The 1980 Miracle on Ice: Last man cut

Ralph Cox was a standout hockey player at the University of New Hampshire and lynchpin member of the national team in 1979. Then he suffered a severe injury, breaking his ankle in a game against Poland one month before tryouts for the Olympic team.

Herb Brooks still wanted Cox on his team. "Herb was fantastic," Cox says. As Brooks put together a roster to play a demanding exhibition schedule, he gave the injured Cox one of the coveted spots. But that wasn't a guarantee Cox would earn a space on the final 20-man unit for the Olympics.

Cox had mostly healed and skated himself back into shape as the team neared the end of its pre-Olympic schedule. With the team about to head to Lake Placid, Brooks needed to make one more cut.

The team was gathering for a going-away banquet at a hotel in Minneapolis, where the team had lived as it prepared for the Olympics. Cox got a phone call that Brooks wanted to see him beforehand.

"I really thought I would be on the team and go to Lake Placid. I sensed he was calling me there to tell me otherwise." Brooks was waiting in a conference room downstairs. Cox walked towards it with a sense of dread. "I stayed outside the room for about a good five minutes, just trying to catch my breath, get my composure," Cox remembers.

"Finally I just said to myself, ‘Have some courage, take a breath, go in there and see what's going on.' When I walked in Herb was pacing back and forth. When he saw me come in he just looked at me, he welled up. ... It took him a few minutes to be able to catch his breath, get his composure.

"He asked me to sit down, he tried to talk, again he was a little emotional. At that moment for some reason I was extremely calm and in control and I looked at him and said, ‘Hey, it's going to be all right.'"

Brooks told Cox that his injury was still slowing him down. He wasn't going with the team to Lake Placid.

A few weeks later, Cox was playing in Tulsa for the Winnipeg farm team. He watched the Miracle game on TV, torn between being happy for his ex-teammates and devastated that he wasn't on the ice himself. "It was hard. It was emotional. I made myself watch it. You're watching it, and then you don't want to watch it, then you say to yourself, ‘Look, you've got to get over this.'"

About ten years after the Miracle game Cox read a strange comment in Sports Illustrated. When asked what he was thinking about in the final seconds of the victory over the Soviets, Brooks replied: "Ralph Cox."

"And I'm reading the article and I'm thinking, that's unusual. And it went on to talk about Herb being the last cut in the 1960 Olympics, right before the Olympics. ... When he let me go he was thinking about himself, possibly."

Cox and Brooks ended up working together for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 1990s. Cox was never bitter toward his ex-coach; as colleagues, they had many good conversations.

Since the release of the movie Miracle, Cox has been recognized more often. He gets autograph requests in the mail and replies to every single one. He normally gets a thank-you note in reply.

"A recent one was, ‘Dear Mr. Cox. Thank you so much for the picture. I promise I'll never give it away or sell it.' Isn't that something? 8-years-old. Or they'll send me one back of their hockey card, and on the back, favorite player: Ralph Cox. That stuff is worth the price of admission. That's good stuff."

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