FORTY YEARS LATER, I still vividly remember the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team’s run to gold at Lake Placid — an unlikely, improbable and seemingly impossible upset stunner against the Soviets, 4-3, in a Friday night semi-final followed two days later by a 4-2 U.S. win over Finland. Al Michael’s “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” call rings in my ears today. SI named the victory over the Soviets the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.
Indeed it was. Especially considering the Rooskies’ roster was chock-full of professionals while the U.S. team was entirely a rag-tag group of amateurs, most of whom hadn’t found the need to shave just yet. I listened to the shocker on the radio driving home after a date and watched the gold medal game on Sunday.
About three days later, I moved from Atlanta to West Palm Beach to start my first real job after college – sportswriting at The Palm Beach Post. I don’t remember the details of the conversation with my Sports Editor — a laid-back, shaggy-haired, chain-smoking guy named Larry Mlynczak who loved the local dog track — but about a week after I started, I convinced him to let me track down Mike Eruzione for a story.
Eruzione was the captain of that legendary team and united this group as well as any captain ever has. He was a spirited, talkative New Englander with Boston accent dripping from both corners of his mouth.
He scored the historic game-winner against the Soviets and despite being the hero, it was always about the team, not him. It’s ironic his initials are ME because there was no “me” in anything the captain did for that group. In fact, he rallied his teammates to join him on the medal stand, a platform built to accommodate the weight of three athletes, not an entire team. It was equally miraculous the stand didn’t collapse that day.
Eruzione was one of five “Miracle on Ice” team members that went undrafted by the NHL following the Olympics. He chose to hang up his skates despite an offer from the New York Rangers. [A Boston boy playing in New York … don’t think so.]
Somehow, with the help of Eruzione’s agent, I was able to score a phone interview that lasted about 30 minutes and had me scribbling notes madly to try and keep up with Eruzione’s wind-him-up personality.
Somewhere along the line, I managed to slip in a second question and Eruzione said, “I hear a bit of a Boston accent. Where you from?” When I told him Scituate, Mass [pronounced “Sit-chew-it”], he blurted out, “Scituate! You mean Sack o’shit! That’s where Davey Silk is from!”
Dave Silk was a winger and center on the Olympic team and at Boston University [where my Dad was a scholarshipped track & field/cross-country athlete] along with college teammates Jim Craig, Jack O’Callahan and Eruzione himself. Silk went on to play more than a dozen years in the NHL. Last I heard, he was long-retired one town up the coast from Scituate, in Cohasset, MA. I’ve told the “Sack o’shit” story many times over the years but always follow up with how much I cherished growing up in Scituate, still a wonderful New England harbor town.
More than three decades after the 1980 Olympics, I tried several times to get Eruzione booked as a motivational speaker for some of my corporate sales-group clients. Unfortunately, schedules never quite worked out. Eruzione is, to this day, an in-demand speaker; benefiting from his warm yet turbo-charged personality and his priceless insider’s perspective on one of the greatest moments in all of sports history.
I did get to speak with him once more about 10 years ago regarding a speaking opp and recounted our initial chat in 1980 and his “Sack o’shit” comments. He claimed he remembered the conversation.
Made me smile.