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Adams: Emotions Stir 35 Years after the Miracle

Sunday evening, the Empire State Building in New York City lit up in red, white and blue to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Adams blog
Photo courtesy of Charlie Adams blog

On February 22nd, 1980 a group of 20 young men, primarily from small towns and barely above low income homes, defeated the greatest hockey team ever assembled 4-3 in Lake Placid at the 1980 Winter Olympics. They led our ailing nation to believe in ourselves again, and to realize with hard work, love for one another, and brilliant leadership, there is nothing we cannot overcome or nothing we cannot accomplish.

For the first time since 1980, all surviving members were back in Lake Placid this past weekend. Thousands from around America came to the vaunted arena where it happened, to chant USA USA one more time.

unnamed-1Al Michaels, now 70, was 35 when he announced their games. He has said that never has the national anthem been sung with such passion as it was at the gold medal ceremony in 1980. This past Saturday evening, the players once again honored the flag as thousands sang with them.

unnamed-2Love and trust in one another led that team to historic heights, and being ultimate team players. They were a team of big egos but with no ego problems. Saturday, starting goalie Jim Craig and backup Steve Janaszak had an emotional hug. Though he had been a 1st team All America in college, Janaszak never played a second in Lake Placid. Coach Herb Brooks went with Jim Craig the whole way. Deep down it hurt Janny, but he never complained, and during intermissions of games he would humbly sharpen the skates of teammates, like Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.

unnamed-5“No one was more important on that team,” said Mike Eruzione.

There were players like Mark Pavelich (far right) who 3 years before the Olympics had accidentally shot and killed his best friend. He went through tremendous heartbreak, but somehow kept going, made the team, and made the pass to Eruzione that led to the 4-3 win over the Soviets. Many years later, happily married and having built their Minnesota dream home together, he lost his wife when she fell from the 2nd floor searching for cell service. Reclusive, he made the drive to Lake Placid, NY from his home in Oregon with his 2 dogs in his pickup. Why? Because he knew he needed to be there, and for love of his team.

unnamed-3Their story continues to grow. Mark Wells, seen below, had grown up playing in the small skating center in St. Claire Shores, Michigan. Like all the players, he received a parade after the Olympics and the mayor at the time promised to rename the arena after him.

unnamed-4The picture below is of the ceremony where the promise was made. To show you how much City Hall screwed things up, Wells brought back a priceless stick signed by all 20 players and coach Herb Brooks (the value on that today would be six figures). City Hall lost the stick.

unnamed-6(1980 St Claire Shores, Michigan – via Associated Press)

As can happen in politics, the promise to name the rink after him did not happen. The decades went by and it hurt Wells. Not as much, though, as a horrific degenerative back condition that left him bed ridden for 9 years. Wells forged forward, and after many surgeries can now somewhat get around. In March of last year, the new mayor, Kip Waldy, did some digging and saw the oversight. He went to work and called Wells up and said he was so sorry the rink had not been renamed after him. Wells sobbed. It wasn’t a big rink, but for a kid that grew up 5’7″ always being told he was too short, and who had to walk on in college, to make that Miracle team meant the world to him. To go all those years wondering why they never named the rink after him hurt, but here was this new mayor fixing it!

unnamed-7It has been hard for the entire team to get back together as one since 1980 but one reason they did this past weekend was mortality. They lost their first teammate, Bob Suter, to a heart attack at age 57 this past September.

Saturday night, with thousands chanting USA, USA, they raised Suter’s number to the hallowed rafters at Herb Brooks Arena.

unnamed-8Coach Herb Brooks, extremely intelligent with degrees in psychology and economics, built a team of very smart players, including Jack O’Callahan who Harvard had gone after for his academic abilities. Today, these players – average age 57 – are commercial airline pilots, bank presidents, oral surgeons, investment managers and doing very well.

unnamed-9Many, like Mike Eruzione, above, are grandpa’s. Their sense of humor is still intact. “When we see each other,” said Eruzione Saturday, “we don’t talk so much about the Olympics but more about each others families and how they are doing….who’s fat, bald…divorced.”

Eruzione said after the 1980 Games the mail he got was like that final scene in Miracle on 34th Street when Santa gets all his mail. Eruzione still gets 50 letters a week and continues to be in constant demand as a speaker. He also continues to deflect praise and honor others.

“I think miracles are some of the things our doctors and medical people do,” said Eruzione. “Miracles are firemen going into burning buildings and what our first responders did at 911.”

While the famous call of ‘do you believe in miracles?’ by Al Michaels and Disney naming the Kurt Russell movie ‘Miracle,’ one of the main reasons I have built my program is that what they did was earned, and their are powerful life lessons in it for us all.

“It was not a miracle,” said Buzz Schneider this weekend. “It was one heckuva upset, but it was not a miracle.”

What they did in their 7 month journey from July of 1979 to February of 1980 remains one of the greatest examples that we as individuals and organizations are capable of accomplishing anything and overcoming anything.

unnamed-10The 1980 US Olympic hockey team, gold medal winners, back in the enchanted village of Lake Placid.



Peak Performance speaker Charlie Adams is a 1980 grad of Lafayette High who is an Ole Miss alum. His new motivational keynote More Than a Miracle is a powerful description of the greatest moment in United Sports history. He shares how a group of college kids upset the best team in hockey history in Lake Placid in the winter of 1980, and galvanized America along the way.

“I literally had to choke back tears about 5 times during this Talk. Now I now feel as if I can do anything! ANYTHING!!” – Christopher Pataro, lawyer

“As powerful a motivational talk as I have heard in 40 years.” – Bob Bayliss, former tennis coach at Notre Dame and Navy

Charlie can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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