Saturday, November 19, 2005


My wife and I were watching a program on television this afternoon, that recalled to my mind one of the 20th Century's vastly underappreciated turning points. It was about the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Most of you know the story: how a rag-tag group of American college students put the beat-down on the best that the Soviet Olympic machine could put together.

For those of you who are still scratching your heads: go rent Miracle today. Yes, it's got Kurt Russell wearing jackass plaid pants. But see it anyway. It's important.

Those of you who are too young to remember what things were like 1975-1980, count yourselves lucky. Those were some pretty bleak years. We had taken some serious body-blows to our national self-image. There was the oil crisis. And disco. And inflation. And the way Vietnam ended. And disco. And the seizure of the embassy in Teheran. And did I mention disco?

Enough to destroy a man's will to live, it was. By contrast, everything the Soviets touched seemed gold. Communism was on the march everywhere. They'd pretty much overrun Southeast Asia, they were moving forward in Africa, and making inroads in Central America. And now, they were taking an active hand in Afghanistan.

Then, on a glorious February day in 1980, the tide began to turn.

We'd been beaten for so long, that we'd forgotten what it felt like to be winners. That improbable, come-from-behind win against the supposedly unbeatable Soviets started a renewal of the American spirit. A renewal of pride.

Looking back, we can see that as an important turning point. In the Cold War prior to Lake Placid, there were few victories. After Lake Placid, there were few defeats. By 1990, the Soviet Union was in obvious decline. Afghanistan had become a sucking chest wound, and Mikhail Gorbachev was trying to stabilize the patient, but to little avail. The former Warsaw Pact nations were bolting the coop as fast as they could. Two years later, most of the "Soviet" republics followed suit. Truly, it was a glorious time to behold.

And to think that it started with a bunch of stubborn college kids, and a coach in jackass plaid pants. Miracle. Was there ever a fitter title?

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