Rich Ellis still believes in miracles. The Minnesota native and game-worn jersey enthusiast remembers watching the U.S. Olympic team battle the Soviets in the Miracle on Ice game on TV on Feb. 22, 1980.
“I remember my dad had a tear in his eye when the game was over,” recalled Ellis. “My dad was so proud that a scrappy group of 18- and 19-year-olds beat this superpower.”
Thousands of Americans shared his elation. The underdog U.S. team boosted the spirits of a nation embroiled in the Cold War and scuffling with a sluggish economy.
“The popularity of the team is absolutely incredible,” said Dan Levy, vice-president of sales for Grandstand Sport, in New York, whose company has an exclusive autograph deal with the squad. “It’s one of those things where we think that sooner or later every household in America will have an autographed item from the team.”
Heading into the 12-team Olympic tournament, the Americans were ranked seventh. And winning gold seemed even less likely when the U.S. was humiliated, 10-3, by the Soviets just prior to the Olympics.
Facing the USSR in the semifinals, the determined squad, behind the goaltending of Jim Craig, and third-period goals by Mark Johnson and Mike Eruzione, stunned the Soviets, 4-3. As the clocked ticked down, ABC play-by-play man Al Michaels famously exclaimed, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes.”
Cards and memorabilia related to this fabled squad remain highly coveted. Game-worn jerseys are, perhaps, the most sought-after items, but Ellis says Mark Wells is the only player who has sold his jerseys.
During the tournament, the U.S. wore a blue set and a white set of jerseys. In 2004, both of Wells’s jerseys were sold. Ellis had a deal in place for the blue jersey, but it fell through.
It’s difficult to assign a value to these jerseys, but Ellis says that the white jerseys worn in the contest against the Soviets would likely command 25 to 50 percent more than the blue jerseys.
“There have been a couple of guys I know on the team that have been offered and handed checks of over $100,000 for their jerseys and they said no,” said Ellis.
Autographed items are also high demand. Levy says the team-signed, 16-by-20 photo of the celebration after the Soviet game is his best-selling item.
Sadly, coach Herb Brooks died in 2003, so team items boasting his signature command a premium. In 2002, Levy conducted a signing with the team that included Brooks.
“You can’t find a 16-by-20 team picture with Brooks’s signature on it for less than about $2,500,” noted Levy.
Larry Studebaker, an authenticator at James Spence Authentication, says that while Brooks’s signature is the most sought-after, Eruzione and Craig are also very popular.
Veteran collector Al Glaser says tickets from the Miracle on Ice game are also coveted.
“The value of the USA vs. USSR ticket could go to $750, maybe higher,” he said.
Cards honoring the team are also in demand. Seven players – Ken Morrow (#9), Craig (#22), Johnson (#69), Steve Christoff (#103), Mike Ramsey (#127), Dave Christian (#176) and Rob McClanahan (#232) – from the squad are featured with a Team USA emblem on their cards in the 1980-81 O-Pee-Chee and Topps sets.
“There is a big premium for cards that feature players from the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team on them,” said Darren Styles, who owns the top 1980-81 O-Pee-Chee set on the PSA Set Registry.
Signature Rookies also released a 50-card tribute set in 1994-95. This set featured two regular-issue cards of each player. Twenty-four thousand of each regular card was produced, and players also signed 2,000 of each of their cards. The autograph cards were inserted at a rate of one per pack. Russ Robbins, who has completed the set, notes that Brooks only signed one of his two regular cards.
A Craig autograph from this issue sold for $27 on eBay in January, while signed Eruzione and Neal Broten singles sold for $17.50 each on the same day.
Upper Deck also produced a “Miracle Men” set as part of its 2004-05 Legendary Signatures series. Eighteen players from the gold medal squad are featured. There is a set of unsigned cards and a series of signed cards. Two team members, Phil Verchota and Jack O’Callahan, aren’t included.
Autographed cards were inserted at a rate of one in five packs, and three cards have been deemed shorts prints: Craig and Broten each signed 73 cards, while Ramsey inked 97. Robbins points out that a redemption card was initially issued for the Johnson autograph.
It’s clear that after 30 years, Miracle on Ice team members continue to be revered by fans and collectors.
“To me, to this day, the Miracle on Ice is still the biggest thing that ever happened in sports,” said Ellis.