Thirty-two years ago today a bunch of American college kids defeated a team of professional hockey players from the Soviet Union by a score of 4 to 3 during the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, New York. The Americans went on to defeat Finland and win the gold medal. The game against the Soviets became known as the “Miracle on Ice” and was deemed the “Top Sports Moment of the 20th Century” by Sports Illustrated.
Many younger people today know this story from the 2004 film Miracle, but if you’re under the age of 50 today it’s unlikely that you appreciate the true impact of this game back when it happened. Just three months earlier in November 1979, the American embassy in Tehran had been seized by Iranian students and our embassy staff was being held hostage. The country seemed powerless to do anything about that. The next month, December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and again, there was nothing we could do. The decade of the 1970s had been characterized by gasoline shortages that at times had imposed rationing and at other times meant you were never sure if there would be any gasoline available for purchase. While the US seemed in decline, the Soviet Union seemed ascendant, at least in terms of its ability to project power around the world.
The February 22, 1980 hockey game served as a turning point for the nation’s morale. Although only a sporting event, the game seemed to revive American spirit if only in a subtle way. That November, Ronald Reagen was elected to succeed Jimmy Carter as president and a great buildup of American arms and military might, ironically commenced during the Carter presidency, reached the field after 1980. I know, because that’s when I was stationed in West Germany. Every week, it seemed, a new weapons system was deployed from the M1 tank to the Pershing II missile. By the time I left Germany in the fall of 1983, it seemed the tide had turned although even then I could never have envisioned the imminent and peaceful demise of Communism just a few years later. Some might say that the seeds of that demise were sown on a hockey rink in upstate New York in the winter of 1980. I think that’s oversimplifying it a bit, but I also know that was a heck of a hockey game. The following video shows the final minutes. Watching it today still gives me chills.