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Adams: To Have a Great Beef Stew, It Takes Peas With a Good Attitude

Team building is an incredibly important topic. I hear from leaders all the time about how they want to make their company, their school, their church into a stronger team. One of the reasons I love studying the Miracle on Ice team is that they were one of the greatest examples of total team commitment in U.S. history.

In a way, they were the perfect beef stew.

By the time they got to Lake Placid in February of 1980, team player Bob Suter was slowed by a broken ankle he had suffered months earlier. Although coach Herb Brooks kept him on the team because of his fire, he did not play Suter in this historic game vs the Soviets because he felt he could not keep up with their blistering speed. Helmut Balderis was the fastest hockey skater in the world. Slava Fetisov could skate backwards faster than mortals could forward. Sergei Makarov was the best lateral skater in the world.

Herb did not play backup goalie Steve Janaszak the entire Olympics, even though he was 1st Team All America. Herb rode Jim Craig at goalie the whole way. Where Herb was smart was that before he got to Lake Placid, he told Janaszak that there was a strong chance he would not play, which was clear communication. He didn’t like not playing, but Herb clearly explained himself.

Neither Suter or Janaszak did one thing to upset team chemistry. They could have moped and muttered and poisoned waters, but Janaszak sharpened teammates skates between periods, timed shifts and was the ultimate team player. Suter never caused one iota of friction either even though he did a slow burn inside when not playing vs the Soviets.

Bob Suter
Bob Suter
Steve Janaszak
Steve Janaszak

Which led to this conversation between the two, with Suter initiating it:

“Jany, you know what we are?” “No, Sutes, what are we?”

“We’re the peas in beef stew.”

“What are you talking about?”

“We’re just here to make them look good.”

unnamed-2What a wonderful analogy. Every team in corporate, educational and church circles could be compared to a beef stew. You are going to have your people with larger titles and they would be the big pieces of meat. You are going to have those on the so called next tier, and they could be the bright orange carrots or the thick potatoes.

And then you have your peas, and when your peas are like Bob Suter and Steve Janaszak, you have a chance to be an Olympic stew. There is not a single organization in the world that cannot function without their peas. When I was in Television News all those years you could say the main anchors were the pieces of stew and the weather man was the carrot and me as the sports guy was the pea. Sports was not a high priority in the scheme of things on local TV News, but I tried to be the best pea I could be (sounds like a nursery rhyme…)

In extensive research of how that 1980 Olympic hockey team was able to become so remarkably close I have found that the things leader Mike Eruzione came up with, and their ability to give each other grief were instrumental in their success.

The Miracle on Ice team was fortunate to have had Eruzione as their captain. I believe he was one of the most unique and effective leaders of the 20th century. He far transcended sports by bringing this team together as they would galvanize a hurting nation. There was a reason the day after the Olympics IBM signed him to a $30,000 speaking contract (this was 1980 and the most his dad Jeep had earned in a year as maintenance man was $13,000) and that he has been in demand as a speaker for 35 years since – with bookings already years into the future.

unnamed-3By the time the 1980 Miracle on Ice team got to Lake Placid, they were a tight bunch that could give each other grief. Eruzione would initiate a “The Waltons” chorus of good nights at the Olympic Village.

unnamedTeam player John Harrington recently recalled the story:

“We were out in the Olympic Village, and we were in trailer homes … and the walls were like paper thin. We had four guys in each of those, and they were tight to one another. And you could hear who was in the next trailer because the walls were so thin.

I know Mike Eruzione claims it was after the Russian game. I said, there’s no way. It had to have been after the Finland (gold medal game 2 days after Russian game) game, but I somehow snuck my girlfriend at the time – who is my wife now – snuck her into the Olympic Village.

She was in the room with me, and every night because the walls were so thin we could say, “Good night, Pav. Good night, John. Good night, Buzz. Good night, John. Good night, Mark. Good night, Pav.” This and that. “Good night, Mike. Good night, John.’

And that night, Mike goes, “Good night, Mary.”

And you hear this little voice, “Good night, Mike.” My wife was in there, and we still laugh about that now because you talk about how tough it was to get in the Olympic Village and everything, and I had snuck my girlfriend at the time into the Olympic Village. And everybody knew it on our team.

I always think back and go, ‘That was a pretty funny moment.’ And my wife obviously gets embarrassed when I tell that story, but it’s good.”

This team was always up to practical jokes, that when done right are a good way of keeping a group loose. Like the story of The Christmas Tree.

unnamed-4Around Christmas of 1979, there was a sort of tune-up tournament in Lake Placid. Rob McClanahan and Mark Johnson were sharing a room and decided to be festive and decorate and get a little Christmas tree. All was well… until the tree mysteriously vanished. And Mac completely flipped out about it (because he was a touch high-strung).

Nobody knew who had taken it, but clues were written on the blackboard in the locker room every day for a week. At the end of that week, someone spotted something floating in the late that looked suspiciously like the missing tree. Mac flipped out again, providing some great entertainment for his teammates, but that was the end of it. The trail went cold. The mystery went unsolved for 35 years, with no suspects. But that all changed when Miracle on Ice player Dave Christian got on Twitter earlier this year with Darci Miller, who has researched the Miracle on Ice thoroughly.

Darci: Hi Dave, your teammates have been calling you out as the biggest prankster on that team. Care to confirm/deny?

Dave Christian: I will plead the fifth!!!

Darci: Dave, what was your biggest prank?

Dave Christian: Allegedly, …. it involved a Christmas Tree. It is still under investigation 35 years later!

Darci: Oh, man, you may have just pleaded the Fifth, but I think you just answered loud and clear!

Dave Christian: It has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt!


Charlie-Adams-e1378206959986-150x150Born in Oxford and educated at Ole Miss, Charlie Adams is a motivational speaker who specializes in sharing the fascinating back story of Lake Placid and the Miracle on Ice. His 90 minute to 2-hour presentation is filled with patriotism, the American dream, and the power of team. It is delivered to corporate, educational and church audiences. He can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com.

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
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