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Don’t forget to put the ‘Miracle’ into historical context

April 12, 2019
Editorial , Lake Placid News

Thirty-nine years after the "Miracle on Ice" upset at the Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, America still needs a history lesson.

It seems that, with the passage of time, the real meaning behind the Feb. 22, 1980 game is sometimes being forgotten. Moreover, it is not always being interpreted correctly - or put into the right historical context - whenever an underdog team beats a stronger opponent in a sporting match.

We see it all the time, sports reporters, editors and television anchors comparing underdog teams in high school, college or professional sports to the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

There is no true comparison.

Yet, even as the "Miracle" tag is thrown around willy nilly - from people who think they are being clever - there is a hint of validation to their claims, but only from the athletes' perspective.

Even 1980 U.S. hockey team Coach Herb Brooks spoke about the athletic side of the Miracle win during a press conference after the game.

"You are looking at people who startled the athletic world, not just the hockey world, but the entire athletic world," Brooks said.

But more historical context is needed when comparing an athletic underdog to the 1980 hockey team.

For the 1980 hockey players and coaches - inside the bubble of the ice rink - their win was mostly about the sport. For the nation, however, it was more about national pride.

Our point is that, when we make comparisons to the Miracle team, we have a responsibility to remind newer generations why it was so important to our country.

Like radio icon Paul Harvey used to say, let's tell "The Rest of the Story."

We can't stress enough how the Miracle on Ice changed the mood in America. The Miracle win gave us hope for the future. It made us feel good about ourselves again after a politically and economically dismal decade called the 1970s.

The 1970s. We lived through the ending years of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, President Richard Nixon resigning, oil crises, a recession, high inflation and high unemployment. At the time of the 1980 Winter Olympics, 52 American diplomats and citizens were being held hostage in Iran by revolutionaries after they took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979. They weren't let go until Jan. 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president.

At the time of the 1980 games, President Jimmy Carter was threatening a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympic Summer Games in Moscow after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Dec. 24, 1979. He issued an ultimatum on Jan. 20, 1980, saying that the U.S. would not participate in the summer games unless Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan by Feb. 20. The opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics were held on Feb. 13.

The tension was high.

All this was happening after the U.S. and Soviet Union had been locked in a Cold War for more than 30 years. With missiles targeting each other's cities, the fear of a nuclear holocaust was all too real. This was three years before apocalyptic movies such as "The Day After" and "WarGames" scared the hell out of U.S. residents. Then came "Red Dawn" in 1984, a movie about the Soviet Union invading the U.S. to trigger World War III.

Needless to say, when the U.S. hockey team squared off against the powerful Soviet Union on the ice, they weren't just battling a sports foe. They were playing against the USSR (CCCP) - a nation that was threatening to kill us.

When media organizations make comparisons between over-achieving underdog teams and the Miracle on Ice team, they should keep this history in mind. While the players of a powerhouse team may be formidable foes on the court, field or ice, they are not the enemies of the United States.



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