ROSS A. MUSCATO

The Right Message … At The Right Time … In The Right Way

COMMENTARY

Below is a story I wrote that was published on February 27, 2017 in the Enterprise and Patriot Ledger newspapers.

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Of February and Miracles

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By Ross A. Muscato

I am among the millions in these parts still happy in the warm glow of the New England Patriots Super Bowl triumph earlier this month.

A little back story I would like to share is one of cosmic energy and personalities that connect the 2017 Patriots and their miracle comeback in Houston on February 5, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team and its miracle win on this day 37 years ago in Lake Placid.It is a story of February and miracles.

It is a story of February and miracles.

It is a story of teams.

It is a story of an athlete and a coach.

The athlete is Jim Craig, the goalie for the 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle on Ice” hockey team. Craig grew up in Easton, and after the Olympics lived periods in Milton and Quincy.

Jim Craig stopped 36 of 39 shots on net when the U.S. team pulled off the “miracle” upset of the seemingly unbeatable Soviet Union in the medal round of the 1980 Winter Olympics in a village in the Adirondacks. Two days later, he was again excellent in goal as the Yanks beat Finland and secured the gold medal.

The coach is Bill Belichick, a Hingham resident.

Craig and Belichick are good friends. They met several years ago at the John Havlicek Celebrity Fishing Tournament, a charity benefit, and the two hit it off.

Back in 2008, in late May, Coach Belichick asked Jim if he would give a pep talk to the Johns Hopkins lacrosse team the day before it played heavily favored Duke in the NCAA championship semifinals at Gillette Stadium.

Belichick is a big lacrosse fan, and played both football and lacrosse at Wesleyan University. Johns Hopkins is a favorite program of his.

Jim Craig, among the most in demand motivational speakers and teamwork coaches in America, said sure to his friend’s request.

As I do now, back then I worked with Jim in helping him prepare for his speeches and presentations. I got to tag along for Jim’s talk.

Jim and I were met at Gillette Stadium by Berj Najarian, the executive and top assistant to Coach Belichick. Najarian – whose title today is Director of Football/Head Coach Administration of the New England Patriots – has been called the “consigliere” of the franchise.

Bill Belichick was not at the stadium that day as he was at Wesleyan to be inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame.

Berj, always upbeat, provided us a tour of the team facilities, including a peek into the office of Coach Belichick’s – who then, as a head coach, only had three Lombardi Trophies on his resume. The office was modest in size, fairly spare in accoutrements, and without championship hardware and bling.

A furnishing and decoration in the office that did catch our attention, though – and it would have to – was what was perched on a chair a few feet in front of and facing the great coach’s desk: a framed photograph of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team celebrating on the ice following its epic and historic upset over the Soviet Union.

Berj Najarian pointed to the photograph and said, “Just so you know – that isn’t there because you are here today. It is always there.”

It is always there.

Impressive. Here was one of the most successful athletic coaches, ever, who had already achieved iconic and legendary status in winning five Super Bowl rings – remember those two championships as an assistant with the New York Giants – and he chooses to place front and center on his vocational radar screen that image.

Then, again, it was appropriate, and it made thorough sense.

For we know that in constructing and managing a dynasty, Bill Belichick adheres and is faithful to an operating philosophy and culture that is similar, that is kindred in spirit, to how Miracle on Ice coach Herb Brooks recruited and trained and mentored a squad that won the unwinnable and beat the unbeatable.

Parallels and resounding echoes – Coach Belichick commanding his players, “Do your job,” and Coach Brooks walking behind the U.S. team bench, as it fought fiercely in the final minutes against the Soviets, repeating to his charges, “Play your game …. Play your game.”

Bill Belichick and Herb Brooks employed meticulous recruiting, found gems that had been overlooked (e.g. the matter of that QB picked in the sixth round), placed high emphasis on those who would check ego at the door for the betterment of the group – and were not restrained and hamstrung with a reliance on bringing on board superstars, preferring and favoring team chemistry instead.

Yes, for sure, it was Herb Brooks who famously said that, in selecting the members for the 1980 Olympic team, he wasn’t “looking for the best players, but the right ones.”

Much to commend about the 2017 New England Patriots and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team – and about teamwork, about selflessness, about individually taking care of business, and about remaining fixated and focused on the goal.

All qualities and virtue that made possible miracles in February.

****

Jim Craig and Bill Belichick remain good friends. They text frequently, and have opportunity to socialize during late spring and early summer – sort of the NFL off season, if there is such a thing.

Prior to the 2015 season, Coach Belichick had Jim over to Gillette Stadium to address the entire Patriots squad.

And, as for that pep talk to the Johns Hopkins team. Jim delivered the talk – and it was a winner.

The next day Johns Hopkins went out and beat Duke, an upset that ranks near the top in collegiate lacrosse history.

Written by RM

March 3, 2017 at 11:53 pm

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