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.

1 comment:

Alex Stivers said...

The 'Miracle on Ice' is, and always will be in my lifetime, the greatest sports upset in history. What we have here is a Canadian reporter trying to stir the hornet's nest in the day of the US/Canada contest in order to get some timely buzz for his column.

Just like his column is conflicting within itself, this writer probably doesn't have the constitution to keep a stance. Don't be surprised if his next column sports something along the lines of 'biggest upset ever', just to go along with the feelings of the Canadians for the next 24-48 hours.