on Ice” will live forever in the hearts and minds of all who were of age in 1980. The names may be forgotten, but not the event. For that one day on ice, 37 years ago, America was #1.
That’s all that mattered then. And that’s all that matters now.