Do you believe in miracles?
It’s an oft-quoted phrase. But for those who heard announcer Al Michaels utter it in disbelief in the closing seconds of the 1980 Olympic hockey semi-final, it will never be forgotten.
With a team of mostly amateurs (only a handful had played games in minor league hockey), the United States beat the heavily favored Soviet Union squad in Lake Placid.
Among those who became household names in the wake of that victory — and the win over Finland in the final a couple of days later — was Mike Eruzione, the captain of that squad and one of those who had played in the minor leagues before leading the U.S. team through the Olympics.
No Stranger to Fort Wayne
Eruzione has been to Fort Wayne many times over the years.
“When I was playing for the Toledo Golddiggers before the Olympics, we used to face the Fort Wayne Komets a lot,” Eruzione recalled in a phone interview with Whatzup. “And I participated in the Mad Anthony golf tournament about 15 times over the years. So Fort Wayne is really my old stomping grounds.”
Eruzione returns to Fort Wayne as part of Purdue Fort Wayne’s Omnibus Series just three weeks before the 40th anniversary of that life-changing final.
It will also come in the wake of his memoir, The Making of a Miracle, releasing on Tuesday, Jan. 28. He was approached by writer Neal Boudette, a colleague at Eruzione’s alma mater Boston University and where he has worked for many years.
“I was lucky to have this great guy helping me write the book,” Eruzione said. “I just sat down and started talking to him, and he did a lot of research. I just sat there talking about my life, my family, and the Olympic games. I also talked about my time in BU and Toledo and life after the Olympics. I wish I could have put more of my life into it, but the publisher wanted me to focus on the Olympics. So I’ve really been reliving it lately.”
Not that it ever really goes away. Eruzione is astonished by how many people come up to him and share their feelings about that victory.
“It’s amazing how many lives we touched,” he said. “Guys will come up to me and tell me that they were born in 1980 and have heard about it their whole lives. Kids today even know about it. I still get tons of mail, and almost every letter starts with, ‘Even though I wasn’t born in 1980...’ But they’ve watched the movie Miracle and ask me if I could send them a picture.
“I saw a video recently where someone got an autographed picture of me and framed it and gave it to this kid, who couldn’t have been older than eight or nine, for Christmas. In this video he opens the present and starts jumping up and down, yelling, ‘I have an autographed picture of Mike Eruzione! I’m going to hang it by my bed!’ It’s amazing to see something like that and know how much those games still mean to people.
“People have a lot of reasons for caring as much as they do,” he continued. “Some people start crying and have personal stories like it was the last game they watched with their mother or father. Some have political reasons like Vietnam vets who felt like the United States didn’t really care about anything anymore but thought that it brought the country together and helped heal those wounds.
“I’m a New England guy so I love my Patriots and my Bruins. And people in Chicago or Detroit love their teams. But this was everyone’s team. That’s what’s so great about the Olympics. Whether its Simone Biles or Michael Phelps or the U.S hockey team, they’re our team, and we all cheer them on.”
Rooting for the best
Although there was some controversy when the decision was made to send NHL players to represent the country in the 1998 Winter Olympics, Eruzione has no problem with that even though much of their legend came from being the underdog against a collection of Russia’s best professional players.
When his interviewer admits to being a Buffalo Sabres fans, he kindly indulges.
“Hey, I’d love to see Jack Eichel out there representing us on the U.S. team,” Eruzione said. “I want to see our best players out there competing, both men and women. You can’t forget the ladies because those players are off the charts.”
Eruzione and his 1980 teammates still stay in touch, though he admits it’s hard to get 19 guys together when they all have families and other responsibilities.
But he recently played golf with Jack O’Callahan, and he gathers with those fellow medal winners regularly for a fantasy hockey camp in Lake Placid.
He also said there will be a reunion in Las Vegas later in February to celebrate the 40th anniversary of an experience that changed all of their lives forever.
One his many honors was the naming of an arena in his hometown of Winthrop, Mass., the Mike Eruzione Center.
The venue is home of the Boston Blades, a professional women’s hockey team that plays in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. It’s also where many young kids in the area go to skate.
Among those are some youngsters that Eruzione knows quite well, kids who are three of the very few who don’t know how famous he really is. And Eruzione is fine with that.
“I have five grandchildren,” he said. “My daughter has three boys. One just turned seven, one just turned six, and the other is about to turn five. They all skate at the Mike Eruzione Center, and they have no idea who Mike Eruzione is. I’m just Papa to them. And I’d like to keep it that way as long as possible or I’ll be watching that freaking Miracle movie every day.”
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