Monday, February 22, 2010

A sports event bigger than sports

For those of you, say, under the age of 40, this date of Feb. 22 probably has no real significance. But for those old enough to remember Feb. 22, 1980, it was a huge day not just for American sports, but for America.

This is the 30th anniversary of "The Miracle on Ice," the 1980 upset when a bunch of college kids from the United States defeated the best hockey team in the world, the Soviet Union, 4-3, in the Lake Placid Winter Olympics.

Put it in perspective: This was still the height of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was still the Evil Empire, as Reagan called them. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were still very much military enemies as they had been since the end of World War II.

America was an economic spiral. Inflation was rampant.

The Soviet Union hockey team was a machine and had been for decades. They could beat an NHL all-star team. They were the best, having won every gold medal except one in the Winter Olympics since 1956. Fast, relentless, superior in every way. They had destroyed the U.S., 10-3, just 13 days previous in an exhibition game in New York.

Those of us old enough -- and man, do I feel old this morning -- remember what we were doing and where we were when he heard the U.S. had stunned the Soviets, 4-3. That's right. HEARD. It was not carried live on network television. No tweets. No cell phone messages. Nothing.

I was a student at Tech and was headed to Levelland to watch some of the girls regional basketball tournament. I think my hometown must have been playing, else why would I have been going? At any rate, there were break-ins from the radio of the game. The U.S. led. Now it was tied. The U.S. led again.

The Texan Dome was pretty full. All rural folks, mostly people who made their living via some form of agriculture. It was people who had probably never seen a hockey game in their lives. They wouldn't know a blue line from a blue streak.

When the P.A. announcer said during a timeout, "Your attention, please. A final score from the the U.S.-Soviet Union hockey game at the Winter Olympics. The Soviet Union 3....the United States 4."

The place went nuts. And that was a scene repeated in some form from coast to coast. It was an iconic sports event greater that sports itself. And it spawned perhaps the best call ever by ABC's Al Michaels, who now does Sunday night football for NBC: "Five seconds to go...Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

What some forget is that was not the gold medal match, but just a medal-round game. That was a few days later vs. Finland. This time I was at Love Field in Dallas, heading back to Lubbock from Fayetteville, Ark., having covered the Tech-Arkansas basketball for the student newspaper.

The bar/restaurantat Love Field was packed. This one was on TV. It was nearing the end of the game, but my plane was boarding. The U.S. had trailed for much of the game, but was rallying and clearly had to go. Aaaach, I had to go. Shortly after we were up in the air, the pilot announced the final score: U.S. 4, Finland 2." Much applause on a Southwest Airlines flight.

All of those guys are now in their 50s. None really went on to be stars in the NHL. The coach, Herb Brooks, was killed in a car accident. You can't reinvent history. There will never be another moment like it. A sports event galvanized America like never before and never again.

They should make a movie about that. Oh, that's right, they already have.

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