New England Sports React

USA, Russia Provides Nostalgic Glance into Past

No other US victory will top the greatness of the Americans’ upset of the Russians in 1980.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Well, not really, considering I wasn’t more than a consideration in my parents’ conscious minds. Yet when I tuned in to Saturday’s round-robin contest between USA and Russia, visions of American glory over thirty years old danced in my head. US players celebrating on the bench appeared to me as the youthful, collegiate group that made up the 1980 squad. I could literally hear Al Michaels exclaiming “Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!” as T.J. Oshie netted the game-winner in the eighth round of the shootout. Dan Bylsma took the form of Herb Brooks in all his plaid glory on the bench, the hard-nosed face behind that beloved team, willing USA to victory with a strong mind and unwavering spirit. And yet, as historic and exciting a rematch as it was, Saturday’s USA vs. Russia matchup didn’t come close to touching the game that thrilled even the most casual sports fan. February 22, 1980 spelled the upset of the century while February 15, 2014 seemed to shed light on the dawn of a new era, one in which sports don’t seem to carry as much meaning behind them as they used to.

Think about the background that set the stage for the 1980 contest. The Soviet Union and USA were natural rivals due to the Cold War, yet Russia wanted to get even further underneath our country’s skin by invading our then-ally Afghanistan in December 1979. As if those events weren’t enough to make Russia a hated country, the USSR’s domination of the hockey world further added to that hatred. The Soviet Union had taken home four straight gold medals in the sport dating back to 1964. During that time span, the team’s record was an astonishing 27-1-1, and against the US, Russia held the scoring edge, 28-7. The Soviets were led by the likes of Boris Mikhailov (the team’s top line right winger and captain) and Vladislav Tretiak (the overall best goaltender in the world and future hall-of-famer), world-class talent that was representative of the skill that peppered the rest of the Russian squad. The Americans, meanwhile, were a rag-tag bunch, led by the likes of Mike Eruzione (team captain) and goalie Jim Craig who rounded out a group that boasted an average age of 21. Experience and past success made the Russians heavy favorites to once again take home the gold, but as we were soon to find out, this USA team was one of destiny.

The “Marathon on Ice” was no match in enormity compared to the “Miracle on Ice,” but it’s not simply due to the fact that the original upset was never going to be matched. Back in 1980, sports in our country were viewed as an outlet, turned to by desperate fans in times of crisis when all they needed was a pleasant distraction. Now, they are viewed simply as that, as events that just take up time with no further meaning attached to them. Why has the value of sports decreased so much over the years? The state of our economy is one major reason, our inability to find a leader that’s successful in guiding the country is another. Our nation is just too distracted as a collective whole, more concerned with the ever-changing time gradient than the score of what some would likely refer to as “just another hockey game.” It’s a realization I’ve unfortunately come to grips with over the past few years, and it’s something all of us sports junkies will have to get more and more used to as the years wear in. People just aren’t as invested in sports as they once were.

A little over 30 years ago, a group of amateur and collegiate hockey players stunned the world and catapulted a nation. Saturday, we took a step back in history and, in the process, rediscovered some of the innocence that used to go hand-in-hand with sports. Maybe one day that innocence will once again be synonymous with the games that were designed for no purpose other than bestowing ‘fun’ and ‘entertainment’ upon its participants and audience.

-Ryan Hartley

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