40 Years Ago, the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team Made Us Believe in Miracles

The story sounds like the stuff of movies. So much, in fact, that it later became one. On one side, you had the most powerful force in their sport, a team of professionals known for their ability to crush everyone in their path. On the other, a group of college students untested in international play, primed to meet an opponent that should soundly beat them in convincing fashion. But that’s not what happened. 40 years ago, the U.S. Olympic hockey team rode an improbable streak into battle against the powerhouse Soviet Union. What resulted was one of the greatest games ever played, capped by perhaps the greatest broadcasting call in the history of sports. But it still wasn’t over. Here are five things you should know about the Miracle on Ice, including the fact that it wasn’t the Gold Medal game.

1. The Soviet Team Was a Monster

Going into the 1980 games, the Soviet team had won the gold in five of the last six Olympics. In fact, the team reigned as the preeminent power in international hockey from 1954 until the U.S.S.R’s dissolution, with 22 International Ice Hockey Federation gold medals between 1954 and 1990. The Soviet players were technically professionals, but their clubs were arranged in such a way that their player status didn’t exactly violate International Olympic Committee rules. That meant that other countries were fielding amateur athletes while the Soviets were using veteran players with long histories and superstar status.

2. Herb Brooks Was Born to Play (and Coach) Hockey

U.S. coach Herb Brooks won a state hockey championship as a high school student. He played in college for the University of Minnesota, but was the last player cut from the 1960 Olympic squad. However, he went on to play for eight U.S. National and Olympic teams between then and 1970. As a coach, Brooks went back to Minnesota and took the Golden Gophers team to three NCAA titles (1974, 1976, 1979); those achievements led to the offer to take the helm for America.

3. The American Team Was Loaded with Students

(Uploaded to YouTube by YouTube Movies)

Brooks selected several of his own players for the team, as well as players from rival schools that he knew well. The U.S. team was definitely seen as a collection of underdogs who were on a collision course with the Soviet legacy. In order to compete with the Eastern European and Soviet teams, Brooks emphasized conditioning while merging the speedier European play style with the more physical American and Canadian game. He surmised that the team that could endure the Soviet assault might actually overcome them. Brooks named Mike Eruzione from Minnesota rivals Boston University as team captain.

4. The Miracle on Ice

Al Michaels discusses his legendary call. (Uploaded to YouTube by NBC Sports)

The U.S. didn’t exactly have it easy. They had to play seriously powerful teams at every step of the draw. In the first round, they tied Sweden in the opening game, then went on to beat Czechoslovakia, Norway, Romania, and West Germany. As the brackets merged for the final round, the U.S. had to face the U.S.S.R. To the surprise of everyone, the young Americans hung in with the superior-on-paper Soviet team. U.S. goalie Jim Craig put on a heroic performance, stopping 36 of 39 shots. Eruzione scored with 10 minutes left, giving the U.S. a 4-3 lead. As the clock ticked away and the reality of an American victory sank in, broadcaster Al Michaels made the call, saying “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

5. It Took One More Game for Gold

Dave Christian's hockey jersey
The jersey worn by Dave Christian of the Team USA “Miracle on Ice” squad during the 1980 Winter Olympics on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
(Picture by mahfrot; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Despite the wave of good feeling that swept over the country from the improbable win, the U.S. still had another game to go. On February 24, they faced Finland, coming from behind in the third to win 4-2. The game boosted American spirits that had been battered in the wake of a down economy and the Iran Hostage Crisis. Thirteen of the 20 players on the team would play in the NHL, though Eruzione waved off a draft offer from the New York Rangers, saying that he’d achieved all he wanted as a player. Brooks coached the U.S. team again in 2002, taking them to an Olympic silver; unfortunately, he died in a car accident the following year.

Today, 40 years later, the game remains a legend in both the Olympics and hockey in general. Sports Illustrated named the game the Greatest Sports Moment of the 20th Century. Despite an avalanche of awards that includes multiple Emmys, Al Michaels refers to his “miracle” call as the highlight of his career. He recreated those famous words in Miracle, the 2004 Disney film about the 1980 team, which stars Kurt Russell as Brooks.  After the Olympics began accepting pros in basketball in 1992, hockey followed suit in 1998. The circumstances that made the 1980 win so miraculous may no longer exist, but the memory, and that call, will last forever.

Featured image: The Herb Brooks statue in St. Paul, MN. (Sam Wagner / Shutterstock.com)

Con Watch: 6 Winter Olympics Scams

Steve Weisman is a lawyer, college professor, author, and one of the country’s leading experts in cybersecurity, identity theft, and scams. See Steve’s other Con Watch articles.

Although the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, are still more than a week away, criminals are already using this popular event to cheat people around the world. Once the games actually begin, the scams will only increase. Here are some Olympics-related scams you should be aware of:

1. Championship Check Cheaters. An email that appears to come from the United States Olympic Committee offers to pay you $350 a week to wrap your car with advertising for the Olympic Games and drive around town as usual.

Unsuspecting victims who respond to the email are sent a check for more than the amount to be paid. They are instructed to deposit the check into their bank account and wire the rest back to the company. Unfortunately, the check that the scammer sent was counterfeit. The money that was wired back to the scammer came right out of the victim’s bank account.

A check sent to you that is more than the amount you are owed and comes with a request for you to send back the overpayment amount is always a scam.

2. Gold-Medal Malware. Once the games are underway, many people will receive emails and text messages purporting to contain updates, photos, and videos of Olympic events. Unfortunately, if you click on links or download attachments sent by scammers, you will end up downloading either ransomware or malware that will steal information from your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone and use that information to steal your identity.

Trust me, you can’t trust anyone. Never click on any link or download any attachment unless you are absolutely sure it is legitimate. Even if the address of the sender appears legitimate, the address may have been “spoofed” to appear genuine. You are better off going directly on your own to sources that you know you can trust, such as www.espn.com or NBCOlympics.com, for up-to-date information, photos, and videos.

3. The Sponsor Spoof. It’s difficult to win any lottery, but it’s impossible to win one that you haven’t even entered. Emails that appear to be from Coca-Cola, McDonalds, or any of the other sponsors of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games tell the intended victims that they have just won a huge Olympics-related lottery. All the victim has to do to claim the multi-million-dollar prize is pay some administrative fees or income taxes. This scam is particularly insidious because, while it is true that lottery winnings are subject to income tax, no legitimate lottery collects income taxes on behalf of the IRS. They either deduct the taxes before awarding the prize, or they pay the entire prize to the winner who is then personally responsible for paying the taxes due on the winnings. And no legitimate lottery requires a winner to pay administrative fees.

4. Skating Away with Your Money. Olympics-related merchandise — particularly apparel — is extremely popular. Unfortunately, many websites are selling counterfeit and poor-quality Olympics apparel and other Olympics merchandise.

If you are interested in Team USA merchandise, go to the official Team USA website, where you can shop safely and securely. As always, whenever you shop online, you should use your credit card rather than your debit card because credit cards give you much greater consumer protection if your information is stolen.

5. Malware Slalom. Many people will be turning to apps for all manner of useful information about the Winter Olympics, and there are many legitimate apps available, including the official PyeongChang 2018 app, which is available at the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store. Unfortunately, many other Olympics-related apps appear genuine but are loaded with malware, including keystroke logging malware and ransomware. Many of these tainted apps are found on third-party websites. When downloading apps, stay with authorized stores such as the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store that try to screen for apps containing malware.

6. Social Media Snow Job. Scammers are also turning to social media such as Facebook to send out what purport to be links to photos and videos of amazing Olympic moments, but in truth download malware when the links are clicked. Again, the best course of action is to never click on a link unless you have verified that it is legitimate.