Thirty years ago today, the 'Miracle on Ice' happened. A group of kids, mostly from Minnesota, took on the best hockey team in the world, and beat them. Where were you? I remember living in northern Minnesota (East Grand Forks, home of the Green Wave) at the time, and for us, it was more than a game. If you'll remember, a majority of these kids were from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and a majority of those kids were from places like Evelyth, Warroad, and Roseau, MN. Spots on the map for most, but mythical high school hockey programs from High School Section 8, of which East Grand Forks was a part of. For those of you who are just Vikings fans and have no connection to Minnesota other than the Vikings, please indulge me a few minutes. For those of you older guys who are from Minnesota, especially northern Minnesota, follow me back home to early 1980, for just a few minutes, right after the jump.
These kids were also from places like Babbitt and Virginia, MN. They were also from Madison, WI, and Flint, MI. Yes, Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig were from Massacussets, and just as American and just as youthful as our guys. But Neal Broten, Dave Christian, Mark Pavelich and company were us. They are us. And they put the collective angst, hopes, and dreams of a nation that had their teeth kicked in on the International Stage on their midwestern shoulders...their mostly Minnesota shoulders, and took us on a ride that has gone into history books as The Greatest Upset in the History of Sports.
For those of you from Minnesota, you know we have this collective inferiority complex, for a multitude of reasons. Not counting the Minneapolis Lakers, the state only has two professional sports championships, and the last one was damn near twenty years ago. In 1980, we had none. The Minnesota Vikings were a franchise on the downside of glory, never having scaled the summit. The Twins had only been to one World Series, losing to the Dodgers in 1965. The Lakers had been in LA for over 20 years; the North Stars were an average team in a 21 team NHL. And Gopher football was part of the 'Little Eight' when the Big 10 was at the zenith of the 'Big 2/Little 8' era.
But we had Gopher hockey. To me, and to many kids in northern Minnesota who lived and breathed hockey on outdoor rinks, the Gophers were Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame all rolled into one. There had been national championships in 1974, 1976, and 1979, and the head coach, Herb Brooks, selected a lot of Minnesota kids when he selected the players for Team USA. We felt that this was essentially a Minnesota amateur All Star team, in a lot of ways, and we were proud that they were going to represent our whole country in the Olympics. Yeah, there were Boston kids on the roster, but at it's core this was a Minnesota team. Minnesota, the State of Hockey long before it got coined that by the Wild.
We weren't expecting much; it was cool that so many Minnesota guys were on the Olympic team, but then they started winning. They tied Sweden, kicked the hell out of Czechoslovakia, and steamrolled all the way to the game against the Soviet Union. I won't go into the politics of the game here, but this was the most important sporting event in my lifetime, and nothing, not even a VIkings Super Bowl championship, will be as significant. The overtones and implications of this game can't be over-emphasized. I remember living and dying with every second, and when we won, we all met down at the rink and played hockey.
It's not often I say 'we' when referring to a team and a game, because I am no part a more of the 'we' than my dog when compared to the team. But this was different; those kids were us. Same part of the country, skating on many of the same outdoor rinks we were skating on. Not surprisingly, everyone wanted to be Dave Christioan, Neal Broten, or Mark Johnson. We hooped and hollered and re-created the game. Because I was the worst skater, I got to be the goalie...Steve Janaszsak. Yeah, Jim Craig was the hero for most of the country, but Janny was my favorite player on the squad, as he was the goalie for the Gopher hockey team.
This game resonated with the rest of the country, but it has an almost mythical meaning to those of us who grew up in Northern Minnesota and had to suffer the indignities of Minnesota sports up until that point. They beat the Russians!
WE beat the Russians!
We did it. Thirty years ago today, a group of mostly Minnesota kids slayed the Russian Bear and gave Minnesota, and the country, it's greatest sports victory.