It’s “Forgotten Friday!” Each Friday, I’ll profile someone or something (celebrity, movie, TV show, book, event, politician, etc.) that once held the spotlight but is now largely forgotten.
To understand why the “Miracle on Ice” was such a big deal, we need to appreciate the context of the times. The 1980 Winter Olympics, hosted by the United States in Lake Placid, New York, was the first big event of the 1980s. And the United States was coming off one of the roughest decades in its history.
Vietnam. Watergate. The Arab oil embargo. Rampant inflation. Love Canal. Three Mile Island. The crumbling of New York City and all of the major urban areas. And, just three months before the opening of the Olympics, Iranian students backed by the revolutionary government of Iran had occupied the American embassy in Tehran and seized 52 Americans as hostages.
Then, mere weeks before the opening ceremony, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, leading the United States to call for a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics to be held in Moscow.
The United States was at a low point of confidence. And the U.S. Olympic hockey team was not expected to even be a medal contender. The Soviet Union’s hockey team had won four consecutive gold medals, definitively beaten an NHL all-star team, and crushed the U.S. team 10-3 at Madison Square Garden just two days before the Olympics opened.
But something happened when the U.S. team took to the Olympic ice. First, they tied Sweden 2-2. Then they decisively beat Czechoslovakia, considered the second best team in the world after the Soviets. The U.S. beat the remainder of their pool and moved into the medal round…where they came face to face with the Soviets.
By this point, the entire nation was paying attention. And hopes were high when the U.S. faced off against the Soviets on Feb. 22, 1980.
Those hopes would be met.
Contrary to what many people remember, this was not the game for the gold medal. The U.S. would beat Finland two days later to win the gold. But this was the emotional high point, bringing back a display of national pride that had been in short supply in the 1970s.
Sure, all of the problems the U.S. faced were still there. And the crush of events in 1980 would soon crowd the hockey victory out of Americans’ minds. But, for 12 days in February of 1980, Americans were able to forget them and take great pride in the unexpected success of a bunch of college-age kids on a sheet of ice in upstate New York.
Check back next week for another “Forgotten Friday.”