Ex-Blackhawk Jack O’Callahan Recalls 'Miracle On Ice' 40 Years Later

Rick Gregg
February 22, 2020 - 6:00 am
Jack O'Callahan

Jack O'Callahan (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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(WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- It’s the most famous question in all of sports: “Do You Believe In Miracles?”

Al Michaels asked it 40 years ago, on Feb. 22, 1980. And Jack O’Callahan is one of those who made sure the answer was, “Yes.”

“We were a great hockey team,” the defenseman said this week at Chicago’s United Center. “We had great players. We were really good. We were fit, we were young, we were hungry, and we were probably too stupid to realize we were playing over our heads.”

Way over. The USSR was the four-time defending Olympic champion when USA took them on in the medal round at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.

“The memories of the game, I couldn’t tell you who made what pass,” O’Callahan said. “I know Eruzione scored the winner, and Mark Johnson got a bunch of goals. But for the most part, it’s been 40 years of fun conversations with people, and it’s probably the most enjoyable part of that experience.”

Johnson did score twice. Buzz Schneider got one in from 50 feet away. Mike Eruzione had the game-winner with 10 minutes left. And Jim Craig withstood a barrage in goal before the game ended, 4-3, with USA victorious.  

But if ever there was a game where the whole mattered much more than the sum of its parts this was it.

“We knew it was pretty special to a lot of people,” O’Callahan recalled. “We knew it was something the country needed and, yeah, just pulled the country together. And it’s been a great experience for a lot of people.”

Cold War-era tensions turned a game into a test of superpowers. The puck dropped just two months after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The United States would eventually boycott the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, and the USSR would do the same for the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. 

But in February 1980, in a tiny village, and especially for a group of college kids, that all seemed a world away.

Miracle On Ice USA V Russia
The USA Team celebrates their 4-3 victory over Russia in the semi-final of the Ice Hockey competition of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, USA. The game was dubbed "The Miracle on Ice", and the USA went on to win the gold medal

“Being in Lake Placid was a really special place,” O’Callahan said. “It’s always been our home, it’s just a real comfortable place for us. It was great to be there, a little cocoon, but once we got back to D.C. we came back to the real world.”

There, O’Callahan and his teammates found themselves having lunch with the president and on the cover of Sports Illustrated. They were hailed as heroes -- praise that’s followed them ever since.

“I’ve bought my own beers,” he jokes. “I’m pretty good about taking care of myself. But people are very nice to me when we start talking about the Miracle on Ice.”

O’Callahan and his teammates are in Las Vegas this weekend to celebrate the 40th anniversary. 

The former Blackhawk stopped in Chicago on his way there to preside over a ceremonial face-off between former Team USA Captain Patrick Kane and Russian Artemi Panarin. There was no question who would win said face-off, of course.

“I saw a Russian and American facing off,” he said. “I was like, there’s not a chance I’m even gonna risk this Russian winning that draw. So, I kind of looked at Kaner and I just fired it through his legs, and he started laughing. But I’m sure he expected it. Even though we’re generations apart, we’re still teammates.”

WBBM’s Dave Kerner attended the Miracle on Ice, one of only about 10,000 people to see it live.  His memories, and more from O’Callahan, can be heard in the piece embedded in this story.