Today marks the 28th anniversary of the most important event in United States sports history. It's not too far-fetched to say that it was one of the most important events in the history of this nation.
I'm referring, of course to the Miracle on Ice. The day the United States hockey team improbably beat the Soviet Union 4-3 in the semi-final of the medal round of the 1980 Winter Olympics. The Soviets had won four straight gold medals and hadn't been challenged at all in the interim. They lost one game to Czechoslovakia in the preliminary round at the 1968 games and they were tied by Sweden in preliminary play at the 1972 games. They were the prohibitive favorite to win gold again. The United States was not projected to even qualify for the medal round.
Under the brilliant direction of Herb Brooks, USA hockey reinvented itself with an emphasis on training. They were built specifically to beat the Soviets.
The economic and political climate in the United States at that time was, to put it kindly, rough. The dollar was weak, unemployment was high, we were in the middle of an enormous grain and fuel crisis. Our President, Jimmy Carter, had lost control of his country. We had 52 American diplomats being held hostage by extremists in Iran. The US Ambassador to Afghanistan was kidnapped and murdered by Islamists. In short, Americans did not feel good about themselves or their country domestically or abroad.
The US team made a surprising run through the preliminary rounds and found itself against the dreaded Soviets in the semi-final. Despite their hard work getting to that point, nobody thought that team USA had any chance to win the game. They had been demolished in a "friendly" game just a week before the games started.
On that Friday afternoon, a miracle happened.
I remember watching the game. Even before the game, NBC made the decision to air it during prime time on tape delay. This was, of course, before Al Gore invented the interwebs, so everyone was watching it as if it was live. Anyway, I was an eight-year old boy living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I watched the game and was mesmerized by it. Hockey was completely foreign to me at that time, but that game planted the seen in me. I knew, even then, that I would one day be a big-time hockey fan.
I remember for weeks following that game, sliding around the linoleum floor of the kitchen in my sock feet, pretending I was skating. I had fashioned a "puck" out of duct tape and used a yard stick as a hockey stick. Why not a broom stick? I don't know. I chased the "puck" around the kitchen, firing slapshots at the sliding glass door, shouting "USA! USA! USA!" and "Eruzione scores!" A few years later, I broke that same glass door throwing rocks at a trash can outside in the driveway.
That's one of my favorite memories of my childhood. Sliding around the kitchen floor pretending to be Mike Eruzione. I have very few vivid memories of Christmases and birthdays, but that one is never going away.
As an eight-year old boy, the political ramifications of that sporting event were lost on me. I don't think any of us, even the adults, knew right away just how important it was for the psyche of this country. It didn't take long, though. Finally, we had something to be excited about as Americans. To say that spirits were buoyed would be a massive understatement.
We were still in the middle of a hostage crisis. That situation got much worse before it got better. We were still in the middle of a fuel crisis and a farming nightmare. Unemployment was still sky-high and our confidence in our President and in ourselves was still very low. For a while, though, we forgot about all of that, and we were proud as hell to be Americans.
5 years ago