1980 Miracle on Ice: Greatest Moment in Sports History Will Never Get Old

Laura FalconAnalyst IFebruary 22, 2011

LAKE PLACID, NY - FEB 22:  Team USA celebrates their 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in the semi-final Men's Ice Hockey event at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York on February 22, 1980.   The game was dubbed 'the Miracle on Ice'.  The USA went on to win the gold medal by defeating Finland 4-2 in the gold medal game.  (Photo by Steve Powell /Getty Images)
Steve Powell/Getty Images

Today marks the 31st anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, the fairytale story of the very amateur 1980 United States hockey team and their impossible defeat of the not-so-amateur powerhouse Soviet Union.

A story that every hockey fan, every American, knows by heart.

The story of the United States Olympic Hockey team has translated into feature films, documentaries and books. As the date nears, we are reminded of the events, especially if it falls during the Winter Olympics. Heroes of the team often make appearances at NHL events and, as hockey fans, there isn't a long period of time that passes without some mention of the miracle in the NHL world.

Yet no matter how many times the story is mentioned casually in hockey talk, no matter how many times they show the clips of those final 10 seconds of the game and no matter how many times the words "underdog" or "adversity" are mentioned to the point of overuse, it will never get old.

The miracle may have happened over three decades ago, but it continues to ring loudly in the hearts of Americans as if the initial celebration was still carrying on in the streets of Lake Placid that were bursting with national pride.

Sports have a uniting factor on countries around the world and the United States is no different. A look into our history and you will find plenty of moments where Americans stood together to chant "U-S-A, U-S-A!" to those chosen to represent our country. These moments include Landon Donovan's lone goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, the moment Michael Phelps won a record eight gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and Lance Armstrong's miraculous defeat of cancer and his comeback to win seven consecutive Tour de France's.

Amidst those times of pure elation and celebration, we realize some moments are far greater than ourselves and will carry so much more meaning than what we may simply see with our eyes.

The United States hockey team's defeat of the Soviet Union was just that. It wasn't just a hockey game.

It was so much more.

The Cold War had wrapped its chains around both stagnant countries with concerned citizens of both countries waiting to see when one side would make the first move.

In the meantime, the economy was sputtering along. Interest rates were through the roof and gas prices steadily increased, as did the lines in gas stations.

Morale was at an all-time low and Americans, divided because of the turmoil inside and outside of the border, needed something to bring them back together.

This is where the United States hockey team came into play—a group of talented yet average players attempting to do the impossible.

They were America's answer to the frustrating events of the times.

It's easy to say the miracle that blossomed from their glorious moment had to do with the group of young amateurs beating a team of professionals on the greatest of stages. The real miracle, though, was the newfound hope generated by the moment, that feeling that something good finally happened to a country waiting for something to pull them out of the darkness.

The fact that the victory was against the Soviet Union was the cherry on top. Shakespeare couldn't have scripted the moment better.

What's more perfect is that there will never be a moment like it again.

America isn't some kind of hockey superpower (yet), so to make that claim is certainly a big deal. Surely most would assume that the greatest hockey moment would belong to Canada or Russia, countries that have consistently remained at the top of the totem pole in terms of anything related to hockey.

There have been times where I noticed Canadians joking about how the 1980 win is all the USA has and will have because Canada will wipe the kitchen floor against future American teams. Call it a cop out, call it an excuse, but whether those words ring true doesn't matter to me because there is nothing that can take away from that moment, regardless of an abundance, or lack thereof, of future success.

In last year's Winter Olympics, not much was made of the United States hockey team put together by Brian Burke despite the 100-percent participation of NHL players. The ideal match up was Canada vs. Russia.

Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin, 2.0.

However, the Americans went through the round-robin tournament quietly going undefeated and slamming the door shut on the Canadians to seal the first seed.

The stunning win that silenced all of Canada ironically took place the evening before the 30th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice. The connections between the two were immediately made.

Ultimately, the connections were forced and very weak because the Americans, while underdogs, were also professional athletes just like the Canadians.

In the end, Canada had the last laugh, beating the United States 3-2 when it counted: in overtime during the gold-medal game. But despite the outrageous celebration that went on for weeks after Crosby's game-winning escaped goalie Ryan Miller's pads, there was proof and a little faith that America could be up there with the best in hockey.

And it started with the 1980 team, or even the often-forgotten 1960 team.

Nowadays, we can still draw from the events of the United States/Soviet game and they would be applicable to sports and life today.

For example, Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov's decision to not pull Vladimir Myshkin in the final minute of the game could have been a huge difference-maker. Who knows what could have happened with the help of the extra man.

Or American coach Herb Brooks' decision to send out Mark Johnson who scored a huge tying goal in the final seconds of the first period. 

Some things are just meant to go our way in the strangest ways, be it a metal lapse or impulsive decision.

We can also look at the work ethic of the American team from the start of their training in June of 1979 to the Olympic Games—a lengthy and grueling process that became the backbone of the team's success in the tournament.

Clearly, hard work while maintaining a constant eye on a goal is the surest way to success.

Following the 1980 Olympic Games, Sports Illustrated released a cover honoring the United States victory with a snapshot of the post-Soviet game celebration. No supplementary description was added to the cover, mainly because it wasn't necessary.

For those of us who weren't alive to experience the moment, words can only explain so much.

For those of us who were alive, no words are possible.

The 1980 Miracle on Ice is a moment that lives on in the hearts of Americans and hockey fans worldwide, more often than not as the greatest moment in sports history.

But more resonant than the final score on the scoreboard was what the miracle presented to the United States not only immediately after the game, but in the many years that followed: the importance in believing that nothing is impossible and that working hard can take you places no raw skill can.

On this day, we remember what it felt like to stare impossible in the eye and not be the first to look away. We remember that was possible because of a childlike belief among a group of young hockey players and their aggressive but supportive coach.

And it will never get old.

Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Follow her on Twitter or email her at lfalcon@mail.umw.edu with any comments or questions.


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