Flashback Friday: Completing the Miracle: US Olympic Team Beat Finland for Men's Hockey Gold 38 Years Ago

February 23, 2018 09:37 AM

It was the celebration of a lifetime.

However, John Harrington was delayed in getting there 38 years ago this week.

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While his fellow teammates on the U.S. Olympic Team were in the locker room savoring their 4-2 win over Finland for the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, Harrington was called aside to take care of other business.

"Jack O'Callahan and I were selected to do the random urine test (conducted by the International Olympic Committee to screen for performance-enhancing drugs)," recalls Harrington, now the head women's hockey coach at Minnesota State-Mankato. "So I was never in the locker room right after the game. We were in a room down below.

"But as I was coming off the ice, I saw a bunch of boxes of champagne that had been delivered. So I grabbed a bottle. And down in the medical room, they had a refrigerator that had water and juice. And they had beer in there too.

"We were with two of the Finnish guys, and we all figured we might as well have a couple of drinks as long as we were sitting there. I think we ended up being late to the press conference. And we may have been a bit more loose-lipped than the other guys were."

Of course, Harrington was also running on adrenaline. The win over Finland - on Feb. 24, 1980 - completed what has come to be known as the "Miracle on Ice."

The U.S. team, coached by Minnesota's Herb Brooks, featured a dozen Minnesotans on a youthful roster drawn from the ranks of American college hockey.

And, in the midst of the Cold War, they managed to topple the heavily-favored Soviet Union 4-3; a game in which ABC announcer Al Michaels memorably declared "Do you believe in miracles?," as the final seconds ticked away.

It was one of the most memorable upsets in sports history. The seasoned Soviets had won the last four Olympic gold medals and were veterans of international competition, including against the best of the National Hockey League. They had beaten the U.S. 10-3 in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden just days before the Olympics began.

But that victory - on Feb. 22 - came in the semifinals. The U.S. still had to beat Finland to win the gold medal. Harrington and company trailed 2-1 in the third period before rallying to score three unanswered goals.

"Everybody in our dressing room before the game, and everyone on our bench during the game, just had the attitude that we refused to lose," said Harrington, a Virginia native who played college hockey at Minnesota-Duluth. "After the second period, we told each other that, no matter what, we weren't losing that game. We all knew we'd give it everything we had to win. We weren't going to leave anything on that ice."

The team's feat galvanized the nation, and has since spawned numerous books, documentaries and movies - including the 2004 Disney film "Miracle."

"It's one of the biggest things I've ever seen," one fan watching the gold-medal victory over Finland at a Minneapolis sports bar told KSTP at the time. "I didn't see the 1960 Olympics (when the U.S. also won gold in hockey). But this is one of the greatest things that could have happened to U.S. hockey and to Minnesota hockey."

"I'm very proud of them," another added. "I'm sure every Minnesotan is."

But at the time, Harrington said he and his teammates weren't aware of the impact of their achievement.

"We were tucked away in Lake Placid, practicing and getting ready for games," he said. "Maybe we got to a couple of the skating events that were happening nearby. But we didn't have any idea what was happening in the rest of the country.

"It was only the day after the Olympics, when we flew to Washington D.C. and went in a parade to the White House to meet President Carter, that it really hit home. The streets were crowded five-or-six people deep on both sides. That's when we realized just how much it meant to a lot of people."

In fact, it's hard to think of another sporting event that has had as deep and unifying an impact nationally since.

"It was really just the perfect combination," Harrington said. "What the world was like at the time. What the politics were. What was happening in this country. What the odds were of winning. And what the Soviet team was at the time.

"I just don't know that all those factors could line up exactly like that again. Maybe it could. I just don't know what it would be."

Credits

Frank Rajkowski

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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