I made it out of L’s room just in time to see the last 11 minutes or so of the US – Canada hockey game Sunday night. That was something else. I think I’m glad I didn’t see the whole thing, because I might have been awake all night after a game that exciting.*
(If you missed it, the Americans knocked off the tournament favorites 5-3 in a fantastic game.)
The US advances to the quarterfinals, and while Canada and Russia are still the teams to beat, at least they’re in the running.
But it’s not exactly 1980. The US team, like all the others, is filled with NHL players. The hosts and the Russians just happen to have better and more experienced NHL players right now.
Still, this was the United States’ biggest Olympic hockey win since that fabulous weekend 30 years ago when they beat the Soviets on Friday night and the Finns on Sunday morning to win the Gold Medal. So we’re going to hear all kinds of connections to the Miracle on Ice for the next 36 hours or so, especially since Monday is the anniversary of the 4-3 win over the USSR.
<a href=”http://joeposnanski.com/JoeBlog/2010/02/21/10-things-about-the-miracle-on-ice/”>Joe Posnanski</a> posted ten things about the Miracle on Ice game he found interesting after reviewing the game for an SI profile he wrote on Al Michaels and Bob Costas. Thus it seems I’m obligated to share my own memories of that night, right?
The Miracle on Ice was not my first huge sports memory. I remember watching the 1977 Super Bowl, between Dallas and Denver. I remember crying after the Steelers beat the Cowboys in the 1979 Super Bowl. I remember George Brett’s three home run game in the 1978 ALCS, the Thurman Munson game, and most of the 1979 World Series. But none of those events compares to the 1980 Olympics.
I do remember rushing home from school each afternoon to watch whatever was on ABC.* Maybe my memory is way off, but I remember them showing a lot of the daytime events live. That meant watching Eric Heiden skate on that great outdoor speed skating track. Next to the hockey team, my enduring image of the games is Heiden pulling off the hood of his uniform and skating through the falling snow after each of his gold medals.
(This was a bit problematic. We could pick up four TV stations at our house. A CBS station from the next city over, an NBC station from across the river in Illinois, a PBS station that was fairly close, and an ABC station that was about 60 miles away. The ABC station didn’t always come in the clearest. I’m pretty sure between the weak signal and our small TV, I didn’t see the puck very clearly during any of these games.)
I had not paid much attention to hockey in the early days of the games. I was just an eight year old kid living in southeast Missouri; what the hell did I know about hockey? But an uncle came to visit a few nights into the games and made sure that we watched the USA-Czechoslovakia game. I thought the “Check the Czechs” sign one fan had was kind of funny. I timed it right, as that was the game that showed the team had the makings of something special.
For the next week and a half, I faithfully tuned into every US hockey game.
With the exception of the 1979 Super Bowl, I don’t remember having been as excited about a sporting event as I was for the US-USSR hockey game. I fidgeted at school all day in anticipation. During recess and lunch my buddies and I sat around and discussed the US’ chances.
Joe makes a fine point in his post about how what happened that night could not happen today. The game was played in the late afternoon, but tape delayed for prime time in the US. I don’t know if I avoided the nightly news or any other news sources that afternoon, but I did not know the score when the game started. A few years ago ESPN showed the game and I was amused by Jim McKay’s lead-in. He smiles and says he’s not going to give away the result. Meanwhile, behind him a live shot of Lake Placid showed people literally losing their minds. I think I missed that, too, because I like to think I would have figured out what was up had I seen it.
As for the game, I’d love to tell you that I have detailed memories of every key moment in the game. I don’t. I remember watching intently, with my chair just inches from the TV. My parents and uncle had gone to dinner, so I had our apartment to myself. Between periods, I played my Mattel electronic football game that my uncle had given me for Christmas. I think I also came up with plans to have my own Winter Olympics with my neighborhood friends if we got one more snow.
What was I doing during those last minutes, when the clock was winding down and the impossible was becoming reality? No idea. Given how I react to tense moments in big games now, I probably had sweaty palms, an upset stomach, a dry mouth, and had trouble speaking clearly. Fortunately, there was no one around to see me wigging out.
The clock counted down, Al Michaels made the most famous call ever, and I believe I lost my mind for a few minutes in a small Jackson, MO apartment. I could not wait for my parents and uncle to get home so I could tell them! When they did arrive, they of course had heard, and we all greeted each other excitedly. The moment has become mythologized over the decades – famously many people forget the US had to play another game to win the gold medal – but I think our reaction was typical. A lot of people who didn’t have a clue about hockey, some of whom weren’t even big sports fans, were swept up in the moment.
I’m fortunate that I have some very special sports memories. I’ve followed some teams that have won some championships in dramatic fashion. But nothing will ever compare to how I felt that weekend in February, 30 years ago.