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Who led the greatest upset of all time?

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in Leaders & Managers

Herb Brooks never aspired to anything more than leading the University of Minnesota Gophers to three national hockey championships.

Much later, with the National Hockey League, he smoldered impatiently at rinkside, never more than a middling coach, never able to work miracles on ice.

But in between those times, Brooks led the very, very green U.S. Olympic hockey team to beat the mighty Soviet team at Lake Placid in 1980. He did it by twisting together strategy and psychology, alternately terrorizing and mesmerizing team members into having no idea how overmatched they were.

Here are some of Brooks’s tricks:
  • He relentlessly criticized Jack O’Callahan, an excellent defender, to goad the other players into uniting behind their teammate.
  • He threatened to cut team captain Mike Eruzione from the squad and talked about benching or even cutting other starters. (Brooks himself was cut from the 1960 Olympic team, so he knew the threat’s power.)
  • He set the scene, then left the stage. Before the game against the Soviets, Brooks told the team, “You were born to be here,” then walked out of the dressing room.
Brooks’s words echoing in their heads, the overmatched Americans beat the Soviets, 4-3, then went on to beat Finland to win the first—and only—gold medal a U.S. ice hockey team has ever won.

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