I'm absolutely giddy with excitement as the grandest of events draws near. No, I'm not talking about the Super Bowl, which kicks off in a few hours. I'm sure it will be dramatic, as the NFL's two best quarterbacks square off. My thoughts, however, will be hundreds of miles away from warm Miami, where there's snow and ice and lots of Canadians.
I'm, of course, talking about the 2010 Winter Olympics. As the days draw near (only five more to go), I can already hear Al Michaels' voice deep in my head. "Do you believe in miracles?" I do, and I can't wait to see some more.
It's been 30 years since the Miracle on Ice, when a rag-tag team of Americans shocked the world by beating the heavily favored Soviet Union on its way to Olympic gold. The American team, made up of amateurs and college players, showed that heart, along with good old-fashioned American grit, could beat anyone, even the unbeatable.
What that hockey team did that year, against all odds, ushered in an era of overwhelming patriotism in America, a time of pride after several years of uncertainty and trepidation. Even as a child, I recognized the importance of that victory. It felt really good to be on the winning side. That feeling would continue throughout the '80s, culminating with the wall being torn down in Berlin in 1989. The clock on the Cold War began ticking down that day as the seconds ran off on the game. It seemed to prove that even with amateurs, America, and democracy for that matter, would always find a way to win in the end. It gave us hope.
That's what the Olympics mean to me. Never say die. Even when everyone is telling you that you can't compete, it's what's in you that will decide the outcome. And while the Miracle on Ice is what we all remember about the 1980 Olympics, it should be noted that the American hockey team that year had defied the odds on several occasions leading up to the big game.
The "miracle" actually began in the first game the Americans played in the Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. that year, when they surprised favored Sweden by forcing a tie with less than a minute remaining. Keep in mind that this American team was the same team that lost to the Soviet Union less than a month earlier in a warm-up to the Olympics, 10-3. The Americans followed up the tie with the Swedes by beating their next four opponents, including a stunning 7-3 victory over Czechoslovakia, considered the second best team in the world behind the Ruskies.
The Soviet Union coasted into the medal round by outscoring its opponents 51-11. But while the Soviet Union coach chose to rest his players leading up to the big game against the Americans, U.S. coach Herb Brooks worked his players unmercifully at practices. He built in them a toughness that the Reds could not break, and even when the Soviets broke out to leads repeatedly in the game, the U.S. team led by Jim Craig in goal kept it close, never allowing the Soviets more than a one-goal lead.
The Americans would gain the advantage with about 10 minutes left in the final period, as the Soviets fired shot after shot in an attempt to tie it up. The Soviet coach was so cocky that he refused to pull his goalie in the waning minutes to gain a man advantage on the ice, I guess expecting the U.S. to fold under the onslaught of his talented skaters. Of course, Americans never waver under adversity, a point that has been hammered home countless times in our history, starting with the Revolutionary War.
I don't expect to see another "miracle" like that one this year, though, you never can tell. That's what I love about the Olympics. The next miracle could happen at any time. An athlete you've never heard of could be a household name in a few weeks, or a team that's expected to flop could pull together to shock the world. If it does happen, my money is on the U.S. When times are bleak, as they were in 1980, Americans consistently find ways to turn it around and make us all feel proud that we live in the greatest nation in the world.
And, lord knows, we could sure use a little good news for a change.