Wednesday

Jim Craig

It remains one of the most striking images in Olympic history: goalie Jim Craig, draped in the American flag, frantically scanning the stands, searching through the ecstatic hometown crowd. They were cheering euphorically because Team USA had just knocked off Finland to clinch the 1980 Olympic gold medal in hockey.

At the time no one knew what Craig was looking for. But the triumphant pose screamed "America standing proud."

It was a significant statement made in troubled times, as the American people badly needed a lift. Four months earlier Iranian militants had taken over the US embassy in Tehran and held the Americans hostage and an international political stare down with the Russians ensued. On the home front it was a winter of discontent as inflation and unemployment reached staggering levels.

Yes, the Americans needed some heroes in the worst way. They found them in the United States Olympic hockey team.

The masked Craig was in many ways the face of the team, but never more so than when the goaltender desperately was seeking his father's face in the audience. He wanted to celebrate this glorious moment with his dad.

The 4-2 win over Finland gave the Americans the gold medal, but the actual "Miracle on Ice" happened two days earlier when this band of college students shocked the Soviet Union, the best hockey team in the world and a symbolic figure of the Russian might.

The Soviets and Americans were still at odds politically, although the threat of nuclear war subsided a bit. Times were tough for the American people though, as jobs were scarce and prices were high.

On the ice the Soviets had improved incredibly in 20 years, becoming the unquestioned best team in the world. They regularly defeated the best professionals the National Hockey League could throw at them.

Meanwhile the Americans were heavy underdogs, as suggested when they lost 10-3 to the Soviets just 4 days before the Lake Placid Olympics began.

The Americans found their confidence with a squeaker of a victory over Sweden before rolling over Czechoslovakia, Norway, Romania and West Germany.

But the game against the Soviets was the defining moment of the Olympics. The Americans finished the first period tied with the Soviets at 2-2, a minor miracle in itself, especially considering Mark Johnson's last second goal. The Soviet coaches were not pleased, and responded by curiously pulling star goalie Vladislav Tretiak from the game, replacing him with young Vladimir Myshkin.

The Russians seemed to have righted themselves in the second, taking a 3-2 lead into the intermission. The Americans were still happy, to be down only 1 goal after 2 periods was still a major accomplishment.

Something funny happened in the third period. Johnson scored his second of the game to knot the score at 3. Just 90 seconds late Mike Eruzione fired a screened shot past Myshkin to give the Americans a 4-3 lead.

Thanks to Craig's fine goaltending, the Americans hung on, and unthinkably defeated the Russians. Cue ABC's play by play man Al Michaels:

"Do you believe in miracles?" The nation became euphoric, celebrating an Olympic victory in a sport that in many parts of the country was still quite foreign.

Team USA still had to win one more time to capture the gold medal. Like in 1960, the opposition, this time Finland, jumped out to a 2-1 lead after two periods, again setting the stage for an American rally. Phil Verchota, Rob McClanahan and Mark Johnson all scored to secure the gold medal.

Bedlam ensued. Players raced from the bench onto the ice to embrace one another. Fans tumbled onto the ice to wave flags and high five anyone they could find.

And there, in the middle of it all, stood the flag-draped Craig, searching for his father in the stands.It remains one of the most striking images in Olympic history: goalie Jim Craig, draped in the American flag, frantically scanning the stands, searching through the ecstatic hometown crowd. They were cheering euphorically because Team USA had just knocked off Finland to clinch the 1980 Olympic gold medal in hockey.

At the time no one knew what Craig was looking for. But the triumphant pose screamed "America standing proud."

1 comment:

Smulan said...

Well you need to get the facts right. USA did not beat Sweden, it actually was a tie (2-2). Where Team USA tied the game with only 27 seconds left of the game. I saw that game on TV so I remember it very well.

The Swedish team had future NHLs
like
G Pelle Lindbergh (Flyers)
D Tomas Jonsson (Islanders)
D Thomas Eriksson (Flyers)
F Mats Naslund (Canadiens, Bruins)
F Bengt Lundholm (Jets)
F Lars Molin (Canucks)

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