Early this morning, just hearing the date — Feb. 22 — gave me a happy chill. (Not the snowdrift kind.)
Forty-one years ago tonight, in 1980, I watched a hockey game. That wasn’t exactly news, especially in that era when the Winter Olympics had amateur teams (at least in the U.S. and most countries) and the NHL continued play. The Blackhawks one night, the U.S.A. Olympic team the next, the Blackhawks the third… hockey heaven. Yes, I was old enough to stay up for it.
The world was in trouble. In November 1979, U.S. diplomats had been taken hostage in Teheran, Iran. The U.S. government seemed powerless to do much about it. I was impressed that even adults I overheard were talking about Jimmy Carter as the worst president ever. (I didn’t have many presidents to compare yet.)
On top of all of that were the daily crises of high school. No wonder I loved having a game to holler about every night. The Blackhawks weren’t doing all that well, but I quickly realized that the young students and other amateurs of the U.S.A. team were a powerful team.
Unlikely win after unlikely win had the crowds in the rink at Lake Placid, N.Y., chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” It was patriotism that I hadn’t heard so strongly before.
The medal round, the playoffs of the Olympics, pitted the young U.S. team against the Soviet Union team — “the Russians,” some people said, even though the Soviets included other provinces as well as Russia. The trouble was that the ban on professionalism was skirted by the Soviets — they employed their hockey players as soldiers in the Soviet Red Army, but their job was playing hockey.
Before the Olympics began, the U.S.A. team was beaten by the Soviets at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Soviet team had an exhibition series against various NHL teams, and they seemed terrible to me (i.e. they beat the Blackhawks).
But on Feb. 22, 1980, the U.S.A. team played the Soviet team. The game was on “tape delay” — finished before it was broadcast. I still remember the reasoning from the second intermission as I heard an announcer say that the team that won would play Finland on Sunday for the gold medal, then add something like “We take you now to the streets of Lake Placid” as photos of banners reading “Go for the Gold” filled the screen.
That’s right — beating the Soviets didn’t mean winning the gold. There was another game to be played — but beating Finland was comparatively easier. It didn’t carry the emotional weight of beating “the Russians,” either, with “cold war” imagery easily flying around.
Mike Eruzione’s goal made it 4-3, U.S.A.’s lead, with ten minutes — half of the last period — to play. Given a choice of watching the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup-winning games from 2010, 2013, or 2015, or watching this game from 41 years ago today, I would have to take longer than the famous 17 seconds at the end of the 2013 win to decide. (Thanks to YouTube, if I want to have the quadruple-header of all time, it looks like I can.)
I might just decide on the oldest game of all — the one that didn’t decide the championship, but is still one of my favorite memories from a very difficult year. It’s on YouTube if you put in Miracle on Ice — but for some reason, I can’t embed the video here.
Al Michaels’ famous call, “Five seconds left in the game… do you believe in miracles? YES!” stays with me any time a discussion of miracles comes up, but especially on its anniversary (namely today).
I can’t remember very many other days in my life that gave me such a powerful expression. We could use that sort of thing again.
Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.
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Filed under: Expressions