For millions of people, their single, lasting image of the Lake
Placid Games will be the infectious joy displayed by the U.S.
hockey team following its 4-3 win over the Soviet Union last Friday
night. It was an Olympian moment, the kind the creators of the
Games must have had in mind, one that said: Here is something that
is bigger than any of you. It was bizarre, it was beautiful.
Upflung sticks slowly cartwheeled into the rafters. The American
players--in pairs rather than in one great glop--hugged and danced
and rolled on one another (see cover).
The Soviet players, slightly in awe, it seemed, of the spectacle of
their defeat, stood in a huddle near their blue line, arms propped
on their sticks, and waited for the ceremonial postgame handshakes
with no apparent impatience. There was no head-hanging. This was
bigger, even, than the Russians.
"The first Russian I shook hands with had a smile on his face,"
said Mark Johnson, who had scored two of the U.S. goals. "I
couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. We beat the
In the streets of Lake Placid and across the country, it was more
of the same. A spontaneous rally choked the streets outside the
Olympic Ice Center, snarling bus traffic for the umpteenth time
since the start of the Games. A sister of one of the U.S. hockey
players--in between cries of "The Russians! I can't believe we beat
the Russians!"--said she hadn't seen so many flags since the '60s.
"And we were burning them then," she added.
So move over, Dallas Cowboys. The fresh-faced U.S. hockey team had
captured the imagination of a country. This was America's Team.
When the score of the U.S.-Soviet game was announced at a high
school basketball game in Athens, Ohio, the fans--many of whom had
probably never seen a hockey game--stood and roared and produced
dozens of miniature American flags. In a Miami hospital, a TV set
was rolled into the surgical intensive care unit and doctors and
nurses cheered on the U.S. between treating gunshot wounds and
reading X-rays. In Atlanta, Leo Mulder, the manager of the Off
Peachtree restaurant, concocted a special drink he called the Craig
Cocktail, after U.S. Goalie Jim Craig, whose NHL rights belong to
the Atlanta Flames. What's in a Craig Cocktail? "Everything but
vodka," Mulder said. Impromptu choruses of the Star-Spangled Banner
were heard in restaurants around Lake Placid, while down in the
U.S. locker room--you still doubt this is America's Team?--the
players leather-lunged their way through God Bless America!
"Someone started it as a joke, I think," said Dave Silk, the right
wing who had set up the tying goal. "But all of a sudden we were
all singing. We got to the part after `land that I love ...' and
nobody knew the words. So we kind of hummed our way to `... from
the mountains, to the prairies ...' and we finished it. It was
Great as it was, there was still a little matter of the gold medal
to take care of. Going into Sunday's game against Finland, it was
possible for any of the four medal-round teams--the U.S., Finland,
Sweden, the U.S.S.R.--to win the gold. Despite its astonishing
string of upsets and its 5-0-1 record, the U.S. wasn't even assured
of a bronze. But America's Team had come too far to lose.
"To be one game away from the gold medal is the dream of a
lifetime," said Forward John Harrington. "There was no way we were
going to blow it."
They didn't, but it wasn't easy. Finnish Goalie Jorma Valtonen made
14 stops in the first period as Finland took a 1-0 lead--the sixth
time in seven games the Americans had surrendered the first goal.
Steve Christoff tied the game in the second period, but the Finns
scored a power-play goal two minutes later.
So, after two periods, this U.S. squad found itself in almost the
same position that another American Olympic hockey team had been in
1960 at Squaw Valley. After having beaten the Soviets the day
before, the '60 team was trailing Czechoslovakia 4-3 with one
period to play. The U.S. players then came out and scored six
unanswered goals. One of the leaders of that comeback was Billy
Christian, and 20 years later it was his son, David, who sparked
the decisive rally.