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March 01, 2010
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March 01, 2010

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Every SI Story ... Every SI Photo ... Ever SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPT | March 3, 1980

America's Team

An Olympic win stunned the world and lifted a nation

Thirty years ago coach Herb Brooks led a team of unknown college kids and amateurs to an upset of a hockey superpower. E.M. Swift reported for SI.

For millions of people, their single, lasting image of the Lake Placid Games will be the infectious joy displayed by the U.S. hockey team following its 4--3 win over the Soviet Union last Friday night. It was an Olympian moment, the kind the creators of the Games must have had in mind, one that said: Here is something that is bigger than any of you. It was bizarre, it was beautiful. Upflung sticks slowly cartwheeled into the rafters. The American players—in pairs rather than in one great glop—hugged and danced and rolled on one another.

The Soviet players, slightly in awe, it seemed, of the spectacle of their defeat, stood in a huddle near their blue line, arms propped on their sticks, and waited for the ceremonial postgame handshakes with no apparent impatience. There was no head-hanging. This was bigger, even, than the Russians.

"The first Russian I shook hands with had a smile on his face," said Mark Johnson, who had scored two of the U.S. goals. "I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. We beat the Russians."

In the streets of Lake Placid and across the country, it was more of the same. A spontaneous rally choked the streets outside the Olympic Ice Center, snarling bus traffic for the umpteenth time since the start of the Games. A sister of one of the U.S. hockey players said she hadn't seen so many flags since the '60s. "And we were burning them then," she added.

Two days later the U.S. beat Finland 4--2 to win the gold medal.

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