October 2, 2015 – In addition to my Art of Sport feature with New Jersey Devils head coach John Hynes (see blog entry below), the October Issue of Yankees Magazine includes a Q&A with the man who authored one of the single most dramatic moments in sports history.
Thirty-five years ago, Mike Eruzione gave the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team a 4-3 lead over the heavily-favored Soviet Union squad with 10 minutes left in the first of two medal-round games. The United States held on to win that game and then captured the gold medal two days later against Finland. For the captain of America’s iconic team, that goal was life-changing, and I was proud to interview Eruzione in Boston this summer.
As if breaking bread with Eruzione wasn’t great enough, the location of our lunch made the experience even better. Eruzione agreed to meet me at Beantown’s famous Union Oyster House, which holds the distinction of being America’s oldest restaurant.
The symbolism didn’t end there. Thanks to the gracious management of the restaurant, we sat at the most famous booth in the Union Oyster House, a table that President John F. Kennedy referred to as his favorite and which he sat at frequently, even on a few Election Days.
Much of our conversation was about the 1980 Olympics, and I was fascinated by every part of it, including when Eruzione spoke about the night before the game against the Soviets in Lake Placid, New York.
“I missed curfew,” Eruzione said. “My father, my cousin, my high school football coach and three other friends drove from Boston to Lake Placid in a Winnebago for the game. I had a state police officer take me to the campsite they were at, and I had a few beers and hamburgers. The police officer brought me back to the Olympic Village at about 10:30, and I hung out with Jim Craig and Bill Baker for a little while.”
Eruzione also revealed when the magnitude of the game against the Soviets sunk in for him.
“When we walked into the locker room, there were bags of mail with telegrams in them, and I’ll always remember one that I got from a lady in Texas,” Eruzione said. “It read, ‘Beat those [communists].’ It had nothing to do with the hockey game, but that made me realize that this was bigger than a hockey game for people in this country. To me, it was a hockey game, but our country was looking for something to feel good about because of the hostages, the troubling economy and the gas shortage. We were tired of people losing faith in our country.”
As our conversation turned to the gold medal game — in which the United Stated defeated Finland two days after they shocked the Soviets — Eruzione shared what I think was the best anecdote in the conversation. It epitomized the spirit of the team and their late head coach, Herb Brooks.
“As great as the Soviet victory was, we didn’t go to the Olympics to win one game,” Eruzione said. “Our dream was to win the gold medal. I will never forget being in the locker room before the third period of the Finland game. We were losing 2-1. Herb walked in and said, “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your [freaking] graves.” Then he walked to the door, stopped and said, “Your [freaking] graves.” He was so right. After having come that far, worked that hard and accomplished so much, if we had let it skip away, it would have stayed with us forever. We went out and played the best 20 minutes of hockey in the Olympics, scored three goals and won 4-2.”
To read the rest of this special Q&A feature, grab a copy of the October Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III