Like most boys, my father was my idol, my hero, like the Harry Chapin song goes, I wanted to grow up and be just like him. He worked hard and played harder. He was a large man with a larger heart. If you ever met him you wouldn’t forget doing so and he would be hard pressed not to remember meeting you. Word of my birth traveled to him via telegram to a jungle in Vietnam. That is all he ever told me about his experiences there despite being a great story teller. He did not concern himself with politics or daily news or professional sports. Except hockey.
It recently occurred to me during these Winter Olympics that my son is almost the same age as I was when I saw one of my first hockey games outside of my father sneaking me into some bars to watch the Chicago Blackhawks. I was still a few years away from playing pee wee travel hockey all over the Upper Midwest. My father never shied away for a minute those 4 AM drives to Wisconsin or late night practices later on.
So, in February of 1980, while I was traveling with my father while he was conducting business in Buenos Aires, we sat on the edge of a bed in the Hilton Hotel to watch what was likely a taped-delayed version of the United States play the USSR in a hockey game. Of course at the time I did not know it but this would be a lot more than another hockey game. News of the ending did not make it to the Southern hemisphere and spoil the re-broadcast. Now you can’t avoid it with constant news, update feeds and Twitter messages.
The game of course is now considered the greatest sports moment in the history of the world, or at least of the 20th century or perhaps the single most significant 60 minutes of hockey ever played. My son has seen Miracle produced by Disney. The country was in need of a victory, however small, on a patch of ice in a place called Lake Placid, New York. The Cold War, oil embargoes, Iran hostage standoff, runaway inflation and more had the nation’s morale down.
I thought I was just watching a hockey game with my dad.
Nor did I know a bunch of college kids from Boston and Minnesota who were fierce rivals prior to being on the same team had to come together as a team very quickly to even put themselves into a position to play professional soldier-athletes who owned Olympic hockey for decades. It was hockey’s version of David and Goliath.
The Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Threat of the US boycotting the Summer games later that year created the possibility the Russians would not travel to Lake Placid. The game took place and the President Carter did have the U.S. boycott the Summer games that year in Moscow.
So it was on a Friday night in Buenos Aires and without chairs to sit on we watched on the edge of the bed what anyone who watched will never forget where they were and what they witnessed.
The game was broadcast in Spanish with Al Michaels voice in the background and I don’t know if there was a Spanish speaking broadcaster or a translator. Nonetheless, there were often gaps from the Spanish speaking voice long enough to hear Al Michaels and Ken Dryden provide play-by-play and commentary, respectively. The goal by Mark Johnson with 1 second left to play in the first period was broadcast entirely in English as was the subsequent discussion.
So were the final 30 seconds of the game fortunately and my father would never forget what he heard and saw, “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in Miracles?! Yes!”
The USA team would go on to beat Finland for the gold medal. Coming from behind as they had to do most games. The USSR team did not have their names inscribed on their silver medals out of shame. On February 23, 1980, the day after the game, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stated that Iran’s parliament would decide the fate of the American hostages. Many of the players from that team went on to successful NHL and/or coaching careers winning more championships. ABC broadcast the gold medal game live. Artifacts from the game and the Olympics are now auction items. The Russians still continue to downplay what happened that night in Lake Placid. The KGB denies the incident ever occurred.
Fast forward 34 years later almost to the day, my son and I watched a live broadcast of US-Russia hockey at these Olympics. Standing in front of the TV through 8 rounds of shoot outs until finally Russia missed and T.J. Oshie scored the winning goal to end the game 3-2. After all the jumping and high-fiving my son mentioned he will remember where he was when he saw the US beat Russia in Olympic hockey.