Term Paper: 1980 United States Mens Hockey Team

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United States Gold-Medal-Winning Hockey Team in 1980

They called it the "Miracle on Ice" because in sporting language, it was a miracle. How else does one describe the fact that a bunch of college students - having been well trained in the matters of playing ice hockey but not having skated together for that long - taking on and beating a hard-core team of professional Soviets? And all of this took place on the high-visibility stage of the Winter Olympics, for the world to see and for non-believers to rub their eyes in disbelief. ABC sportscaster Al Michaels was so excited when the clock ran out on the last game, which lifted Team USA into the "Gold" stratosphere, he yelled, "Do you believe in miracles?"

Indeed, it was among the most improbable events in sporting history, as far as the U.S. was concerned. And it embarrassed the Soviet Union in front of a world of spectators that had expected to see the hammer and cycle flying high over the Gold Medal ceremonies because everyone figured the Soviets would dominate on ice.

The Cold War

But first, before delving into the dynamics of the competition on ice, and the drama of the Olympics per se, in fairness to the era these Games took place in, a look at the "Cold War" - and the icy relations between the U.S. And Soviets - is very pertinent to this paper. During World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were allies against Nazi Germany. They weren't necessarily allies per se, but the threat that Adolph Hitler posed for the world brought them together in that cause. But once WWII was over, the Soviets tried to grab everything they could from the spoils of Europe to turn former German-controlled lands into communist countries, and the U.S. tried to keep as much of Europe free from communism as it could, and make those countries democratic nations.

When the U.S. tried to unite East and West Germany, Stalin built a blockade into West Berlin, but the U.S. flew supplies in over the blockade to keep their influence strong in Germany. The Soviets resented that. The entire buildup of bad feelings between the two superpowers was ideological and political. The communists wanted to spread their influence, and they began supporting revolutionary movements in Africa, Asia, and in Latin America, to expand communism. President Eisenhower in the 1950s threatened to use nuclear weapons if the Soviets intervened in the Middle East during the Suez Crisis. Basically, the U.S. And Soviets challenged each other to go one better each time a new move was made; it was like a chess match, only the loser might have been both countries because the Soviets had the atomic bomb by 1949, and if one attacked the other, no doubt the retaliation would be severe, and perhaps wipe out millions of people. The Cold War ended in around 1989, when Soviet President Gorbachev introduced reforms and democracy.

So the Cold War caused Americans to hate communism and distrust the Soviets, and those bad feelings were shared by people in the Soviet Union towards the United States. The Cuban Missile Crisis during President Kennedy's short administration gave Americans even more reason to despise the Soviets; if the Soviets had gotten away with building missile sites in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida, they could have armed missiles with nuclear warheads and destroyed any city in the U.S. they wished to.

The 1980 Team USA Victory

All of these historical events and all of this emotion played out in the Olympics every time a U.S. athlete - or team - went up against an athlete or team from the Soviet Union. The 1980 Winter Games were played in Lake Plaid, New York State, and they were even more meaningful than they would have normally been because U.S. President Jimmy Carter had already called for a boycott of the 1980 Olympic Summer Games. The reason Carter decided the Americans would boycott the Summer Games was that in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and many nations around the world were outraged at this imperialism on the part of the communist Soviet Union. Plus, the Summer Games were held in Moscow, another good reason for the Americans to boycott, although many if not most athletes disapproved of the boycott since they had trained hard for years to get the chance to compete for medals.

Meanwhile, the Winter Games ran from February 13 through February 14. And before the Winter Games got started, the U.S.A. Hockey Team (known as "Team USA") played some warm-up games to the Olympics. One of those games, on February 9, was against the Soviet team. Team USA got crushed, blown out, by the Soviets, 10-3. New York Times writer Jim Naughton covered that game; "Two days ago Herb Brooks [coach of Team USA] was worried that his...team was too confident. 'We might need a good kicking to bring us down to earth,' he said."

Naughton reported that the Soviets "...dominated every aspect of the game." The Soviet team, he wrote, "...is an odds-on favorite to win the gold medal," and jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first period "...on an array of goals that ranged from workmanlike to spectacular." Team USA seemed "disorganized and outclassed," Naughton went on. He quoted coach Herb Brooks who admitted that he had given his players "a bad plan. We should have attacked them," he remarked, instead of playing a "close checking game."

Coach Brooks put the best possible spin on the licking his team had taken. "We learned some things today conceptually," said Brooks, quoted by Naughton. And despite the fact that "...everybody looks like they are going to a wake...sometimes a good kicking is good for a quality athlete and a quality team," he asserted. There is no way of knowing how many media people believed him, but it didn't matter because the best was yet to come for the Americans.

The day before that warm-up game, which was held in New York City at Madison Square Garden, sports journalist Naughton wrote that there was some fear for the security of the Soviet team. All packages brought into the building were searched, and the promoters of the game heard many opinions asserting that the game should be cancelled, because of the hostility and openly expressed anger many Americans felt towards communists in general, and the Soviets in particular.

In fact, the crowd was "less than two-thirds capacity" Naughton explained. The poor showing at Madison Square Garden - due in large part to New Yorkers' distaste for seeing what would likely turn out to be the communist Soviets pour it on against a team of mostly college kids from America - "is a misguided means of punishing the Russians," Naughton continued. Because in fact the funds raised by the exhibition hockey game went to Team USA. Naughton quoted Coach Brooks - a "dove" in the "hawkish profession of coaching" - as saying the Soviets "are hungrier than we are. They are doing everything in their power to show that their way of life is a good way of life...through the vehicle of a sports team. We don't have to do that."

Still, Naughton praised Brooks' style of coaching, saying he had already been approached by National Hockey League (NHL) teams about possible open positions. And moreover, Brooks had taught these college kids "a new style of hockey that emphasizes speed, sharp passing, and puck control." That style is a "radical departure from the dump-and-chase style" that is usually taught in the U.S. And in Canada, he explained. Ten of the 20 players on the team had college eligibility left after the Games in Lake Placid, and 16 of the 20 had been drafted by the NHL.

That having been said, no matter what style of play Brooks had instituted, he was facing an unbelievably powerful team in the Soviets, who had beaten NHL teams five times in 1979, losing three and tying one. A 5-3-1 record against the best hockey teams in the democratic world is very good. Adding to that, the Soviet team had shut out the NHL All-Stars, 6-0, also in 1979. So any sports fan paying attention in the U.S. knew full well his team was up against an almost unbeatable hockey team. The Soviet team was paid, of course, unlike the Americans; and the Soviets on the team were full time professionals. Playing hockey and living the high life with apartments and cars was the norm for the Soviets.

With this buildup of the Soviet team, and modest expectations for the Americans as a backdrop, Team USA surprised the world by playing to a 2-2 tie against Sweden in their opening game of the Winter Olympic hockey tournament. The Americans scored the tying goal with just 27 seconds remaining in the game. New York Times writer Gerald Eskenazi explained in his report from Lake Placid that for the first… [END OF PREVIEW]

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