With an early cup of coffee, I often sit in my favorite chair and say, “Good morning, Alexa.” The voice from my Amazon Echo responds with its own good morning wish and some news headlines. The recent headlines have reminded me of lyrics from Hank Williams Jr.’s song “A Country Boy can Survive”: “…The interest is up and the stock market’s down and you only get mugged if you go downtown.”
However, along with the news, Alexa tells something specific about the day, gives the weather report, and closes with an historical event occurring on the date.
Alexa brought back memories this week by recalling it was on Feb. 22, 1980, the underdog amateur U.S. hockey team defeated the four-time gold medalists and not-so-amateur Soviet team in what has been called one of the most dramatic upsets in all of sports history.
In many speaking engagements with sports teams, businesses and other groups I’ve emphasized, “Individuals make the plays; teams win the championships,” and this U.S. hockey team was the epitome of this. It’s amazing what can happen when colleagues are committed to a task and committed to one another. Working shoulder to shoulder with team members builds loyalty, commitment and enthusiasm.
The U.S. team was ranked seventh in their bracket of eight teams. Working together, they went 4-0-1, gaining enormous confidence with each success, and earning the right to play in the semifinals against the highly favored Soviet team, which was expected to take home the gold medal for the fifth straight time.
I vividly recall wife Jean, Carl II and me watching the televised 4-3 “Miracle on Ice” victory.
The Soviets had defeated the Americans in all 12 meetings between 1960 and 1980, outscoring the U.S. 117-26. Just a week prior to the 1980 games, the Soviets had embarrassed America 10-3 in an exhibition game played at Madison Square Garden.
This led Olympics semifinal game announcer Al Michaels to ask and answer the iconic question in the game’s final seconds, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!”
There were 20 young men on the U.S. team. As individuals, they were good, hand-picked and trained by now legendary coach Herb Brooks, a master motivator who had just led Minnesota to an NCAA National Championship. As a team, these young men proved to be the best in the world on Feb. 22, 1980, and two days later as they defeated Finland 4-2 in the gold medal game.
Coach Brooks was often tough on his players, sometimes drawing their ire and causing them to work harder to prove him wrong about their limits, reminding me of something champion football coach Lou Holtz said, “Winners embrace hard work. They love the discipline of it, the trade-off they’re making to win. Losers, on the other hand, see it as punishment. And that’s the difference.”
According to Kevin Allen, a veteran hockey journalist for USA Today, “Some of the guys on the Soviet team were players that should have been NHL stars.
For a bunch of American players right out of college to come in and beat them was major. Sports Illustrated named it the “Greatest Sports Moment of the 20th Century’ and I’d have to concur.”
Carl Mays is a National Speakers Hall of Fame member and author of over a dozen books, including A Strategy For Winning (foreword by national champion football coach Lou Holtz). CarlMays.com