On February 22nd 1980 the impossible took place, a underdog team of American college hockey players defeated the might Soviet Union Team at Lake Placid New York. It was one of the most memorable and legendary moments in sports history.
I cannot forget that day. I had finished work making and rolling pizza dough at Shakey’s Pizza in Stockton, went home and showered. I then got in my 1966 Buick LeSaber 400 to head over to Judy’s house. On my way over I was listening to the music on a local AM radio station when ABC news radio broke in to air final few seconds of the game live. I remember listening as Al Michaels made the famous call:
“Eleven seconds, you’ve got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”
I could not believe it. I found that was screaming in the car. As soon as I got to Judy’s I went in and told her and her parents. When the game came on, as it was tape delayed I watched it with undivided attention. To this day I cannot forget that night and as I watch the tapes of that game I am still moved to tears by the emotions that come from it.
The underdog Americans had beaten the vaunted Soviet team 4-3. That team went on to defeat Finland in the Gold medal game 4-2. The next day they were guests at the White House and after that the team broke up. Thirteen of those players went on to NHL careers. Brooks led the 2002 Team USA to a Silver Medal in 2002 before being killed in a car crash in 2003. That Silver Medal was the first medal in Hockey for the US since 1980.
The Soviet people and their news media were stunned by the loss. Though the Soviet Team won Silver by defeating Sweden 9-2 the team had lost its luster. While the Soviet Team remained dominant until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990 it was the end of an era. The Soviets who had taken Gold in the four previous Olympics went on to win Olympic Gold in 1984, 1988 and again after the fall of the Soviet Union as the Unified Team in 1992.
But even so, the upset loss to the young Americans was something that many never really got over. It was not about Cold War politics, it was about pride in their team and their passion for the sport of Hockey. For years many Russians, even after the fall of the Soviet Union longed for Olympic revenge against the Americans.
Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke watched today’s United States versus Russia game at a bar in Sochi with ordinary Russians. His story is well worth the read, but one comment stood out to me in relation to the 1980 game.
“The 1980 game will forever be a scar on my heart,” said 69-year-old Vladimir Makushkin, pausing while carrying his beer from table to table. “Every American knew we were the stronger team. It was students that beat us … young students!”
You can read his article here: http://www.latimes.com/sports/olympics/la-sp-sochi-mens-hockey-plaschke-20140216,0,1790197.column#ixzz2tRThGXrh
Today in Sochi the American and Russian teams met in a first round game. It was different than 1980. These teams are very evenly matched. Many of the players on both teams play together or against each other in the NHL. They are professionals, they are teammates but today they were playing for something different, Olympic Gold.
It was a game of greatness, high drama with the teams being tied as the Third Period ended. A shootout ensued and in the 8th round of the shootout T.J. Oshie scored the deciding goal to give the Americans the win.
For many Russians today’s loss was devastating. But at the same time the fans that Plaschke watched the game with displayed the sportsmanship that one expects of fans that love their team, but also love and respect the game even more than the politics that so often enters into Olympic and other International athletic competitions.
I think that Americans and Russians alike are much more appreciative of each other as well as the shortcomings of our respective governments in post Cold War era. Maybe, just maybe such appreciations will help both of our peoples become closer in the coming years, despite the pressure exerted by the unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers that is so strong in each of our countries.
Though I was for the American team, I have tremendous respect for the Russians, many of whom I cheer for in the NHL. I am happy that Team USA won, but I will not gloat. It was a tremendous game between tow outstanding teams and the Russians could have won as easily as the Team USA. The Russians and many of the other teams are hugely talented and this tournament could be won by any team. I think that the Canadians probably have the best team in the tournament, but anything can happen.
Vladislav Tretyak, who was the starting Goalie for the Soviet squad at Lake Placid and was replaced at the end of the second period with the game tied is often asked about the Miracle on ice. He sees it through the lens of hockey and not politics. He noted: “It was cold above us, but we (the U.S. and Soviet players) always had fine relations… There was none of that, no politics involved.” When asked about the loss he simply says “That’s ice hockey.”
So on that, in the hopes that good sportsmanship, camaraderie and the love of a game can bring better appreciation for each other by Americans and Russians I wish you a good night.