Anniversary draws memories, tears

Updated: February 24, 2005, 10:33 AM ET
Associated Press

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Patti Brooks never stopped brushing away the tears. The 25th anniversary of her husband's crowning achievement nearly was too much to handle.

The rink where he coached the U.S. Olympic hockey team to its stunning gold-medal victory 25 years ago now bears his name. It was renamed Wednesday night in his honor: 1980 Rink, Herb Brooks Arena.

The announcement came 18 months after Brooks was killed in a car accident, which made the moment so very poignant.

"I'm just really proud," Patti said. "He was very, very humble. He wouldn't have liked it. He would have probably been in the back. I don't think he ever understood the impact. He was just incredulous. It was shocking to him, and I'm just overwhelmed."

The announcement capped a celebration of the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games, and it came 25 years and a day after Team USA's miraculous 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in the medal round.

"My family was hesitant to come because it's very sad for us," said Brooks' daughter, Kelly. "It was a very tearful moment out there, but we're very proud of our father and we wouldn't have missed this for the world."

Brooks' son Dan ducked into the locker room during the afternoon with a handful of players from the 1980 team. Patti and Kelly did the same when they arrived, marveling at an array of Team USA jerseys hanging on the walls.

"It might sound funny, but I could feel the presence, I could feel the energy, I could feel the arena," Kelly said. "I was 8 years old when it happened and I could still hear, 'USA! USA! USA!' Being back there kind of did it for me."

The ceremony featured 35 members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and included 18 of the 20 members of the hockey team, skier Phil Mahre, and figure skaters Linda Fratianne, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Peter Carruthers and Scott Hamilton, who is recovering from a brain tumor.

Speedskater Eric Heiden, who won five gold medals in Lake Placid, was unable to attend. Heiden, now an orthopedic surgeon in California, is team doctor for the U.S. speedskating team and was to fly to Europe with the team Thursday.

Just over 6,000 people attended the ceremony, which was capacity because several sections of seats were blocked off for the production. Normal capacity for hockey is 7,700, except 25 years ago when nearly 11,000 crammed every corner of the arena to see a miracle unfold.

"For us as a team to be back here is kind of amazing to us," said Mike Eruzione, who captained the hockey team. "I have to say to the people of Lake Placid, `Thank you, thank you, thank you. You didn't realize how important you were to our success."'

Eruzione spoke as if the games had just finished -- they still were so fresh in his mind.

"As we started to play and things started to fall into place, I can guarantee you the night before the Soviet game we thought it was possible," he said. "And I think that's what makes our team so special because we always believed."

Mahre called his memory of the games bittersweet.

"I shouldn't have fond memories of this place at all," he said. "I broke my left ankle in 1979 in the pre-Olympic giant slalom here. It was less than 12 months before the Olympic Games and most doctors said my career was over. Everybody pretty much wrote me off."

Instead, after an operation in which seven screws and a 2-inch plate were inserted to fix the ankle, Mahre recovered and won the silver medal.

"I didn't ski to my potential, and that cost me a gold medal," said Mahre, who led the slalom after the first run but faltered on the second and lost to Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark. "On the sweet side, nobody expected me to be here and I come back and win a silver medal."

Any medal would have been a triumph for the hockey team. Every gold medal since 1964 had been won by the Soviet Union, and there was no reason to believe that would change in 1980.

Brooks, the last player cut from the 1960 U.S. hockey team that went on to win the gold medal, had other ideas.

"Herb used to tell us that there was a method to his madness, and at times we kind of wondered," Eruzione said. "And when the smoke cleared and the victory was done, I think we looked back and went, 'Wow! The guy was right.'

"He believed in us and we believed in each other. It was a special time. It started a journey for us that we never would have imagined 25 years later would have taken us back here. Who'd ever have thought that 25 years later we'd come back here and share in the joy?"

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press