Real talk: I'm only barely containing my excitement about this post. Phil Verchota is one of those athletes that, the more I read about him, the more I love him. It took me awhile to "discover" him -- talk about an unsung hero, emphasis on unsung -- but once I did, it was an extremely slippery slope. He's basically everything I enjoy in a human being. :)
+ Phil was kind of a terrifying athlete. In high school, he (obviously) played hockey and led the team to a surprise berth in the state championship tournament. He was also a state champion in the discus throw, and played both tight end and defensive tackle on the football team. The University of Minnesota football coach wanted him for outside linebacker, but Phil was recruited by Herb Brooks for his hockey abilities. In Phil's four years there, the Gophers won the NCAA championship twice, in 1976 and 1979. Opponents were often afraid of him, as he was huge and strong and would get an intense, mean look in his eyes during games; he was assumed to be the team's goon because he was such an intimidating package.
+ While people assumed Phil was a goon... he wasn't. Like, at all. He was quiet, mellow, laid-back, and super amiable -- "get Verchota chuckling and it would trigger an avalanche, a cascade of belly laughs." A giant teddy bear, basically. The son of two teachers, he's described as "inquiring and reflective" and, at Minnesota, was twice given the hockey team's award for top student-athlete. While he could give and receive body checks as well as anyone, he was actually not a fan of hockey's senseless violence and said he found it unsettling that someone you'd never met wanted to take your head off. But not only was Phil brilliant, his intelligence made for an incredibly dry, witty, sarcastic sense of humor. He wasn't afraid to sass his coaches, talking back and poking fun, and would even roll his eyes when Herb tried to get all psychological. (Seriously, everything I read about Phil makes me burst out laughing. He's the funniest person.) Basically, Phil broke just about every "dumb jock" stereotype!
+ Herb put Phil on the roster for the 1979 world championship team (even though Phil claims this was only because he had a valid passport -- I did say he has a dry wit!), and then chose him for the Olympic team later that year. During the pre-Olympic season, Phil scored 16 goals and 22 assists (38 points) in 53 games. One of those goals, it's important to note, came against the Soviet Union in that infamous 10-3 loss at Madison Square Garden right before the Olympics. (The other two that scored in that game were Mike Eruzione and Mark Johnson. So in other words, Phil was more than on par with the biggest names on the team.) At the Olympics, Phil scored 3 goals and 2 assists in eight games... and again, it's important to note that one of those goals came in the gold medal game against Finland. Phil scored to tie things up at two goals apiece before Rob McClanahan gave the U.S. the lead. And, in typical Phil Verchota fashion, he's said that he hopes that one day someone wins a pizza for knowing that piece of trivia. :)
+ Even though Phil had been drafted by the Minnesota North Stars in 1976, the violent style of play and the long seasons in the NHL had no real appeal for him. So after the Olympics, he signed a contract to play professionally in Finland. He stayed there for a year before spending some time working and fishing in Alaska, and he played on several more national teams. By the time tryouts for the 1984 Olympic team rolled around, Phil was ready for one last spin before retiring. So he made his second Olympic team -- and, at 27 years old, was nicknamed Old Man on a team whose average age was even younger than the 1980 team. He and John Harrington were the only two holdovers from that '80 team, and their experience had them named captain and alternate captain, respectively. :) But the '84 Olympics were a bit of a letdown, and the team finished seventh, with Phil scoring two goals and two assists.
+ Phil retired from hockey after those Olympics and returned to Minnesota, where he got into the banking industry. (Y'know, like all "goons" do, right? Hah.) Nowadays he's a successful executive (Northern Market President, to be exact!) at Deerwood Bank. So if you want financial advice, Phil's got your back.
Also, I'd like to direct your attention to a moment close to the end of the gold medal game. The U.S. was ahead by one, and Phil got called for a penalty (and was furious about it). But then Mark Johnson scored while Phil was still in the penalty box to increase the lead to two. And afterwards, when Phil noticed the camera on him, this happened:
Tell me he's not the absolute greatest, I dare you. Unfortunately, the internet is extremely lacking when it comes to videos of Phil, but check out his goal against Finland! (It's a highlights compilation, so skip to 2:15 if you must.)