Remembering ‘Miracle on Ice.‘ Lake Placid was my ‘greatest night in journalism’

Updated: Feb 26


By BUDDY MARTIN


Today I beg your indulgences in taking a beat away from Florida Gator sports and digging out some inspiration from the E-Mail Box. Not really a ”beat“ in absentia, but just a collaboration with myself, because to me it’s all connected. This is about my passion, journalism, and what is probably the biggest night in my 50-something-year newspaper/radio/tv career. So apologies for the reminiscence.

It’s like my accountant said the other day about a billing question, whether to have the check made out to Buddy Martin, Buddy Martin Media LLC or Buddy Martin Media. “You are one in the same,” she said.

Journalism connects the dots to my editing and writing, which is what I do for GatorBaitMedia.com. But more on that in a moment. First I want to share two missives from readers that were both informational and encouraging, if not downright inspirational.

In a day when the printed word is almost on the endangered species list and we are fighting an uphill battle to both save this publication and to prosper it someday, these kinds of letters are like a long pull on a cold bottle of water when you’ve been baking in the sun.

First, this one from one of our original members in response to my email asking that readers please check us out on occasion and comment to me at GatorBaitEditor@gmail.com:

“Buddy, I am a charter subscriber and love it. As long as you’re publishing I’m in. Keep up the excellent work!”

Lee Wedekind, Jacksonville

Thanks for your loyalty Lee.

Then these words came from a friend/acquaintance in Ocala who had no idea how to purchase the magazine/website/broadcast (GatorBaitMedia.com/subscribe).

Yes it was good connecting with you again. You are in a damned good group of writers and reporters. You, and Franz Beard, are the most talented writers on the public circuit today. Wow!! How you two can raise dead spirits with your written expressions and printed feelings!

Best respect, Lester

Goodness, what praise! How much we appreciated those comments! Even if undeserved.

Another friend wrote on my Facebook page about the 40-year anniversary of “Miracle on Ice” and a story I had co-written on the night that the young upstart Americans upset the Russians in the Winter Olympic semi-finals played in Lake Placid, N.Y. I had simply reflected on a few thoughts about that night, Feb 22, 1980.

My team of New York Daily News writers and photographer happened upon this remarkable story. Almost accidently we crashed the scene, in an old fashioned “Hello sweetheart, give me rewrite” manner, previously unassigned but managing to bat out a few hundred words before newspaper deadline.

Former Boulder Camera journalist Ed Werder, now a key member of ESPN’s NFL coverage, asked me on Facebook:

“What was your lead?”

I drew a blank. For the life of me I could not remember.

There was no Internet back then and there is almost no record of the archives.

Ed wrote … Buddy Martin: Amazing that Miracle on Ice became an epic moment in sports history, arguably the greatest of our lifetime all things considered, and was not even carried live in the US but viewed on tape-delay. A fantastic personal backstory you’ve shared with us. Appreciate that. Pretty remarkable and resourceful. Ed

Gee, I thought, never having considered that it was worth sharing, maybe I should write that remembrance in a blog!? Now I was committed to finding a copy of my story, so for two days I pored over the Internet files to no avail. Nada, zip. And then BOOM, suddenly out of the innards of Google game came this link:

Lake Placid erupts with patriotic fever over hockey upset. Page 3, New York Daily News, Feb. 23, 1980.

On-ice action as American's upset Russia in Lake Placid. Photo by Anthony Casale

“Tonight’s a night we can all be proud to be Americans…”

There’s something instinctive about a good journalist when they smell a big story.

Bill Madden, on his way to becoming a Hall of Fame baseball writer and author, was busily pounding out a Sunday feature story and I was editing and moving advance Sunday copy from our condo in downtown Lake Placid, which headquartered eight of us from the Daily News.

Bill Madden

(Side nite: I don’t hear from Bill often but on the 22nd of February this year he texted me: “Shouldn’t we be having a Lake Placid Cocktail?”

I had to refresh my memory about the mixture for our “Lake Placid Cocktail” concoction which we devised while working the Winter Olympics in sub-freezing weather. It was a late-night beverage heavily laced with alcohol for purposes of relaxation after a 12-hour workday, to bring warmth, real or imagined. Mostly liqueurs – Courvoisier, Creme de Cocoa, Benedictine & Brandy, Vodka and Triple sec. It went down easy but evolved harshly in the stomach. However the L.P.C. steered us through fatigue and the cold nights.


Only Bill and I were at the condo that night and we had not yet imbibed a “Lake Placid Cocktail.” We both kept an eye on the network feed of the closed circuit cable telecast of USSR-USA, being played about three blocks up the icy hill. (Remember, it was not televised live, but rather taped and played the next day). I had in my possession a press row seat credential at the arena where Mike Lupica and Lawrie Mifflin of the Daily News were already stationed. I had told Madden if the score was close after the second period I would make the trek to the arena.

We expected a blowout by the Russian juggernauts, given that the USSR team was full of NHL players and had shut down the U.S. team in an exhibition 10-3 just 13 days prior. But to her credit, Mifflin gave the Americans a puncher’s chance and stayed close to Herb Brooks and his kids all week. She and Lupica were hot on the trail of the young Americans. And photographer Anthony Casale snapped beautiful photos form ice side. Half our eight-person team devoted time to the story. Regrettably columnist Dick Young would leave a week early for spring training and forfeit his chance to cover the epic game.

After 40 years it gets fuzzy. So I looked it up. It was competitive after two periods. The Soviets took a 3-2 lead in the third and it would have been higher but for the goal-saving acrobatics of goalie Jim Craig.


As I watched on TV, I knew it was decision time a few minutes into the third, so I pulled on my snow suit and boots and began tromping up the steep, icy three-block slope to the Olympic Fieldhouse Arena. Only to arrive and ask myself, “what was I thinking?” I could barely get in the door, let alone to my press seat. I had heard a giant roar. The USA had tied the game 3-3.

Mike Eruziane's winning goal in third period.

The clock ticked under eight minutes. According to the History Channel’s article, this had taken place: “Nearly nine minutes into the period, Johnson took advantage of a Soviet penalty and knocked home a wild shot by David Silk to tie the contest again at 3-3. About a minute and a half later, Mike Eruzione, whose last name means ‘eruption’ in Italian, picked up a loose puck in the Soviet zone and slammed it past goalie Vladimir Myshkin (backup to starter Vladislav Tradiak) with a 25-foot wrist shot. For the first time in the game, the Americans had the lead, and the crowd erupted in celebration.”

Final minutes of the "Miracle on Ice"

By now the only vantage point for me was on the side of the bleachers, hanging on to a metal railing where I peered over the heads of spectators while the young Americans also hung on for the next eight minutes to pull off what I still consider the greatest upset in American sports history. As the horn sounded I remember seeing one American player, Jack O’Callahan of Boston University, tap dancing on his skates in celebration.

There was an unscheduled story to be written about the night and the town while Lupica and Mifflin pounded out their wordage on game coverage. But who, where, how and how fast could we do it? We had less than an hour until deadline. Remember: No cell phones and no email were in play here.

This is where journalistic instinct takes over. Madden, a former veteran UPI wire service reporter, grabbed his notebook and headed up the icy hill. Young Paul LaRosa, a Daily News copy boy who had been drafted as our team driver (we were only allowed one vehicle for eight people), came to the arena and began talking to fans.

In a small dark room adjacent to a makeshift press center, as I recall, I plugged in my Texas Instruments computer/typewriter and began typing the dateline: Lake Placid…

And then prayed for the words to appear. By necessity And happenstance it became a textbook exercise in teamwork and collaboration.

Fifteen minutes later, Madden appeared over my shoulder. He had just left the America Legion Club down the street and had a quote from a veteran with a handful of tiny flags.

“Take this down,” he said, dictating as I typed.

A few minutes later LaRosa showed up with a few anecdotes, including one from a Cuban expatriate, who upon the U.S. victory, ripped a gold Russian pin from his sweater and threw it on the ice in disdain of the Soviets.

And this is what I typed:


By BILL MADDEN, BUDDY MARTIN AND PAUL LAROSA

“Lake Placid – Moments before Jack O’Callahan began the victory dance on the heels of his ice skates, legionnaire Henry James Miller began passing out flags to the 403 celebrants who had jammed their way into American Legion Post 326. ‘Go out in the streets and start waving them,’ he said. ‘Tonight is a night we can all be proud to be Americans.’”

(I remember this as the first swallow of Winter in a patriotic surge for America, due mostly to the Russians’ invasion into Afghanistan (when the Afghans were on our side and the feelings of hostility that had risen toward the Soviets.)

And then I typed: “It was 7:30 p.m. and the town of Lake Placid, which had been semi-muted by the failures of U.S. athletes, other than Eric Heiden, suddenly erupted. Almost as if were intended to be a 21-gun salute, fireworks boomed in the sky at nearby Mirror Lake, where the award ceremony was coinciding with one of the richest Olympic moments in this country’s heritage.

“The people cried, waved Old Glory, shouted ‘We’re No. 1!’ and chanted ‘U.S.A’ ‘U.S.A’ ‘U.S.A’ over and over. Some had even prayed.”

“’I got down on my knees this morning,’ said Miller, wiping away tears, “and I said, ‘dear God, lead our nation to regain its way of life that was established long ago when people gave up their lives for something they believed in.’ I cried then and I am crying here again tonight because our young team did something out there tonight no team or earth could have done. They brought life to the conscience of our nation.”

The quotes just flowed through my fingers to the keyboard. These are the moments when writing becomes a trance.

With Madden and LaRosa clearing out their notebooks, I pushed the “send” button and called the news desk to tell a man named “Joe” I was all in, and asked if there were any questions. I could tell by his tone that the news editor, an accomplished man who was savvy about the matters of journalistic evaluation, wasn’t really sold on making this the main story on page one. (There was really only one main headline.) In fairness there was no live TV. He could make the case that hockey was not exactly the national pastime. And clearly he wasn’t feeling the political implications of the story.

The next morning I was disappointed to see that the USA’s upset was played below the main headline, although it was always standard procedure for such a story to be on page 3. Miffin’s game story was played appropriately on the back page, in sports prominence. But our main color story doesn’t lead the paper, maybe it was an inadvertent travesty of journalistic justice.

Maybe The Miracle On Ice wasn’t that big a deal then, but today it reigns as one of the greatest sporting events in history, maybe even the greatest upset ever. And my biggest story in 50 years of journalism.


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