February 22, 2010, - 1:51 pm
Thirty years ago today, on February 22, 1980, the first major event in the Reagan Revolution happened. Despite Jimmy Carter’s “malaise days” speech and his admonition to Americans that they shouldn’t expect their kids to have a better future than they had, a group of working class kids, who slept on old prison cots at Lake Placid, beat the Soviet Union’s professional hockey team in the hockey semi-finals at the Olympic Winter Games. Al Michaels’ famous, “Do You Believe in Miracles? YES!” lives on, as do chants of “USA! USA! USA!” And ultimately, the team went on to win the Olympic Gold Medal against Finland in the finals. I was a kid then, and boys at my school dressed up as the U.S. Olympic Hockey team for the Jewish holiday of Purim (on which kids wear costumes, as on Halloween).
In January 1981, when Americans, held hostage in Iran at the time of the 1980 Miracle, returned home after 444 days in captivity from Islamic captors, they were shown a video of what they missed. Many of them said the highlight of that film was the scene of Americans beating the Soviets. But it wasn’t just that we beat them. It’s that our amateurs beat their professionals, who’d bean unbeaten for eons. Plus, it was the first major event in which Americans started to take pride in their country again, amid a horribly ineffective President, the hostages in Iran, double-digit inflation, a depressed auto industry under attack from cheap Japanese cars, and rising gas prices.
Many are comparing yesterday’s U.S. Olympic hockey victory against the Canadians, yesterday, to what happened thirty years ago at Lake Placid. PUH-LEEZE. It doesn’t even compare. Yes, Team USA was booed by Canadians as they entered center ice, yesterday, but it’s nothing new that Canadians–who all live within 100 miles of the U.S. border and would starve, were it not for U.S. commerce and capitalism–hate us. They booed us in 2003, when U.S.-based NHL teams (starring mostly Canadians and Europeans) played on Canadian ice against their teams.
But the 1980 team, led by captain Mike Eruzione, were not a group of spoiled professionals playing spoiled professionals. That’s strictly what yesterday’s hockey game between the U.S. and Canada was. It had no meaning or significance, unlike the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” and the team coached by Herb Brooks to a David versus Goliath victory. In contrast, while some went on to play in the NHL after their Olympic victory, many on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team never made it big or had a multi-million (or even multi-thousand) dollar professional hockey contract. Instead, they were hungry, young, mostly working class kids who lived every day lives after the fact.
As I wrote in my 2004 review of the movie, “Miracle” (which I recommend to anyone who wants to learn about the 1980 Miracle on Ice), the 1980 team
had spunk, sparkle, and an underdog hunger to win for the U.S. . . .
“Miracle” shows the grueling conditioning Brooks put the team through. It’s doubtful today’s soft pros could withstand a lick of it.
The 1980 team was tough and gritty. They had no product endorsements or part-time jobs by Home Depot and Staples. They were no billions in tax subsidies. 1980 Olympians slept in converted prisons on prison cots, and organizers nearly declared bankruptcy on a $168 million budget. There were no $28 million opening ceremonies or $2 million temporary Olympic cauldrons and sculptures.
But there was heavy American pride.
The U.S. players included guys, like goalie Jim Craig, whose laid-off father desperately needed him to forgo the Olympics for the money an NHL career would provide. They beat the Soviets when months earlier an NHL All-Star team could not. (Get your own custom hockey jerseys, just like members of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team.)
And the team included players like my friend, Mark Wells, who scored three goals as a member of the USA Hockey Team, but never made it big. As I’ve written on this site, he lives in the Detroit area where, for years after the Olympic victory, he slaved nights as a shift manager for Ram’s Horn 24-hour Restaurants.
So to all of those who compare the Miracle on Ice that happened thirty years ago to yesterday’s piddling hockey night in Canada, please stop. The 1980 win was a victory over Communist tyranny. And there’s no hockey match-up on the horizon between us and Islamic terrorist groups.
Do you believe in miracles? Yes. But the one that happened thirty years ago today isn’t likely to be repeated anytime soon . . . if ever. And that’s a tragedy, especially since we have Jimmy Carter’s re-run now occupying the White House.
Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Posnanski has a great “10 Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know About the 1980 Miracle on Ice.”
Tags: 1980, 30, 30 years ago, 30 years ago today, 30th anniversary, Al Michael, Al Michaels, Communist, Communist tyranny, February 22, Gold Medal, Herb Brooks, Jim Craig, Jimmy Carter, Lake Placid, Mark Wells, Mike Eruzione, Miracle, Miracle on Ice, Olympic Gold Medal, Olympics, Reagan Revolution, Soviet Hockey Team, Soviet Union, Thirty years ago, thirty years ago today, US Hockey Team, USA, USA Hockey Team, Winter Olympics