Team America's coach, Herb Brooks, calls his players "a gang of people who startled the athletic world. Not just the hockey world, the athletic world."
The world calls them champions, this United States Olympic hockey team, a rag-tag melange of peach-fuzz kids and knockaround minor leaguers who beat Finland today, 4-2, and won the hockey gold medal of the 13th Winter Olympics.
Two days after their staggering 4-3 victory over the mighty Soviets, America's team twice rallied from one-goal deficits against the Finns, scored three goals in the last period and won hockey gold for the United States for the first time since 1960.
"This is the team of destiny; you can't explain what's happened here," said defenseman Bill Baker. "It just happened."
It happened because Mark Johnson, the son of the coach of the 1976 team and the man who scored two goals against the Soviet Union, never stopped digging for the puck, hustling into the corners and rushing down ice.
He assisted on the game-winner, Rob McClanahan's close-in shot at 6:05 of the third period, and scored his team's final goal -- a short-handed goal - on a backhand rebound of his own shot that gave the Americans a 4-2 lead with 3:35 left.
It happened because Jim Craig, the American goalkeeper who started and finished every one of America's six Olympic victories and one tie, kept his team close, or ahead, time after time with so many scintillating saves.
"If anybody in here is surprised we won the gold, let me know," Craig said. "This team put out every game and all I ever tried to do was keep them in it. How many shots did guys block with their heads and their bodies today? Every time it was big, we played like 20-year veterans."
It happened because America's defense managed to kill off three third-period penalties, one only six seconds after the expiration of another just after the U.S. had taken its first lead of the day. And during their third penalty the Americans scored a goal.
And it happened, too, as captain Mike Eruzione said, "because we knew what we had to do, and we went out and did it. Even before the game, and last night, too, we talked to each other, and we realized what was ahead of us.
"We knew if we took the right course, justice would take care of us."
The Americans started off on the wrong course today, as they had so often in this two-week tournament. They found themselves behind, 1-0, early, on a thundering 40-foot slap shot by Finland's Jukka Porvari at 9:20 of the first period.
And when Finland's Mikko Leinonen stuffed a perfect crossing pass from teammate Mannu Haapalainen past Craig for a 2-1 lead at 6:30 of the second, few in the crowd of 8,000 could have been bullish on American gold futures.
In the locker room after the second period, with his team trailing, 2-1, Brooks said very little, according to defenseman Mike Ramsey. "All he said was we've been a third-period team all year. He just said suck it up and do what you've done all year. We knew that, and we did it."
Phil Verchota tied it at 2-2 for the United States when he came down the left side, took a crossing pass from Dave Christian and shot the puck low from 10 feet, past flopping Finnish goalie Jorma Valtonen at :25 of the third period.
Two minutes later, many in the crowd began chanting, "We want gold," and so, obviously, did the American players.
Christian, whose father Billy played on the 1960 championship team, sent in a long shot that Valtonen deflected behind the net. From there, Johnson fought off two Finns and poked the puck out front to McClanahan, who waited for Valtonen to go into a split and then drove the puck between the goalie's legs.
"I just saw him about four to five feet to the right of the net and he knocked it in," Johnson said. "Yeah, it was a very big lift for us."
But there was a very big letdown 33 seconds later when Neal Broten was sent off for hooking Kari Eloranta.Over the next two minutes, the Finns got off five stinging shots on the U.S. goal, all of them blocked by Craig or another American.
Craig hardly had time to catch his breath before the next U.S. penalty six seconds after Broten came back on the ice. This time, Christian was sent off for tripping Jukka Koskilahi, and once again Finland had six skaters to five.
And once again, America's defense flustered and frustrated the Finns, trying desperately to knock in a tying goal. It never happened.
The final test came with 4:15 remaining. This time, Verchota was called for roughing, a penalty Ramsey later said "never should have been called, not for what he did, not at that point in the game."
Czech referee Vladimir Subrt ruled that Verchota had been a little too physical in disengaging himself from a headlock at the boards behind the Finnish net, and sent him off for roughing.
Still nursing that one-goal advantage, the Americans, incredible, attacked.
They controlled the puck and didn't allow Finland a shot in the first 30 seconds of the penalty. And then Johnson went to work again.
A Finnish defender failed to clear the puck from behind his net, and Steve Christoff threw it out to Johnson, who shot from 20 feet, pounced on his rebound and backhanded it past Valtonen for the clincher with 3:35 to play.
The Americans easily off the remaining 80 seconds of the penalty, then came close to padding their margin with 1:50 remaining when three different shots clanged off the pipe on a furious assault on the Finnish net.
As the final five seconds counted down, the Americans began raising their sticks and celebrating. At the final horn, they swarmed all over Craig, threw their gloves and sticks in the air and guzzled champagne all over the ice in sweet celebration.
Later, in the locker room, Vice President Mondale, who attended the game, offered his personal congratulations and President Carter called on the telephone.
It no longer mattered what happened in the day's second game, a contest between the Soviet Union and Sweden, a game the Soviets won, 9-2, for the silver metal. When that game ended, the Americans came back to the ice one more time to receive their gold medals at what surely will be remembered as the most emotional awards ceremonies of these Olympic Games.
Tear ducts flowed freely when the National Anthem was played, and when 20 American hockey players huddled together on the medal stand, their arms upraised in the salute of victory, the crowd went wild again.
This was the team that came together for the first time six months ago, the team that came into this tournament seeded seventh in a field of 12. They tied their first game against Sweden in the final 27 seconds, stunned Czechoslovakia in their second game and beat the unbeatable Soviets in one of the most astounding upsets in the history of sports.
And today, they startled the world again.