“At the end of the horn we felt some sort of relief,” said Christian.
A group of college players had just given the United States a monumental moment of pride and patriotism after beating the Soviet Union, the world’s largest hockey superpower, at the 1980 Winter Olympics – a feat that almost surpassed odds. insurmountable – to advance them to the finals.
Forty years later, almost the entire 1980 US Olympic hockey team gathered in Las Vegas as part of a weekend-long party to celebrate their tumultuous success.
The victory over the Soviets gave the country a boost in a period of great malaise. “It was just a hockey game for us. But it captured the imagination of a country,” recalled Christian.
“It was great to bring pride to the United States,” said defender Jack O’Callahan. “People identified with it, its authenticity.”
The United States would later defeat Finland and win the gold medal.
“Forty years of joyful conversations with people,” said O’Callahan. “This is the legacy, it makes you feel good that made others feel good about being American.”
“It’s what we’ve all dreamed of”
The team participates in an entire weekend of private celebrations and public appearances, including join President Donald Trump on the stage of his Las Vegas rally on Friday
“It was a real production (meeting with Trump),” said defender Bill Baker. “But it’s always something noble (meeting a president).”
Trump is not the only American president to honor the team. When they returned home after defeating Finland for the gold medal, just two days after overthrowing the Soviets, the players met President Jimmy Carter in the White House, “a great honor regardless of your party,” according to the attacker Buzz Schneider.
Many remember the geo-political tensions surrounding the 1980 match-up between the United States and the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), tensions that have survived the past four decades, but players hardly noticed at the time.
“We look back,” Baker said on awareness of the game’s non-athletic consequences. “But we didn’t realize it at the time, the USSR-US rivalry.”
Several players have indicated victory as an important boost in American pride that is still reflected today.
“I’m always USA vs Russia,” said O’Callahan. “We also knew we were Americans and they weren’t … we beat them.”
After all these years, people continue to discuss the winning goal of team captain Mike Eruzione’s game with ten minutes remaining, but some teammates still find joy in remembering other significant moments.
Baker told the gold medal ceremony, “the emotion and the people going crazy, seeing my mother cry in the stands, we made a victory lap”.
Harrington relived the “great feeling of satisfaction knowing it was all we worked for, simply by hearing:” YES! “is what we’ve all dreamed of.”
“We will always have this, it’s the game we won and I’m glad it was us,” said Schneider. “An incredible upheaval by an incredible group of kids
Despite having the 2004 film adaptation of the team’s victory to teach future generations the importance of that game, Christian believes that lesson coach Herb Brooks, who has since passed away, has taught them that everyone will continue to have a major impact on how people see it.
“The name on the front (of the shirt) is more important than the one on the back,” said Christian, referring to the country designation stamped on the front of each player’s shirt.
The team will continue to participate in events throughout the weekend, including NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights during their Saturday night game against the Florida Panthers and even bowling with Golden Knights season ticket holders.