Do You Believe in Miracles – YES!

21 February 2010

Has it really been 30 years since the greatest moment in US sports history? Many people said that it turned the tide on the Cold War. Some say it brought us out of the doldrums of a recession, inflation and our hostages being taken in Iran. Others think it was the beginning of the Reagan Revolution. I thought it was a hockey game, one that the USA wasn’t supposed to win.

Two weeks before the “Miracle on Ice” game, the US Olympic team played the team from the USSR and were properly thrashed 10-3. That game was televised yet only the 18,000 who were at Madison Square Garden were actually bothered to watch the game. The game that mattered, played 30 years ago today, was seen live by 8500 in the Field House in Lake Placid, NY. The rest of us had to wait until 8pm to find out the result. There was a complete media blackout so not even the Internet had the results.

I first became aware of the US team doing well after they beat Eastern Bloc powerhouse Czechoslovakia with a stunning 7–3 victory. After that they beat Norway, Romania and West Germany in the quarter-finals to set up a return match verses the vaunted CCCP. This time 8500 mostly US supporters were packed into the Field House in Lake Placid, NY. It seemed like half the country was watching the game via tape-delay.

Most of the people who watched the game had probably never seen hockey. Most have never seen one since.

I still remember seeing it on ABC, it was tape delayed back then. Even the Internet didn’t have the result. That evening I was working my first job at McDonalds. It was slow that night and I got to leave early. I knew the game started at 7:00 pm CST and I ran home six blocks to see as much of the game as possible. When I got there the US was down 2-1 in the first period. Almost immediately after I turned on the set, Mark Johnson got a cheeky rebound goal to tie the game with a few seconds remaining in the first period.

The highlight came in the third period, team captain Mike Eruzione scored the go-ahead goal with ten minutes remaining. I thought there is too much time, the Russians will come back and win it. I can still hear Al Michaels counting down the minutes which seemed to be the longest of my life. They would play and scrape for what seemed like a half hour yet only managed to take two minutes off the clock. I honestly thought the clock was going backwards. Finally, with about 30 seconds remaining, it was in the bag. The sound at the Field House was permeating through my little one-speaker color TV. I could barely hear Michaels through the noise of the crowd.

Then it happened…

Besides the great call something else was remarkable about that ending, Michaels said nothing after the game was over. Before this game when a team was triumphant, the announcer would continue talking.

“That’s it the Yankees have won the World Series, look at Chris Chambliss running back to the dugout, there’s Reggie Jackson with a smile that could light up all of the Bronx…”

After the “Miracle on Ice” announcers let the pictures do the talking. Sports Illustrated thought so much of the call that they did the print journalistic equivalent; they ran their cover with no headline. None was needed. The US Men’s Hockey Team pulled off the unthinkable. A bunch of college kids beat the best team of professionals in the world. Imagine Grand Rapids Community College beating Da Bears in the 1986 Super Bowl.

What is forgotten is that this was a semi-final match. The gold medal game actually came against Finland two days later. Once again the US Team came from behind to win. Then there was the medal ceremony. Eruzione was alone on the platform after the gold medal presentation. He called the rest of his team up to celebrate. The platform should have held 3 people max, yet somehow 20 college kids managed to get both feet on their and one finger up in the air.

The “Miracle on Ice” also gave us the chant – USA, USA, USA! In 1980 it meant something. It was pride in our country and a team. Sadly, the chant it is used far too often and has taken on a Jingoistic tone. I cringe when I hear it, especially with the wrong voices screaming it.

The win made the country feel good about ourselves after a long time of not being able to hold our heads high. I wonder if we can ever get that feeling back.

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