Column: In Ice Hockey, Miracles are Possible Then and Now

By Jeff Roberson
HottyToddy contributing writer

Has it really been 40 years this weekend since Miracle on Ice? Not the movie, the real thing.

Ole Miss hockey celebrates a goal. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Ice Hockey Facebook page.
It was Friday, February 22, 1980, and a 4-3 win for the United States of America over the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in ice hockey was an outcome that resonates globally even today.

Team USA vs. the Soviet Union. The Americans against the Russians.

Professionals from the USSR vs. amateurs – all of them amateurs – from the USA. The old guys vs. the college kids.

Ole Miss won the SEC Hockey Club championship earlier this month and now heads for Regionals in Tampa (and their hope is Nationals in Dallas after that).

Five members of the Ice Rebels visited the two sportswriting classes started this semester at Ole Miss. We talked about Miracle on Ice. It came up in the form of, “What’s your favorite hockey movie?” from one of the class members to the hockey Rebels. I heard one say the Mighty Ducks. There might have been another or two mentioned. And of course Miracle.

What we failed to mention that day is that the dramatic win over the Russians was only the semi-final. Team USA had to beat Finland two days later on Sunday for the Gold. Sometimes that game is forgotten. I wonder how a loss to Finland might have changed the way the world views the win over the USSR from two days earlier?

I actually recall the Finland game a little clearer than I do the win over the Soviets. I’ve thought about that and I think it’s because the Gold was right there for the taking since the giant had already been defeated. So I got really interested.

It was Sunday after church, the championship game was on, and we were eating at my grandparent’s house and watching ice hockey.

Wasn’t everyone alive watching hockey?

The Finns put up a fight. But the college kids from America were not about to be denied the Gold after their victory two days earlier.

Final Score: USA 4, Finland 2.

Let the party that started two days earlier continue!

The uplifting feeling that swept the country after that weekend was real. Very real. A deep and warm dose of pride for America during a bitter and lengthy cold war.

Two superpowers – USA and USSR – going at it in a sport the latter had totally dominated. It was indeed must-see TV.

However, the Friday match wasn’t shown live. It was tape-delayed for viewing. Crazy I know. Absolutely crazy.

Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in miracles?……Yes!” call at the end of the USA-USSR game was heard by practically no one in real-time.

A few hours later, it was a sports call as legendary as any ever spoken at any time in recorded history. Or in Al’s case shouted.

Back then when games were tape-delayed in whatever sport, especially in global events like the Olympic Games, announcers would actually tell the viewing audience to turn down the volume or turn their heads away if they did not want to know the result of a contest.

And, yes, we did. Well, I’m sure many did. That mostly ended the past three decades with more cable news and sports channels, the internet, and social media. Millennials and those younger cannot imagine nor fathom those type delays in information, I am sure. And I understand.

Since that weekend 40 years ago, there has been growth in the sport of ice hockey in this country. Believe it or not, once upon a time Mississippi had four minor league pro hockey teams – Jackson, Tupelo, Southaven, and Biloxi – at the same time. They didn’t all last but without February 1980, those might never have happened in the first place.

Now the college guys at Ole Miss are in the spotlight. There are 30 players on the team from 15 states. Not one is from Mississippi, and that is likely not a surprise to anyone. They are mostly from St. Louis and points north – and draw a line east and west from there and go north.

Someday Oxford will have an ice rink. I believe that. Currently, the Rebels call the Mid-South Ice House in Olive Branch home. It’s an hour’s drive north.

The Rebels, of course, are not an NCAA squad. They’re a club team, like lacrosse and rugby and men’s soccer here.

What they also are in 2020 is SEC champs, headed for a Regional and maybe Nationals.

Back in the winter of 1980, we were all hockey fans. We may not have known that much about the sport, but we acted like we were experts. I recall in our student apartment in Oxford, we had this poster of the Gold winning Team USA hockey guys on our wall. They were our champions. They had defeated the red menace.

Before the game against the Russians, USA coach Herb Brooks had spoken this to his team, he told the media after the game.

“You are born to be a player. You are meant to be here. This moment is yours.”

The Soviets won every Olympic gold medal in ice hockey from 1964 through 1988 – except one. They were so advanced beyond other teams, especially those in the western world. They had beaten Team USA 10-3 in an exhibition game just a few days before the 1980 Olympics began.

But for one shining weekend 40 years ago in Lake Placid, N.Y., on our home turf, it was our team that was the last one standing.

A miracle.

Here’s hoping the Ice Rebels bring back more Gold to Oxford in the weeks ahead.

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