Here’s another (timely) sports piece from Howie Espenshied.
Any time the US faces Russia in Olympic men’s ice hockey, as they did on February 15th, the “Miracle on Ice” game in Lake Placid, NY in 1980 is brought to mind. This one ended much the way that one did, with the US securing a dramatic 1 goal victory. However, noticeably absent was the Cold War setting that helped the ending of that legendary game become arguably the greatest sports moment of all-time.
Much has changed in the last 34 years. In 1980, the US only sent amateur athletes to the Olympics, while Russia was featuring current and former professional all-stars. This was Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago injected with a super-soldier serum, but the mutual hatred was real and deep rooted. It couldn’t be pacified by a Rocky “why can’t we just all get along?” speech.
Had it been Canada and not Russia that the US had improbably defeated that day, would it still be regarded as a top sports moment of all time? Assuming that all of the other “on paper” mismatch disparity between the two teams was the same as it was with Russia? Or is it good old fashion hate that took the moment to another level?
Hate is at the heart of what is to this day considered “a miracle”. That’s not a bad thing – it’s just a real thing. Both sides felt collectively, nationally even, that the object of their hate was validly hateable. They believed their hate to be “just”.
Arguably, the greatest Super Bowl “docu-mercial” of all time has all of these same elements. There are amateur hockey players living an impossible dream, a raucous crowd elevating the play on the ice to levels the players didn’t know they had in them, and pandemonium-level celebration at the end. “Amateurs” may even be a generous description. This was a rag-tag group of dads, husbands, and sons playing in an adult recreational hockey league in Nowheresville, Canada…..
….and there was hate, and it was justified. This hate was directed toward the notion that they lived in a world where the first are first and the last are last. If there was a God in this world, he sat alone in the bleachers of their lives, passively observing them while reading the sports page. It was a world where the biggest fear was that the mundane life might never be cherished or celebrated.
Then there was clarity – a moment when they realized that their hate was there for a reason. It was justified. The object of their hate appeared to, for one day, have a formidable adversary, one that might even be real. When they had a “cloud of witnesses” cheering them on, their hearts sang. Sometimes miracles are miracles simply because they are glimpses past the now, and into the “not yet”.