Monday, February 22, 2010

Miracle on Ice - 30 years later

It has been 30 years, but the "Miracle on Ice" is still the measuring stick for upsets in sports. Not since David cast his stone has someone overcome so much to go on to victory.

That is what we have always been told right? I mean I saw Kurt Russell himself on the big screen convincing me it is the greatest upset ever and has still not been topped. I was just three when Mike Eruzione and his plucky bunch knocked off the Soviets, so I really don’t have much to go off of other than what I see on TV.

But by all accounts, this game is the undisputed underdog story. A true David vs. Goliath, right? How could it not be? It wasn’t until I stumbled across a story in the Toronto Sun that I realized not everyone felt the way I had perceived the whole world did.

Bill Lankhof, a columnist for the Toronto Sun has a differing opinion, sort of. In his column, Hockey’s little Miracle, (the headline alone should have told me his real thoughts) Lankhof gives the impression he is making a case for that 1980 triumph in Lake Placid as the greatest upset ever.

His lead looks like it is going to set up a look back at the signature Winter Olympic moment.

There are moments in history when time, place and opportunity converge to create magic.

One of those Cinderella events unfolded Feb. 22, 1980, when 20 fuzzy-cheeked college kids pulled off the greatest upset in sports history.

He continues

It was the day that hockey came of age in the U.S. American colleges began taking hockey programs more seriously. It was the impetus that helped change the face of the National Hockey League so that today it has 216 American-born players. In 1980, it had a mere handful. It hastened the development of a sport that has allowed the NHL to put teams in non-traditional places such as Dallas, Florida, Nashville and San Jose. It fostered minor hockey programs in every state.

It is the day the sport took root in America and allowed it to grow into one where players -- like their basketball and baseball cousins -- now earn millions of dollars.

What also set The Miracle On Ice apart from ordinary upsets is that this was about much more than sports. The Cold War was still casting a chill over the globe. U.S. president Jimmy Carter was considering a boycott of the Moscow Games. The Iron Curtain divided the world, the Iran hostage crisis was unfolding and America was still binding the wounds left by the Vietnam War.

This wasn't just a game as much as it was a war of lifestyles; it was capitalism vs. communism, a clash of cultures and societies that had political implications.
Just taking these excerpts, it would appear Mr. Lankhof is on board with what the rest of the world thinks, right?

Well mixed in with the admiration and praise for what the underdog American’s did on that day is a slew of backhanded shots and anti-American sentiment.

When the United States defeated the mighty Soviet Union at Lake Placid, television commentator Al Michaels called it a miracle.

In other words, supernatural: Something incomprehensible, improbable and beyond human understanding. It is a comment meant in the noblest of fashions. But, it has also left a lingering impression that it was a victory not so much earned as one that came like a lucky roll of the dice; like a bolt of lightning from the hockey gods, perchance angered by the smugness of the almighty Soviets and Canadians.

Eruzione's goal to put the U.S. ahead came with 10 minutes to play. And, thus was born the chant of "U.S.A., U.S.A!" that has energized and nauseated (depending on your point of view) the world ever since.

Unfortunately, America didn't hear it. While the game was shown live in Canada, it was on a tape-delayed basis in the U.S. Even then, even at home, they got disrespected. Two days later the Americans beat Finland to seal their gold medal. But the U.S. had lost a chance to wave Ol' Glory in the world's face -- and when can anyone remember that ever happening?

It allows the hockey intelligentsia to smile and nod and maybe, acknowledge that, "Well, yes, that was cute!" -- then, dismissing Monday's anniversary as just a day 20 kids caught lightning in a bottle.
This article is such a conflicting piece. You can almost see the writer’s inner angst and anguish as it is written. He wants to “believe” but he just can’t. For every bit of praise he heaps on the Americans, his next sentence is there to discredit it.

Evidently the Canadian’s 1972 victory over the Soviets was a big win. I’ll have to take Lankhof’s word for it, because it is the first I have heard of it. The 40th anniversary of that great Canadian moment is coming up in two years and I will be interested to see Lankhof’s tribute to that. One thing I am pretty certain of is no one from the New York Times or Washington Post will give it any ink.

The 1980 game changed so many things in the world of sports, from the way they are covered and televised (do you think anything like that will EVER be tape delayed again?) to just the attitude of any athlete at any level who is facing a near impossible challenge.

So was the “Miracle on Ice” the greatest upset in the history of sports? I’d like to think it was. I mean here we are 30 years after USA beat the Soviet Union and a Canadian is still getting worked up about it – the game just keeps giving.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I think I am starting to dislike the Super Bowl

As I have gotten older, I think I am starting to like the Super Bowl less and less.

This was a good game this year, there is no doubt about it. You have to hand it to the Saints, they played a good game and are the champions. It was an entertaining game, but not the best this season. There were a lot of better games this year.

The main problem I have with the Super Bowl is it seems it is the one day out of the year people who are not football fans can pretend they are. They will go to parties and discuss why they know the Colts are going to win based on the extensive knowledge they learned from Tony Dungy.

I don’t need to get excited about the Super Bowl to prove I am a football fan. I think that was taken care of at some point during the last 20 Sunday’s when I was on my couch in front of my TV while 80 percent of the 106 million Super Bowl viewers were shopping, eating, jogging or whatever else it is that non-football fans do on any given Sunday.

You can always tell who the non-football/sports fans are by the questions they ask in the days before and after the Super Bowl:

The first, who do you have winning the game? I hate when I get asked that question. They don’t care who I think is going to win, they just want me to know they are aware there is a game that society tells them they are supposed to be interested in.

Do you have any money on it? Again, another question I hate. First off, no, according to NCAA rules, I can’t have money on it. But the reason for the question is basically so they can then tell me about the great pool their cousin got them in that is paying out $1,000 per quarter plus it has these new bonuses that are unique to their pool only and last year they almost won $2,500 if it wouldn’t have been for that catch by that one guy at the end of the game.

When I tell them I really don’t have a rooting interest, (and I really got asked this question this year), do you think you would be a little more excited if the Cowboys were playing in it? Well no shit, obviously. What tipped you off, the Romo jersey I wear every Sunday or the Cowboy polo I wear to work every Monday after a Dallas victory?

Then the questions on Monday after the game:

Did you watch the game? Of course I watched the game. I always watch the game. And I am not just talking about the Super Bowl. I am talking about nearly every game that comes on TV here. I am a football fan. That is what I do.

What did you think of the game? I thought it was a good game. Not really sure what you want here.

Did you go to a party? No I watched the game. I thought we covered this already.

Can you believe they intercepted Peyton Manning and returned it for a touchdown? (substitute any big play from any Super Bowl here – can you believe that big guy ran all that way and no one tackled him; can you believe that guy caught the ball on his helmet; can you believe they kicked to Hester; can you believe Brady was drafted in the sixth round, I bet every other team feels stupid now; can you believe the Titans almost scored at the end; can you believe Elway dove like that and got spun around; can you believe they threw the ball directly to Larry Brown, twice; can you believe Lett had the ball knocked out of his hand at the goal line; can you believe that field goal went wide right; can you believe the 49ers scored on that last drive; can you believe the Fridge scored a touchdown; can you believe Swann made that catch; can you believe how cold it was at that game; can you believe they finished the year undefeated; can you believe the MVP was from the losing team; can you believe Namath guaranteed they would win and then they did; can you believe Max McGee had seven catches?) Yeah, I can.

I think the hyperbole that surrounds the Super Bowl actually takes something away from the game. The Super Bowl is becoming bigger than the sport. It is becoming its own event that is not about football anymore. Because of the hype, the media feels the need to then try to make this bigger than it should be.

The funny thing is, the players and coaches get it. On more than one occasion, a player came out and said they are going to treat this like any other game and everyone thought it was lip service. The fact is, it is just like any other game.

Yes, the stakes are higher and a championship is on the line. For that reason, there doesn’t need to be any added drama. The game is its own dramatic moment and nothing artificial needs to be built in to it. Just let it play out like we did for 99 percent of the other games played this season (Brett Favre and the Packers reunion excluded).