This weekend the world will be reminded of a time that seems so very long ago. On Friday Disney releases "The Miracle," the story of how coach Herb Brooks took his young team of hockey players to the ice of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics to take on the Soviet hockey behemoth, and WON. I haven't seen the film yet, but from all accounts it is as inspiring as it is wonderful with Kurt Russell turning in the best job of his long career.
It isn't the movie though that I want to write about; but the event and more to the point, why the this 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in a game of Olympic hockey was such a big deal and why Al Michaels yelled, "Do you believe in Miracles?"
I saw the game on TV with my family, as so many Americans did. I was only 9 years old and the world was not even three months into the 8th decade of the 20th century. I knew the nation was in pain, but I had no idea how deep the pain ran. The 70's, as I would learn over the next 15 years, was a hard time for America and a harder time for Americans.
America, for several generations, was the nation that could do anything. We were the force that tipped the scales in the Great War (World War I), a force to be reckoned with in the Second World War and the leading force against Communism and the Red Menece after 1947. We helped build and even hosted the United Nations and in the 1950's saw the kind of prosperity and growth unparalleled in world history. The 1960's saw social growth and the fight for freedom was even aimed at ourselves. It seemed to all Americans that there was nothing we couldn't do. We topped it all off at the end of the decade with a man on the moon saying "One small step for Man..." just as Kennedy had dared us to dream. America was powerful, America was unbeatable. The Soviets had gotten the first few scores in the game of space, but America had taken the Gold and gone to the moon. Then came the 1970's.
The decade began with the United States embroiled in a war that was being broadcast live, for the very first time, into American living rooms. During the 70's Americans would experience the fall of Saigon, the complete loss of a war, the shunning over veterans, over 100,000 American soldiers killed or wounded, the very first resignation of a US President, a faltering economy, coming to terms with racism, a year long hostage crisis and mile long gas lines. In short, the 70's weren't a great time for Americans. To add insult to injury, the youth of the 70's were pegged as the "me generation," as it seemed America's youth were only thinking of themselves, dancing to disco music and doing drugs for the sheer pleasure of it and nothing else; a perceived change from the mood of drugs in the 1960's. All of this had come to head by 1980 and what should be remembered most, by 1980 detent was dead and the Soviet Union had become our most feared enemy, an enemy we believed could destroy us and the world. America had lost the dream, American had lost its spirit.
Only a month before the game America had a new President and a decade of change on an epic scale was about to begin. As the US Olympic Hockey Team traveled to Lake Placid and prepared for what would become a historic journey to Gold, they had no idea the impact they would have on the nation. Their game against the Soviet Union was a contest no one thought could happen, and winning the game something no one dared dream. In a simple game of hockey, a group of young men and a head strong coach determined to do their level best and showed Americans that we were a nation built on Miracle. A simple hockey game sparked the dream again and gave America back her mighty spirit.
That spirit and the will it bore would show itself throughout the 80's in the best of ways and the worst of ways. We would again take to the stars, but would lose 7 of our own in 1986. We would fight for democracy and freedom around the world, while givin aid those that would one day come back to haunt us. We would see a rise in helping the less fortunate while growing a greater divide between rich and poor. The 80's though will be remembered most for what would happen at the end of the decade, the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. An event that few if any believed possible and in contrast to the fall of the Soviet hockey team, fell in near silence and barely a soul yelling, "USA, USA." Their will sapped, their dream long lost.
Whether we can really take credit for their fall and the resulting changes that swept across the the world is a question for another day. We can though look to it as we looked to those young hockey players who brought home the Gold one cold day in February, as a dream realized. That Miracles do happen and that we can make this world a better place for all, if only we believe in ourselves and play as a team. "Do you believe in Miracles?"