2023 February Finest Auction

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The “Miracle on Ice” – USA Hockey’s stunning victory over USSR at the 1980 Winter Olympics – will forever endure as one of, if not, the greatest upsets in sports history. After years of complete dominance by the Soviets – they had won gold in five of the previous six Games – the world expected much of the same in Lake Placid, NY. On paper, it was David vs. Goliath. An intimidating group of tough, highly-skilled veterans with years of international and professional experience against a raw American squad of young college amateurs – at the height of the Cold War crisis between the two nations. In an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden just days before the start of the Olympics, USSR dominated the U.S. with a 10-3 shellacking. But the Americans were able to recover from the “Massacre at MSG” and found their groove in the official tournament. After tying Sweden in the opener of Group Play, the United States reeled off four straight victories before stunning the Russians by the score of 4-3 to the poetic sound of Al Michaels exclaiming, "Do you believe in miracles?...YES!!!"

As memorable as USA's win was over the Soviets, many may forget that it came in the semifinals on Feb. 22, 1980. The actual Gold Medal game was played two days later on Feb. 24th against Finland, a squad thought to be just as talented as the Russians. With the outdated “round robin” style tournament still in effect at the 1980 Games, a USA defeat against the Finns would have actually given the gold to the Soviets despite their loss to the U.S. a game earlier. (The Soviets defeated Sweden in their final game to officially claim the silver.)

Unaffected by Team USA's heroics, the Finns proved their toughness early in the  Olympic Finals, skating to a 2-1 lead after two periods. In the locker room during the second intermission, USA head coach Herb Brooks delivered a blunt and vulgar pep talk that became the stuff of legends. "If you lose this game," he warned, "You'll take it to your f***ing graves." Just before exiting, he stopped and turned towards his team to famously repeat, “To your f***ing graves, boys.” Fortunately for Brooks, he had his best college player, Steve Christoff, to rely on at this pivotal juncture.

Heading into the Olympics, Christoff was largely viewed as USA's top player. The 6' 1" center from Springfield, IL, starred at the University of Minnesota from 1976 to '79 under Herb Brooks, leading the Gophers in scoring for two full seasons and converting the game-winning goal in their 1979 NCAA Championship victory. This earned him the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA's most outstanding player. After being drafted by the Minnesota North Stars, Christoff had put his pro career on hold to represent the red, white and blue at the 1980 Olympics. He certainly lived up to the hype as he was the team's leading scorer during qualifiers. In the Gold Medal game on Feb. 24, 1980, Christoff scored USA's first goal to nod the game at one apiece in the second period. Finland would answer to take a 2-1 lead heading into the third period, prompting Brooks' epic f-bomb speech at the break. Early in the final period with the pressure mounting, U.S. got the equalizer from Phil Verchota followed shortly after by Rob McClanahan's go-ahead goal to give the Americans a 3-2 advantage. That's when Christoff struck again with an assist to Mark Johnson for USA's final tally, a huge short-handed insurance goal to seal the comeback victory and earn the gold medal.

Steve Christoff was one of the leaders of our team," said USA goaltender Jim Craig. "[He] also had an excellent professional career. And [he] liked the big games. In fact, I believe the Gold Medal game vs. Finland was his best of the tournament when he scored the game-tying goal and assisted on the final goal.

During the medal presentation, the captains of Team USA, USSR and Sweden stood ready to receive their gold, silver and bronze medals, respectively. With a classy display of solidarity which epitomized the 1980 USA "Miracle on Ice" hockey team, an emotional Mike Eruzione invited all his teammates to join him on the podium. This monumental first place winner's gold medal is the one awarded to Steve Christoff at that memorable moment in Lake Placid.

The gorgeous medal was struck by Tiffany & Co. of New York and is crafted with fine Sterling Silver plated in gold. The obverse shows a raised hand holding the Olympic torch against a mountain backdrop, with “XIII Olympic Winter Games" on the left and the Olympic rings on the right. The reverse features a large pine branch on the right with the Lake Placid Games logo at the top followed by “Lake Placid 1980” and “Ice Hockey Steve Christoff" engraved on the surface, forever commemorating this historic gold with one of its most important recipients. The edge is hallmarked with the maker, metal composition and year struck. Measuring 3 1/8” (80 mm) in diameter and weighing 7.6 oz. (215 g), the medal exhibits light wear, with the engraving and relief details distinct and strong. The gold plating remains shiny and the surface is smooth with just the slightest of scratches. Christoff subsequently removed the medal's original ribbon and clasp for personal preference (perhaps to display better in a case). This rare chance to own such an important piece of Olympic and American sports history cannot be understated. This exact medal initially sold for $540,000 in 2006 (sales receipt included in paperwork). It comes with a detailed letter of provenance from Steve Christoff himself. Also includes a 2006 appraisal from Howard Schultz in the amount of $750K.

1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics USA Hockey "Miracle On Ice" Gold Winners Medal Presented to Center Steve Christoff (Goal & Assist in Olympic Final) - Christoff LOA
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