We all know it happened at the height of the cold war. America, much as it is today, was terribly divided. Domestic frustrations were running incredibly high. But not as high as the international tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
We desperately needed a shot in the arm. And from mid to late February, 1980 we certainly got it. The underdog United States Olympic hockey team gave us all a lift when it beat the overwhelming favorite and undisputed greatest team in the world.
The best part was not in the winning. It was how they won. They used good old fashioned American work ethic. Something many in our country feared was quickly evaporating. The impact was immediate and astounding.
In forward Buzz Schneider's hometown of Babbitt, Minnesota, men went out into their yards and began firing shotguns into the air. Like they did sometimes on New Year's Eve.
One scene was happening all over the U.S. People driving along highways were pulling over and getting out of their vehicles. They were dancing, and hugging strangers, and screaming " WE BEAT THE RUSSIANS ! " We beat the Russians. We. Not those unknown kids over in Lake Placid, New York playing a hockey game. We.
In Winthrop, Ma., more than 50 people gathered outside the home of the hockey team's captain, Mike Eruzione. During the celebration they spontaneously began singing the national anthem. What a sight that must of been.
My favorite story happened three thousand miles from the Olympic venue. In Santa Monica, California. A local photographer went into his hometown grocery store. Just a little mom and pop place run by an immigrant man and his wife. "Guess what?" He began. "Our boys beat the Russians." The old grocer's eyes welled. "No kidding?" He replied. And as the tears began to fall down his cheeks he asked again. "No kidding?"
The dichotomy of all this is those twenty young men were just trying to win a Gold medal. One player put it succinctly. "If people want to think that performance was for our country, that's fine. But the truth of the matter is it was just a hockey game. We had enough to worry about without thinking about Afghanistan or winning it for the pride and glory of the United States. We wanted to win for ourselves."
If any of this sounds selfish to any of you, believe me it's not. In any team athletic competition it has to be you and your team against the one you're trying to beat. You can't let outside entities enter into the equation. All the rah, rah stuff must come later.
And if they hadn't beaten the team from Finland two nights later, the United States team would have finished fourth. Shut out from any medal. While all of America was still celebrating our victory against the hated Soviets, the team knew the job wasn't finished.
But to the rest of us, it meant that for a brief time we were once again one country, undivided. 220 million people standing for one thing in unison. We sure could use something like that again. But I won't hold my breath.
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