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Putting the ‘Miracle’ into historical context

April 6, 2017
Editorial , Lake Placid News

Thirty-seven years after the "Miracle on Ice" upset at the Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, America 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.

Such was the case last week when Mississippi Today sports writer Rick Cleveland posted a story about the Mississippi State women's basketball team beating the University of Connecticut 66-64 on March 31 in the second national semifinal of the NCAA tournament. The Huskies had beaten the Bulldogs by 60 points last year, but this year's buzzer-beater ended UConn's 111-game winning streak, prompting another Miracle on Ice comparison in the media.

Article Photos

U.S. hockey team players celebrate after beating the heavily favored Soviet Union Feb. 22, 1980 in the “Miracle on Ice” game at the Olympic Center during the Olympic Winter Games.
(Photo courtesy of the Lake Placid Olympic Museum)

"State keeps pace with '80 Olympic hockey team" was the headline for Cleveland's story, which included interviews with 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey player Mark Wells and Charlie Adams, who gives inspirational speeches based on the Miracle on Ice game.

"The similarities between what is happening in Dallas now and what happened in Lake Placid in 1980 are as strong as any scenario I have seen over the years," Adams told Mississippi Today.

On purely athletic terms, Cleveland's story is on the mark, and Wells and Adams give effective reasons for this comparison.

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. We know the team, Cleveland and Adams understand this. They lived through it.

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.

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 UConn women are formidable opponents on the basketball court, they are not the enemies of the United States.



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