Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Walk on Frozen Water

So are you willing to wait for the Miracle, 
Willing to wait it Through
Are you willing to wait for the Miracle, 
Or don't you believe they're True? 
- Marc Cohn

If you were born on or after February 22, 1980, then what occurred on that Friday late afternoon/early evening in the Medal Round of the Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament probably seems to you to be the story of an epic sports upset.  Nothing more and nothing less than perhaps the greatest upset in the history of team sports.  In and of itself, a monumental achievement. 

To have been born and to have lived, however, in these United States prior to February 22, 1980 puts you in a position that those among our number who were not so situated, cannot fully comprehend or appreciate.  A position of understanding that what occurred in Lake Placid, New York was about sports - to be sure - but it was about so much more.  

In 1980, there were two nations sporting the sobriquet "Super Power", the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  One of the two spent the decade of the 1970's on its knees, bloodied and bowed.  And it was not the USSR.  When the 1970's began, the "Summer of Love" seemed to be as far removed from the American psyche as was the Battle of Bunker Hill.  We the people spent countless hours (at least on the day that our license plate indicated we were permitted to do so) waiting on lines in an effort to obtain gasoline.  Tens of thousands of American troops remained committed by a gaggle of allegedly very bright, white-haired gentlemen to an utterly impossible-to-win conflict in Vietnam.  By the time the war had ended, a number of the men who had committed the troops there were no longer in office and yet it was the soldiers - the individuals who had been drafted into Hell - who returned home to, in far too many instances, openly hostile receptions.  

The American people re-elected Richard Nixon and his running mate Spiro Agnew in 1972 to the office of the Presidency and the Vice-Presidency respectively.  Nixon won re-election in a landslide over South Dakota Senator George McGovern.  By August 10, 1974, both men were gone.  Agnew in a criminal mess arising out of his way of doing business as an elected official, including Governor, in Maryland and Nixon in a little burglary gone wrong called Watergate.   Gerald Ford, a Congressman from Michigan who ascended to the Vice-Presidency when Nixon appointed him to replace Agnew, who resigned in September, 1973, continued his historic ascendancy when he became President Ford upon Nixon's resignation of the office at 12:00 noon on August 9, 1974.  When President Ford appointed former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to serve as Vice-President, it represented the first time in American History that the two highest elected offices in the country were each occupied by an individual for whom no one had cast a single vote.  Not one.  

The wobble through the 1970's continued of Ford's watch.  Roughly one month after Nixon resigned the Presidency, Ford pardoned him, which proved to be a move of questionable political efficacy when Ford sought election to the office in 1976.  America, by this point, had become so completely mind-fucked that a majority of the people who showed up on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November, 1976 to vote for President actually voted for Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter

By the time the world arrived in upstate New York for the 1980 Winter Olympics, Jimmy Carter's America was in fairly dire straits, economically and geo-politically.  In 1979, the United States Embassy in Tehran, Iran was overrun by Iranian nationals who appreciated the virtues of neither their deposed Shah nor the United States government who had propped him up on his throne.  Americans were taken hostage.  They would not be freed during the Carter Presidency.  In December, 1979, the USSR invaded Afghanistan even though the United States warned them not to do so - or else.  It turned out that the "or else" was an American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.  

Ten years of self-loathing, self-doubt and self-destruction had left we the people of these United States feeling pretty shitty about ourselves and our country.  In spite of Carter's boycott of the Moscow games, the Soviet Union still sent its athletes to Lake Placid for the Winter Olympics.  No doubt, it did so in significant part because it welcomed the opportunity to flex its muscles not only on the international stage of the Olympics but to do so on American soil.  

In the final game that the two teams played prior to their respective arrivals in Lake Placid, the Soviet Olympic Hockey Team, which was essentially the Soviet Red Army Team - the most dominant hockey team on the planet, and the American Olympic Hockey Team, which was a team comprised principally of college-age players (and one Olympic veteran, Buzz Schneider, who had played in the 1976 Olympics) who somehow survived Herb Brooks' selection process and training program, played at Madison Square Garden.  On February 9, 1980, the Soviets dismantled the Americans 10-3.   

Thirteen days later, Mike Eruzione, Captain of the American team, collected a pass just inside the Soviet blue line, shot and scored the goal that put the United States ahead 4-3.  Eruzione's go-ahead goal occurred exactly at the game's fiftieth minute (the 10:00 mark of the third period).  For the final ten minutes, the Soviet players buzzed around the American half of the ice and peppered shots at goalie Jim Craig but Craig, who just thirteen days earlier had been overwhelmed by the Soviet attack, stood fast.  

As the time grew shorter, people all across the United States (watching the game on tape-delay) kept one eye on the clock and the other fixed skyward awaiting the arrival of the inevitably Earth-bound other shoe.   It never arrived.  Eventually, time grew so short that but one question remained to be asked.  

Thirty-five years ago, on this very date, a group of twenty American kids, led by their mad scientist coach, won a hockey game.  And in the process they did quite a bit more than that.  They helped remind a nation of people who had grown disillusioned and weary under the weight of a decade's worth of failed expectations, corruption and incompetence what it meant to be an American

A miracle?  If one considers what happens when a group of people, united in purpose, put aside whatever differences and petty disagreements they may have in favor of sacrifice and subjugation to achieve a sought-after goal to constitute a miracle, then indeed it was.  


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