(Long Island, N.Y.) Don’t get me wrong. I’m as patriotic as anyone out there, but I could not get myself excited as an American watching the hockey games at the Winter Olympics. Sure, I was pumped up as a sports fan, but this is supposed to be different from any regular season or playoff game.
The 1980 Olympics is still viewed today as the ‘end all’ for great fables. Just how anyone could compare the magnitude of that period of time and what the games meant then to what just occurred in Vancouver is stifling. If the United States could have pulled it out and defeated Canada in the Gold Medal game, the excitement would have been there but nothing along the lines of what took place three decades ago in Lake Placid.
Before the ‘Dream Team’ mentality was chic, the U.S. sent amateurs into battle. Some of the other countries worked around that, such as the U.S.S.R., but that is what made the challenge even tougher. The Russians were dominant in hockey and had veteran players that the Kremlin claimed did not get paid, thus retaining their amateur status. Everyone knew that this wasn’t the case, but you can’t let politics get in the way of athletics.
This same team defeated the NHL All-Stars two games to one in the 1979 Challenge Cup and then took apart the U.S. team 10-2 at Madison Square Garden the week before the Olympic torch was lit in upstate, New York. Not much was expected of the bunch of kids being coached by Herb Brooks and that may have played right into his hands.
By the time the Americans were ready to face the Russians in the semi-final game, their confidence level was sky high. They had played exceptionally well in the preliminary round and were ready for their biggest challenge. But perhaps the country didn’t have the same intensity. The game was not even showed live on television, but rather via tape delay a few hours later.
What was dubbed the “Miracle on Ice” was just that. For the U.S. to defeat their arch rivals – in sports and on a global scale – is still viewed as the biggest upset in sports history. This was more than winning a hockey game; it was the height of the Cold War and the world was a different place. Communism still ruled in many countries and Russia was our villain. There’s no way to sugar coat that.
The Russians took the loss with great disgrace and could not fathom that a group of guys barely out of high school could knock them out of the top two spots. Nothing less than gold was acceptable and even though they eventually took the Bronze Medal, the U.S.S.R. did so reluctantly.
When the U.S. took care of Finland 4-2 two days later, they made it official by winning the Gold Medal. It was as if they had already won one and now were taking a second. That’s how big the win over Russia was.
No one felt goosebumps – or the same ones – by watching teammates during the NHL season go against one another in these latest Olympics. Regardless of what their sweater said in the front, they still had teammates on the opposing bench. That had to come into play in some capacity.
When the decision was made to let the paid professionals take the place of the amateurs worldwide, it took all the fun out of the games.