Tag Archives: Olympics

35 years seems like yesterday for U.S. hockey fans

I think I’ve mentioned before how I’ll try my best to update this more regularly. I’m starting that today, but, if you can hang with me, I’m doing so with a “reprint” from about seven years ago. I’ve updated it for clarity sake, showing that it’s been 35 years. Wow..35 years! Hard to believe. But so much fun to remember.

Ken Morrow’s heard the stories. Countless people could tell him today what they were doing 35 years ago this past weekend.

I remember vividly 35 years ago this week, Feb. 25, 1980. Thirty-five days ago is a little sketchy. Shoot, 35 minutes ago is a struggle to remember. But 35 years ago is clear.

That’s likely how it is for most anyone born in the United States before the mid-1970s or so.

Ken Morrow

Personally, I was playing intramural hockey at Dorothy Moody Elementary School in Overland Park. Intramurals gave kids like me a reason for going to school. Well, that and whenever they served beef fritters for lunch.

We played hockey in the gymnasium with yellow and red plastic sticks, and we had a blast. In 1980, thanks to dumb luck or gym teacher Mr. Sears’ uncanny timing, hockey week at Dorothy Moody came during the Olympics.

Our last day of hockey fell on Monday, Feb. 25, a day after we watched the United States hockey team cap off the greatest sports moment of the 20th century by beating Finland and capturing the gold medal in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Seeded seventh, just reaching the final four was going to be an accomplishment for the young U.S. team. Winning a bronze medal was nearly unthinkable. A gold medal?

“You don’t go into it saying you can’t win (the gold),” says Morrow, a defenseman on that American team. “Really, the assumption going in was that the Russians had the gold and if we made it to the final four, we’d fight with Sweden and Finland for the bronze.”

Of course, that’s not exactly how it played out. Morrow and his teammates spoiled it for those other three countries. First, by knocking off the Soviets on Friday in one of sports’ most unlikely upsets. The Soviets hadn’t lost an Olympic hockey match since 1968.

“We had practice on Saturday morning and we definitely were feeling good about ourselves after beating the Russians,” says Morrow, who’s lived in the Kansas City area since the early 1990s, when he spent two years as an assistant coach for the Blades of the International Hockey League.

“Guys were patting each other on the backs. (Head coach) Herb Brooks came in and put the hammer down right away. But it was needed. He let us know in no uncertain terms that if we didn’t straighten up that we would blow a great chance.”

They didn’t. The United States, which wasn’t guaranteed a medal going into their game on Sunday, came from behind in the final period and beat Finland, cementing their place in American history. The team then had to wait for the Soviet Union-Sweden game to be played before the medal ceremony.

“A lot of us had family and friends up there for the whole two weeks,” Morrow said, “and we brought everyone into the locker room, shut the doors, and basically spent the next two hours kind of in disbelief with them and a couple bottles of champagne.

“That was my greatest moment of the whole Olympics — being able to sit there with a lot of tears, sharing the moment with family and friends.”

The funny thing is, being secluded like that had become normal for Morrow and his teammates. In fact, they had no idea their wins were carrying any magnitude at all around the country.

By Brooks’ design, the players were sheltered from all of that. He kept them away from giving interviews during the Olympics and they lived three men to a trailer which had only radios — no televisions. Their lone focus was hockey.

The players didn’t even realize there was a tremendous American following until they flew to Washington on Monday morning on Air Force One with other U.S. Olympians to meet with President Jimmy Carter.

“To our amazement, there was a huge crowd of people when we landed,” said Morrow. “Then, busses took us from the Air Force base to the White House, and all along the route, people lined the streets, waving signs and flags. Some of the guys have said that’s when it really hit them that the whole country was excited; not just the people in Lake Placid.”

So, is that when it hit Morrow?

“I can’t say that it’s ever hit me,” he said. “I know the magnitude of it, but I don’t know that I ever really sat down and went ‘whew!’”

For Morrow, who was one of the older guys on the team at 23 (and the only one allowed to have a beard), there really wasn’t much time to think about the accomplishment. Later that Monday, abruptly after being together for seven months, members of the team went their separate ways and went on with their lives.

Morrow spent a couple of days with his wife Barb — they got married in August of 1979, right before the team left for Europe to begin exhibition play. But then, three days after being toasted in Washington, he was practicing for the first time with his new NHL team, the New York Islanders. Then, on Saturday, he was playing in his first NHL game. (Incidentally, the Islanders went to the Stanley Cup finals in each of Morrow’s first five years in the league, winning the title four times.)

Following a 10-year NHL career, Morrow coached in the IHL in Michigan and Kansas City, before becoming the Islanders’ Director of Pro Scouting.

Over time, the 1980 U.S. hockey win against the Soviet Union and then ultimately the gold medal has gone from a legendary Olympic moment to an important piece of American history. It’s one of the few feel-good “I remember what I was doing when that happened” historical moments.

In the final seconds of our game at Dorothy Moody on that Monday, our yellow team was down by one, and I got the puck in the high slot (directly in front of the goal). Wanting to be like Mike Eruzione, who scored the game-winning goal three days earlier against the Soviets, I quickly dropped my right hand down the stick, raised the skinny piece of yellow and white plastic back and fired a slap shot toward the red team’s goalie. (And, no, Eruzione didn’t take a slap shot, but I was caught up in the moment.)

It missed. Never came close. Although I think I nailed Chris Garrett in the head with the stick. Luckily he was one of my best friends. Otherwise, he could’ve pounded me. That is, if he didn’t have double-vision from that small stick that I thought would score the game-tying goal.

Morrow hears plenty of stories like that. Or people who were in a bar on the beach in Hawaii. Or a father and his son in a basement in Wichita, Kans.

“The one thing I’ve taken from all of this is how (the moment has) struck people in a certain way. I still get mail everyday, at least one or two pieces,” Morrow said. “The guys will tell you that we’re amazed and shocked that people still talk about it the way they do.”

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CwM: Ken Morrow and the “Miracle on Ice,” Part 2

Last week, I started a weekly Q&A with some type of sports or entertainment “personality.” I’m cheating a little, perhaps, because the first two weeks are with the same person. So, here is the second of two parts with Kansas Citian Ken Morrow, who was a defenseman on the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team that beat the Soviet Union and then subsequent gold medal against Finland two days later. (You can read the first part here.)

Besides the game itself, Morrow and I talked about coach Herb Brooks and his influence on the team. Although the movie “Miracle” brought Brooks to light more a few years ago, he isn’t considered one of the greatest coaches of all-time. He should be.

Matt Fulks: When was it apparent in that Olympic game with the Soviets that you could actually win?Ken Morrow

Ken Morrow: For me, it was coming out of that first period, tied 2-2. For those who don’t remember, we had been down 2-1 in the first period, and with a few seconds to go before the buzzer, our guy dumps it into their goal, it comes out, Mark Johnson rebounds, splits two defensemen and scores at the buzzer. So we went into the locker room with a 2-2 tie. At that point, not that we knew we were going to beat them, but we knew we’d be in the game. We felt good about ourselves, having gone through that first game at Madison Square Garden, to come out of the first period tied 2-2 was huge for us.

MF: I’m guessing you guys were a handful for Herb after you beat the Russians, and were getting set to play for the gold medal two days later. You guys, mathematically, still could’ve ended without a medal after the game with Finland. What was the feeling like the next day?

KM: You’re right; I won’t go into the mathematics of it, but there was a chance that if we’d lost to Finland, we could’ve finished outside the medals. So, Herb Brooks did his greatest coaching job on Saturday morning (after beating the Soviet Union). Here’s this young group of kids who’d pulled off this monumental upset, so we came into practice feeling pretty good about ourselves, and he has to get our attention on the next game. He put the hammer down real quick and real hard. We needed that. We had to get ourselves ready for the next game, which was Sunday morning. Sure enough, as we’d done all Olympics, we were trailing going into the third period against a very good Finland team. We had come from behind all Olympics long, and we put together another one against Finland.

MF: As we talk about Herb Brooks, one of my favorite things about him are all of his quotes, some of which, as you’ve told me before, you guys didn’t really understand.

KM: He had a bunch of them. [Laughs.] He was a great psychologist. He knew exactly which buttons to push on the players. Everything he did worked. We didn’t realize this at the time, but we found out years later. Throughout the year, he was constantly digging at the Soviet team, saying things like “these guys aren’t that good.” Well, their captain was a dead ringer for Stan Laurel (of “Laurel and Hardy” fame). He was one of the all-time best hockey players, but he looked like Stan Laurel. Herb would make comments like, “You guys are playing Stan Laurel out there. You can’t beat Stan Laurel?” There was always a motive behind everything that Herb Brooks did and said, and it all worked.

I do believe that for anyone thinking about going into coaching in any sport, it should be mandatory to study Herb Brooks. This guy was ahead of his time. He was innovative, and, as I said, he’s the sole reason we won a gold medal at Lake Placid.

MF: At that moment, during the entire Olympic experience from tryouts to the end, what were your feelings toward Herb?

KM: I never had a problem with him. Again, he knew what made every player tic. We actually did a psychological test, which was unheard of at the time. Now, being a part of the New York Islanders, we do a psychological test with all of the kids we’re considering drafting. I think Herb’s was a 300-question psychological test. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. There’s no doubt in my mind that he took those, looked at them, and figured out how he could get the best out of each one of those players, whether it was riding a guy hard, backing off, when to kick them in the pants and when not to. He did that throughout the year, and it always seemed to work. When you’re talking about 20 players, you’re talking about 20 different ways to motivate. He was a master of that.

MF: As we look at hockey in the Olympics now, what are your thoughts on NHL guys playing?

KM: I’m really torn. As a hockey fan, I like seeing the best players in the world out there, but I also understand there won’t be another “miracle on ice” with that. I doubt that you can have the stuff going on around the world that made our “miracle on ice” bigger than it was, but I also understand that I was given a chance to play in the Olympics because NHL players weren’t playing in the Olympics at that time — not that there were a lot of great American NHL players at that time. It gave us our chance. Eventually I’d like to see it go back, but I’m going to enjoy watching these best players of the world out there.

MF: I’ve asked a few guys this over the years, and since you won four Stanley Cups and a gold medal, which would you rather win: a Stanley Cup or a gold medal, although, of course, your gold medal experience was different than most people’s because of everything surrounding it?

KM: If I had to choose, I’d take the gold medal simply because it’s playing for your country. It’s a unique experience, a unique moment. Not many people get to do that. A lot of people have won professional championships, but to think the Olympics come around once every four years, and then to be fortunate enough to say you’re a gold medal winner, that’s tops.

MF: As I say to you every time we talk, it’s been a thrill reliving 1980 with you. Thanks for your time.

KM: Great talking with you and I appreciate you letting me tell my story.

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