Happy Miracle on Ice Day!

2024-02-22 14:00:28

Politics suck. I’m still suffering from the flu. I need a smile.

Well, today just happens to be the anniversary of the most significant moment in sports history! (Honestly, I tie it with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in MLB.)

Happy Miracle on Ice Day!

Forty-four years ago today, the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union 4-3 in Lake Placid, NY.

It was one of the greatest moments in American history on the political, cultural, and societal front. After all, as the late great Andrew Breitbart said, politics is downstream from culture.

Who doesn’t get chills when Al Michaels says, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

The victory was so significant that the Sports Illustrated cover commemorating it had no words.

A picture of the victory proves the cliche correct: a picture is worth a thousand words.

I don’t even need to write much about it. The picture and video of the last minute of the game are enough.

Here are a few important details to always remember.

America and the Soviet Union used the Olympics as a Cold War battleground.

The Soviet Union dominated the Olympics in the 1970s. The Communists won 17 more gold medals than the Americans during the 1972 Munich Summer Games. They even won the gold in men’s basketball!

The humiliation forced Congress to embed itself into the Olympics:

“Winning is very important. Maybe more important than ever,” wrote President Gerald R. Ford, a former football player. “I don’t know of a better advertisement for a nation’s good health than a healthy athletic representation.” To create a stronger Team USA, the White House and Congress strived to wrestle control of amateur athletes from two organizations in a constant turf war: the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Amateur Athletic Union. Their efforts crystalized in the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, a piece of legislation that provided the U.S. Olympic Committee with overwhelming authority over training and selection of athletes.

Remember, the Soviet Union embarrassed America in men’s basketball. America won every gold medal in that sport before the Munich Olympics.

The Russians treasure hockey. If you’re a hockey fan, you know hockey’s importance to Russia. It was a big deal when Russians defected to America to play in the NHL. At that time, it was not just because you knew you received a great player, but you took a hockey player from the Soviet Union. (I’ll talk more about that later because I love hockey!)

FUN FACT: The Soviet Union team had Slava Fetisov, one of the most prominent Russian defectors to play in the NHL.

You know, the Russians salivated at the thought of destroying America on American soil in all sports, but as I said before, they love their hockey. Hockey players are some of the toughest and most athletic athletes ever.

It’s 1980. The Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979 soured Americans. Russia invaded Afghanistan. President Jimmy Carter trashed our economy and announced the boycott of the summer games in Moscow.

Russia had the upper hand in the Cold War. America needed another moon landing.

A bunch of scrappy college and amateur hockey players made up the U.S. team. It was the youngest team in Olympic history. Only four players had minor league hockey experience.

But coach Herb Brooks had a system. Brooks chose players with the mental ability to deal with pressure and make quick decisions.

The Soviet Union team had professional and older players. They played in international games. They won the last four gold medals. They hadn’t lost an Olympic game since 1968.

The game wasn’t the gold medal game. It was the game to advance to the gold medal game.

And yet, as team captain Mike Eruzione said, “Us winning the gold medal didn’t solve the Iranian crisis, didn’t pull the Russians out of Afghanistan, but people felt better, people were proud, people felt good about being an American.”

America defeated the Soviet Union’s most fierce athletic team on our soil. Not only did we deny them the gold medal, we denied them a place in the gold medal game!

The filmmakers of Miracle used Jack O’Callahan’s memory to pen the speech delivered by Brooks to the team before the game. I’m pretty sure Jack nailed it, though:

Great moments are born from great opportunity, and that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game; if we played them ten times, they might win nine.

But not this game, not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight we stay with them, and we shut them down because we can. Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world.

You were born to be hockey players — every one of you, and you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over.

I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have.

Screw ’em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it!

The players entered the rink with screams and shouts of “USA! USA!” You can hear it in the below video. CHILLS, BABY. CHILLS.

“I’ve never, ever experienced that kind of emotion,” said Eric Strobel. “It was like your skates weren’t even touching the ground. It was almost as if everyone was starting to believe.”

Then they won. America won. America defeated the Soviets in the greatest moment in sports history.

The Soviet players stayed on the ice for the traditional handshake but also because they were stunned. The Americans beat them.

THOSE Americans beat them.

Watch Miracle. It’s a pretty accurate movie! Kurt Russell looks so much like Brooks, too.

OK, so defections. The defections are important because they show the strength of the Soviet players, proving our defeat was beyond amazing.

Believe it or not, I know most of this by heart due to loving hockey and teachers letting me write about hockey in English and history classes.

The Montreal Canadiens drafted Viacheslav (Slava) Fetisov in 1978. He couldn’t play in North America but reentered the draft, taken by the New Jersey Devils in 1983. He didn’t debut until the 1989-1990 season, though.

Alexander Mogilny became the first player to defect after the Buffalo Sabres drafted him in 1988.

The rising star, known as Alexander the Great, disappeared from the World Junior Championships in Stockholm in 1989. He next appeared in North America.

The Sabres helped Mogilny defect to America from those games. His number 89 symbolized the year of his defection and his pick (89th overall) in the draft.

Mogilny opened the door for Russians. His former teammate Pavel Bure defected. Sergei Fedorov’s defection, another former teammate, is one of the more famous defection stories.

Maybe the defections helped end the Cold War since it happened around that time! Mogilny literally opened the gate and Russian players poured into the NHL.

The Detroit Red Wings had the Russian Five, the players who defected. The team drafted three (Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, and Slava Kozlov) and acquired two (Fetisov and Igor Larionov).

Those five players helped build a dynasty in Detroit. It was INSANE watching them play the game. Left you speechless. Combine them with Steve Yzerman, Paul Coffey, and Mike Vernon in the net. WOW. I am glad I witnessed it.

Unfortunately, Konstantinov’s career ended after the 1997 Stanley Cup Final due to a limousine crash. He survived but suffered head injuries. He still attends Red Wings games, and no one has worn #16 since he left the game.

The movie Red Army is about Fetisov’s journey to the NHL.

The movie Russian Five details how they came to Detroit, helping the Original Six team end its long Stanley Cup drought of 42 years.


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