Monday, February 22, 2010

At the Point of Intersection Where Miracles Begin & Innocence Ends

Yesterday evening as I was flipping around the TV dial I stumbled across a piece on NBC on the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team. I was going to throw the obligatory "Mens" in there until I remembered that thirty years ago hockey was not yet an Olympic sport in which women competed. In the piece that NBC aired Al Michaels was in studio with the 1980 team's best player, team captain and the goalie who had the best two weeks of his life during the Olympics in Lake Placid.

As Michaels sat talking to Mark Johnson, Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig, video was aired from both the historic upset of the Soviet team (Yes kids back then they were Soviets and not Russians) and the gold medal win two days later over Finland. This year the teams competing in the Olympics have rosters chock full of players from NHL rosters. In 1980 all the players on the American team were all amateurs. Their average age was 22. Post-Olympics there were a number of them who had stellar NHL careers, including Johnson. One of them - Ken Morrow -went from winning the Olympic gold medal to winning four consecutive Stanley Cups as a member of the New York Islanders. But team captain Eruzione, whose goal in the middle of the third period was the difference maker against the Soviets, never played a minute in the NHL. And Craig whose head standing antics in goal made the miracle happen, had an NHL career that was neither lengthy nor spectacular.

Against the backdrop of the now-NHL dominated rosters (including those of both the US squad and the Canadian team that played one another last night with the visitors from down under posting a 5-3 upset) what a ragtag group of college kids accomplished three decades ago seems even more remarkable. It reminds me to of the fact that once upon a time - or even longer ago perhaps - we were a nation as driven by the effort as we were by the result. We enjoyed long odds and were driven to defying them - to smashing someone else's limited expectations for our success into the dust.

It appears as if at some point in time we have lost our way in that regard. We have become so infatuated with plotting least resistance's course that we have turned our noses up at sage, somewhat silly-sounding advice we received from our parents and their parents before them. If you are over the age of 40, then you were likely told more than simply once or twice as a child that in spite of its name, there really is no such thing as a free lunch. These days it seems as if too much of our time (and notice that I said 'our' and not 'your' because the man in the mirror I see every morning is as afflicted with the disease as anyone else) is spent in pursuit of the sure thing; the can't miss proposition. Yet while more and more of us are missing at a historic pace we seem to have little tolerance for rediscovering old habits. Instead we pursue the elusive, impossible to catch light at the tunnel's end in the vain hope of latching onto a solution that costs us nothing. Silly humans we are. Nobody rides for free. Never have. Never will.

Thirty years ago, a group of kids and the curmudgeon who handpicked them to play for him did something that seemed impossible to everyone. At least to everyone outside of their locker room - and perhaps to at least one or two of them in there as well. And those of us who remember it and who still smile or get a bit of a lump in our throat as we hear Al Michaels ask us whether we believe in miracles remember it so vividly because it was completely unexpected. The twenty players who created magic that February on the frozen pond at Lake Placid live in our mind's eye and in our memories three decades later because they represented all that we had been taught was good about America; if we work hard, work together and support each other towards a common goal nothing is impossible and nothing is beyond the reach of our dreams.

Watching Johnson, Eruzione and Craig on television last night it struck me that it seems that it has been longer than thirty years since they enjoyed their moment of Olympic glory. It seems instead to have happened somewhere back there in the dust. A long time ago indeed.


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