TAMPA, Fla. — It was a countdown that electrified the nation: The Miracle on Ice, the U.S. men’s hockey team’s stunning defeat of the Soviet superpower in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Given Mitt Romney’s own role in the Olympic Games two decades later in Utah, it’s no wonder the Romney campaign wants to capture some of that Olympic spirit on Thursday, the final night of the Republican National Convention.
They will try to do that, in part, by featuring the captain of that gold medal team, Mike Eruzione, a former Boston University hockey player and Winthrop native. They have given him a prime-time spot just minutes before Romney himself takes the floor. We spoke this week to Eruzione and asked why he thinks he’s been given this prominent role in Tampa.
Mike Eruzione: Having thought a little about it, I know he wants to talk a little bit, or have his committee or campaign talk, about what happened in Salt Lake City and his involvement in the Olympic Games.
In 2002, myself and my teammates had the honor or lighting the cauldron in Salt Lake City so I was a big part of the Opening Ceremonies and the Games in general. And I think they want to show what Mitt did in Salt Lake to bring the games together.
How do you think you’ll help in that effort?
That’s a good question; I think just by outlining that in my opinion, you know, that was an Olympic Games that looked like it was going to pot, so to speak. There was a lot of issues, there was a lot of in-house fighting, there was a lot of turmoil in terms of finances, and I think they needed somebody to come in and straighten the Games out.
And you add on top of that, it was coming right off of 9/11 and I think not only was the United States, but I think the world was watching. What is going to happen in Salt Lake City to make this possibly a total disaster?
And I think they want to show that Mitt stepped in and showed some great leadership and some great qualities to pull the Games together. It was probably one of the best and most organized Olympic Games that I’ve been to.
So you see a link between leadership at the Olympics and what it takes to succeed there and also leadership in possibly being the next president?
I think so, I think it goes hand in hand. You know, I’ve been telling everybody, all my friends have kind of been kidding me about doing this because I’m really not a political person — I mean I have my own issues and beliefs and thoughts — but you know clearly I think that’s indicative of somebody who is a leader, somebody who can step forward in a crisis, somebody who came forward at a very difficult time and put something together.
So there has to be some kind of a tie between the two.
If your friends are giving you a little bit of a hard time, are you a Republican?
I’m an independent. My family’s been a Democrat for years and years and I’ve always felt that I don’t really believe you have to follow one particular philosophy.
I think there are people out there in government that are Republicans and Democrats and independents that bring a lot to the table. So it was quite a few years ago that I kind of went my own way and kind of choose candidates based on who I think is the right person. I for one think it should be Mitt and I’m one that’s going to support him.
What is your personal relationship with Mitt Romney?
You know, functions that we’ve been to, sporting events, Olympic Games — I was with him a couple of times in Vancouver, obviously spent some time with him in Salt Lake City.
So I’ve had some social contact with him. You know, we don’t hang together or go out Friday nights or play golf, because to be honest with you I don’t even know if he plays golf. But I got to know him and Ann and a couple of the boys fairly well over the years.
The Romney campaign is trying hard this week to humanize the candidate, as it says. And I’m wondering if you’ve felt as you watch this race if he’s being misunderstood by the voters.
Well I think he’s been misunderstood a little, but I also think he’s a little guarded and maybe not ready to come out as forward and sociable as he is. He is a guarded kind of guy; I think Ann is a lot more outgoing, a lot more friendlier, and that’s her personality.
And somebody said that to me the other day, “You know, he’s not as gregarious and fun and loving,” and I said, “You know, I’m not sure I want a president that’s going to be a comedian.” I want somebody that’s going to be strict and disciplined and focused.
But there is another side to him. I think his kids clearly see that side and I think I’ve seen it at times, but I think maybe that’s something that he’s going to try to show at the convention.