Esposito Addresses the Nation
It is now a legendary piece of Canadian hockey folklore. Following a terrible game against the Soviets in game 4 in Vancouver, a game in which the Vancouver fans booed Team Canada loudly and routinely, Phil Esposito decided to speak his mind.
"For the people across Canada, we tried. We gave it our best. For the people who booed us, jeez, all of us guys are really disheartened and we're disillusioned and we're disappointed in some of the people. We cannot believe the bad press we've got, the booing we've gotten in our own buildings. If the Russian fans boo their players like some of the Canadian fans - I'm not saying all of them - some of them booed us, then I'll come back and apologize to each and every Canadian. But I don't they will. I'm really, really, I'm really disappointed. I am completely disappointed. I cannot believe it. Some of our guys are really really down in the dumps. We know - we're trying. What the hell, we're doing the best we can. They've got a good team and let's face facts. But it doesn't mean that we're not give it our 150 per cent because we certainly are...
"Everyone one of us guys, thirty-five guys who came out to play for Team Canada," Esposito continued, "we did it because we love our country and not for any other reason. They can throw the money for the pension fund out the window, they can throw anything they want out the window - we came because we love Canada. And even though we play in the United States and we earn money in the United States, Canada is still our home and that's the only reason we come. And I don't think its fair that we should be booed."
Johnny Esaw, the broadcaster doing the interview, knew he had something special, and was more than willing to let Phil talk as long as he wanted. All along a few fans heckled from the safety of seats above, angering Esposito to a scary new level.
"I was so mad I felt like ramming my stick right down his throat. That's when I realized we were in a war, man." Esposito remembered years later "That's when I realized we were in a war, man. This isn't a game. This is a war and we'd better get ourselves together."
Esposito TV interview the day after "The Speech" - CBC (1:45)
Esposito's rant was the turning point in the series. It fired up his teammates who would go on to reverse all the wrongs of the games and Canada, and would make a dramatic and heroic comeback in Moscow that a nation would remember and cherish forever.
Esposito's speech is probably the most famous example of a hockey figure using the media to fire up his team. While his was entirely impromptu, it is a somewhat common ploy by coaches or captains to have a speech along those lines once a season or so.
Wayne Gretzky even used a similar type of speech to create a everyone-hates-Canada atmosphere to anger his players onto victory in the 2002 Olympics. Gretzky's speech was instantly compared to Espo's, bringing Espo and memories of the 1972 Summit Series back to life yet again.