All these years later, Dave Christian is still quick with a smile when asked about the signature moment of his hockey life — the amazing Miracle on Ice triumph over the Soviet Union.
"In sports in general, everyone roots for the underdog, which we certainly were an underdog," Christian said Saturday afternoon at a press conference prior to a reunion celebration of the gold medal-winning 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. "We were aware of the political situation in the world, but in a lot of respects for us it truly was a game, a great challenge.
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"We were up against what at that time was considered one of the best teams that had been put together," Christian said. "So in that respect it was just a game. I think it gave people the sense of feeling good. You can’t help but smile."
Every living member of the hockey team was expected to return Saturday night to Lake Placid for a "Relive the Miracle" reunion at Herb Brooks Arena, the hockey rink on Main Street they made famous with one of the most memorable upsets in sports history.
Missing will be Brooks, the Hall of Fame coach who was killed in a car accident in 2003, and rugged defenseman Bob Suter, who died at age 57 in September.
Festivities were to include audio, video and still pictures, as well as a discussion of the game with the players. Suter’s jersey will be raised to the rafters as a tribute.
"Bobby was a great player and a great person," said 60-year-old Mike Eruzione, who scored the winner against the Soviet Union in the medal round. "He did a lot for hockey. We all realize that at some point we’re going to move on, but nobody thought that Bobby would not be with us. He was a special teammate, a special person and clearly will be missed. We’ll be kind of sad when we see the jersey up there."
Do you believe in miracles? Yes! The U.S. hockey team celebrates after a 4-3 victory against the Soviets.
NBC also plans to anchor its "Hockey Day in America" coverage from Lake Placid on Sunday and feature the team.
The U.S. took the lead on Friday, Feb. 22, 1980, against the powerful Soviets on Eruzione’s goal midway through the third period. It was the last goal of the game as U.S. goalie Jim Craig stood tall in net.
The Americans finished the 4-3 upset to the sound of broadcaster Al Michaels’ call of, "Do you believe in miracles?" Two days later, the U.S. rallied to beat Finland 4-2 for the gold in a game the Americans had to win just to medal.
For Eruzione, who works in alumni relations at Boston University, his winning goal and the team’s improbable gold medal changed his life. He said he deals "with it so often it’s hard to believe it’s been 35 years" because every week he’s doing something or going somewhere that’s associated with 1980.
"The real story for me was they only scored three goals," Eruzione said. "Throughout the tournament, they were scoring seven, eight, nine goals a game. Not only was Jimmy (Craig) solid, actually, the defense and the defensemen were outstanding in that game."
When the U.S. won the gold, it was a time of world strife. The Soviet army had just invaded Afghanistan as the Cold War simmered, a group of Americans was being held hostage in Iran, the U.S. economy was hurting, and President Jimmy Carter already had announced a U.S. boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow.
Team USA went on to beat Finland to win the gold medal.
The sociopolitical impact of that era has since faded. The memory of that February night 35 years ago in Lake Placid has not.
"I’ve played on a lot of teams, and this is the best team, the closest team I ever played on," Neal Broten said. "As a younger guy, I looked up to all these guys. It was a privilege and honor for me to represent our country with these guys and do what we did."