2005-01-07 / Sports

Remembering the 1980 Miracle with Craig Patrick

By Joe McDonald


Catholic saints need three miracles to become canonized and Craig Patrick already has one.

It has been almost 25 years since the United States beat the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics. Over the years that event has become one that transcended sports and became one of the benchmarks of 20th century US history.

For Assistant Coach Craig Patrick and the rest of the team, it was just another game when it was played.

“We had no idea [the magnitude] until we were flown to the White House on Air Force One,” Patrick said in a recent interview. “We showed up at the airport and there was an excited crowd throwing flowers. That’s when it started to sink in.”

The celebration and euphoria of the Olympic win only happened because Head Coach Herb Brooks put a plan together to get a bunch of college all-stars to play as a team. Brooks had Patrick play good cop to the head coach’s bad cop.

“That was definitely the way Herb wanted it,” Patrick said. “The day he hired me he said we have two factions here and he was going to have to bring them together against him. I had to be the one calming the waters for everyone. That was his game plan from day one and he carried it out perfectly.”

Great coaching made the team not only play better, but made them the best conditioned team on in that tournament. Brooks knew all along what was needed for the team to succeed.

“[Herb] was very organized and very, very bright; not only in the world of hockey, but outside the world of hockey,” Patrick said. “His major in college was psychology and he was very good in understanding the human mind; being able to motivate it and manipulate it.”

With a great coach next to him, Patrick took the role of player’s friend and team ombudsman. Patrick got close to the team and as he did; he marveled in the high level of play that they showed.

“I had been away from amateur hockey for a long time, and there was a whole cast of them that were surprises in one way or another to me; in terms of the skill level,” Patrick explained. “It was an eye opening experience for me.”

With some surprising talent, Patrick started to think that the team could win a medal during the games. After all they had a good seven months and started to play stronger.

Then a speed bump happened a few days before the Olympics when Team USA played the Soviets in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden. The Soviets dominated the US in that game and won 10-3.

“The Russians dominated us the first period and a half, but our guys were just in awe; they were watching this great Russian team rather than playing them,” Patrick said. “The second half of the game, we played against them and Herb used that as motivation in our encounter with them in the semi-finals.”

After a few scares in the preliminaries, the faithful game was played on February 22, 1980 at 5 PM. Down 3-2 in the third period, Team USA came back with goals by Mark Johnson and Mike Eruzione. When they took the lead there was still 10 minutes left to play.

“The last ten minutes of that game seemed like three hours,” he said.

The US held off all Soviet threats in those last moments to win one of the biggest upsets in history. The celebration after the game and the win in the finals against Finland put the icing what has been called the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

Those celebrations will live in memory forever.

“Seeing the players jump on the ice after it was over and then seeing them get up on the podium with Mike Eruzione to get the gold medal, were the most memorable moments,” Patrick added.

Over the years the 1980 Olympics has been documented in books, TV specials and movies. Last year, Miracle was released in theatres and had strong reviews. Much like many movies that are based on actual events, there were some liberties taken.

“Hollywood put in things just to emphasize,” Patrick said. “But the overall theme of the movie and obviously the ending were exactly the way it happened.”

It was a miracle in 1980 and it is still a miracle today. Now all Patrick needs is two more.

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