Nightly News   |  February 26, 2010

U.S. hockey's original 'golden boys' left big skates to fill

Fifty years after the 1960 U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey team stunned the sports world by winning the gold medal in the Squaw Valley winter games, there is little fanfare to commemorate the "Forgotten Miracle." NBC's Brian Williams reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> lobsterfest.

>>> as we mentioned, the u.s. men's hockey team goes for the gold medal here on sunday. they are in the footsteps of the great 1980 team that defeated the ussr, the so-called miracle on ice team, but they were really the second miracle on ice team. it's been 50 years this year since the first miracle. you'd never know it here at these games because it's all but been forgotten until now.

>> a resounding triumph, amazing comeback.

>> the announcer that day didn't say anything like, "do you believe in miracles?" but those watching the game realized they had seen something close to it. the 1960 u.s. men's olympic team, a squad thrown together by today's standards had beaten canada, soviets, then stunned the sports world by going on to beat czechslovakia. it's been 50 years, half a century later. here in vancouver there is no remembrance, no commemoration, just one man, the only member of that 1960 team who make the trip here. it's the 50-year anniversary, after all. is it okay with members of the team that it's a low-key event? you've always been a low-key bunch of guys.

>> i don't think they're happy about it.

>> john mavich is in his 70s now. he walks around vancouver unrecognized. then as he points out the team never did get that much attention. they never demanded it. their victory the at the height of the cold war was emblattic of the end of an entirely different year for olympics and sport of hockey.

>> we won a medal, took off. some drove off. i was home that afternoon in green bay , wisconsin.

>> reporter: john was one of 11 children, the son of an iron miner in northern minnesota's iron range . his dad never did see him play hockey. he never had the time. unlike today, john and his teammates were amateurs. men like goalie jack mccarten and bob and bill cleary were harvard men.

>> no one gave us much of a chance.

>> that changed when they beat the canadians.

>> you could see press were coming to us and starting to talk us to. we were saying, oh, you know who we are now.

>> then the powerhouse soviet team . they went on to win the gold medal against the czechs 9-4. it really was the miracle on ice until the game two decades later that we all remember, 1980 , u.s. versus ussr. the cinderella story , the game that gets all the attention as the 1960 gold medicine ideal team fades from memory.

>> team of underdogs.

>> i remember watching it on television in the afternoon.

>> and speaking of, "do you believe in miracles," al michaels was a teenager back in 1960 watching in black and white . 20 years later, his colorful call of the 1980 game became a broadcast classic, but always that 1960 gold medal game stayed with him.

>> i guess it was the first miracle as it were, but it was something that made headlines the next day, but quickly got forgotten.

>> the 1960 team had a few reunions over the years, though three of the original team members died since they last all got together in 1990 . bill cleary went on to coach harvard. goalie jack mccarten went on to play in the nhl, which was a tiny outfit then with just six teams. nothing topped that 1960 game.

>> that dwarfed anything else i ever accomplished.

>> as for john, he had a young family to support. after the game he was greeted by a celebration at the airport. he posed for a picture with his boy. tossed the gold medal in the glove compartment of his car and drove home back to his old life.

>> maybe what we accomplished made all this possible. i think it created a lot of interest for the youth, and maybe they said, boy, i would like to be one of those guys.

>> hear, hear. i asked john who is too young to be a member of the greatest generation , how he would describe the men on his team and in his age group . without hesation he answered, "the fortunate generation." when we come back tonight from vancouver ,