The Olympic hockey game Sunday between the United States and Canada is about as good as hockey gets — much anticipation, enthusiasm that resonated from fans to players and rapid-fire action.
Americans know see red in a vigorous rivalry reminiscent of a football "border war." It’s "heat-on-ice" hockey rather than "Cold War" hockey.
This hockey tournament is not set against that "Miracle on Ice" political background in 1980 at Lake Placid. The game against Canada does not rise to the multi-emotional levels of that 1980 match between the seemingly invincible Russians and the determined and focused American college kids.
The 1980 USA versus Russian hockey game is one of the few positive events in our history that almost everyone remembers where he was at the time.
It was the perfect storm for positive emotion.
This was a more primitive time technologically when there were few immediate news sources and extremely limited live capability. The game was telecast tape-delayed in America — and the delayed telecast began only about an hour after it ended.
The political setting was depressing in this country. There were still overtones from the Vietnam War. Folks were burning flags. The economy was in the tank. American hostages were held in Iran.
Olympic athletes were still technically amateurs. The Olympics was an event for amateurs in those days. But everyone knew the Eastern European and Soviet bloc athletes were pros. All-star teams were selectively assembled and stayed together over several years. The athletes were paid and taken care of by the government because their "job" was to give evidence of the superiority of the Soviet system.
The Russian hockey team was a well-oiled machine. Most of the time hardly anyone in the world could played with them. They had beaten the Americans earlier 10-3 in an exhibition — and the result could have been worse.
But the Americans, led by the motivation and skill of their late coach, Herb Brooks, gradually came together and played with synergy.
The U.S. came from behind in the third period to defeat the Soviets. Brooks made sure the U.S. team was in superior shape. It outscored its Olympic opponents 16-3 in the third period.
The unbelievable victory set off a volcano of emotions throughout the country.
"This was a sliver of the Cold War played out on the ice in Lake Placid, N.Y.," said broadcaster Al Michaels, who handled the game in which he produced one of the greatest sports calls of all time, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" Intrestingly, Michaels was chosen by ABC to do the hockey broadcast because he was the only one of the broadcasting team that had done a play-by-play of hockey — and his prior experience consisted of one game.
That wasn’t the gold medal game. The U.S. still had to defeat Finland to claim the gold. When the Americans did, I still remember the joyous emotions when Mike Eruzione waved the entire team to join him on the medal stand.
Coming home from a basketball assignment, I remember my wife picking me up at the Little Rock airport and as we drove home, we heard part of a sermon on the radio extolling the performance and tying it into some kind of scripture.
I remember telling my wife, "When a Southern preacher uses a hockey illustration in his sermon, it’s something special."
That 1980 team, to the surprise of very few, lit the Olympic torch in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Its place in history was solidified.
NBC produced a segment Sunday in which three members of that team, Mark Johnson, Eruzione and goalie Jim Craig gathered with Michaels to reflect 30 years later.
My wife was taken back by how old everyone looks. Her memories are frozen in time of those youthful and enthusiastic college guys who pulled one of the greatest sports upsets of all time.
But the enormity and glory of the occasion didn’t escape the former athletes. Johnson, coincidentally, is now coach of the U.S. Women’s hockey team. Women’s hockey didn’t exist in 1980.
Reflecting on that medal ceremony in 1980, Michaels said, "I have never heard so many people sing the National Anthem so loudly."
Johnson added, "It was like getting up on Christmas morning and opening all your presents and finding out you got everything you wanted."
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)