I was not alive when the Miracle on Ice occurred. I did not live through a Red Scare, Gas shortage, or an Iranian hostage crisis.
So why is it that I get chills down my spine and feel tears forming every time Al Michaels asks if I believe?
It is because this moment on February 22, 1980, in Lake Placid is a perfect example of why sports are so big and simultaneously so small. Perhaps even more important and relevant to us today is the fact that this game is one of several answers to the question "What does it mean to be an American?"
The beauty of a sports competition is that it is an outlet of emotion. Fans pour out emotion watching, players pour emotion for the goal of winning. Cities and countries are pitted against each other within the confines of an arena, stadium or even the chalk lines of a pasture. Factually, this game was the American National Hockey team versus the Soviet National Hockey team.
To everyone who had an ounce of current affairs knowledge on either sides of the Pacific however, this was America versus the Soviets. Democracy versus Communism.
No other outlet allows for such emotions or ideas to just simply be created universally in the way sports do. This game was almost too perfectly representative of the feelings that everyone had about these two nations.
The Soviets, trained for this singular purpose, were dominant and did not mind being the enemy of all, because that's how the USSR felt. The Americans were a bunch of scrappy, young, and idealistic kids gathered under a rather quiet coach with a temper who stood head and shoulders over the rest. The Americans were led by a goalie, ignoring the millions of the professionals to honor a since passed mother's wish. They were captained by a scrappy player from Massachusetts who knew that this was most likely his last chance to ever play meaningful hockey.
This game, like so many other great games before it, in the simplest sense, became more than just a game, it was the battle that would never be fought.
At the same time, this game showed how small sports can simultaneously be.
This game didn't solve anything. The troubles and issues still existed. The players moved on from this game like any other. They all faded out after the Olympics and temperatures at Lake Placid were not as cold as the tensions between the two nations.
This game of such passionate emotion has lumped with "the Immaculate Reception," "the Shot Heard 'Round the World," and Michael Jordan's "Shot," games that are not even on the same level in terms of the passion and meaning to fans and players.
Sports may give us an outlet but at the end of the day, they are just games. Yet all of these things together are why when you ask me to explain what it means to be an American, I will tell you to simply watch the movie or game film. This nation rallied behind a group of 20-somethings as they took on a superior team. This nation came together behind a hockey team.
There are certain events that you look and say, that is America. I lived through a day when terrorists blindsided us, two separate wars are still being fought, and unemployment is dangerously high. The lives lost in all of these moments far outweigh any sporting event, no matter what the context. Innocent lives were given up, yet as a nation we regrouped, came out the stronger, and showed why we take pride in wearing the red white and blue.
This hockey team showed another kind of pride. America has always seemed to find little ways to inspire a nation toward a great cause. Patrick Henry's "Common Sense" comes to mind as a small way to inspire and unite the future American People to achieve something great. This hockey team united a nation. They wore the colors and the American people recognized this kind if patriotism. They were a team that always came from behind, came from rivaling backgrounds, and were always the underdogs.
They were America's team in every sense of the term.
So 31 years later as we look back at what this team accomplished and represented in defeating the Soviets, anyone from any generation can appreciate this team. They did so much without ever really saying anything. They played an Olympic hockey game and pulled off the upset. Most importantly, they made us believe.