Saturday morning I woke up sleepy-eyed, like many Americans, to watch the USA versus Russia men’s hockey game on TV. I expected to watch a good, Olympic hockey game between two very good teams that have hopes of winning a medal in this year’s game. Right now I will admit before the game if TJ Oshie would have walked up to me and punched me in the face I would have no idea who in the heck he was. But the heroics of Oshie was not the biggest surprise of the day. No, it was the feeling of being 12 years old again, sitting alone watching a hockey game, reliving the thrill of the “Miracle on Ice” US hockey team once again.
I was at my grandmother’s house in California for the 1980 Lake Placid games. I didn’t know much about hockey back then. The only NHL team we had on the West Coast was the LA Kings and the Great One was still living north of the border. How times have changed.
Back then the USA was teetering just a bit and our national pride was in short supply. The US had been rocked by an oil embargo and Iranian hostage drama. The cold war was red hot and the American people were wondering what our standing was after the fresh wounds of the Vietnam War. A scrappy group of college kids stood up to the mighty Russian national team with CCCP emblazoned across their scarlet uniforms.
Thirty-four years later the show has changed in an odd way. The USSR is no more and the Russian people are the ones that are feeling the after effect of The Cold War. Their way of life has changed from the promise of a worker’s paradise of communism to the reality of losing The Cold War. In some ways the proud Russian people are where we were almost four decades ago. National ID questioned, standing in the world seemingly diminished and looking for a way to say “yes we are a strong and proud people.”
You saw Putin stand and applaud his team when they fought so hard. You heard the crowd chant RUSSIA! RUSSIA! in much the same way that fans made the chant of USA! USA! USA! ring from sea to shining sea from Lake Placid. You could feel excitement, you could smell the drama, you could taste the adrenalin of the moment.
How interesting the role that sports can play in our personal lives. If the Bucs win, you feel better about yourself. If the Noles win, you stand a bit taller. If Rays beat the Yankees, we all stand and cheer and it’s ok to hug a perfect stranger. Sports can bring us together as much as anything in the world.
For me watching Oshie shoot over and over again took my breath away. It was a moment where you sat at the edge of your seat. Time stood still for the nano moment where the shot left the stick of the shooter and for the second it was in mid-air, you had either a sense of excitement and hope it would find the back of the net or a feeling of dread that it would result in a Russian goal.
When Oshie raised his arms, my childhood rushed before my eyes: my grandmother’s house on the ranch in California and the joy of a young man running around the house screaming at the top of his lungs at the Miracle on Ice.
On the other side of the world a young man sat in Moscow at the very same moment and felt the pain in this heart and was able to relate to the story of Casey at the Bat as the mighty Russian hockey team struck out.
Sports has a way of either making you heart race and sing for joy, or breaking your heart. Either way me and that young man in Moscow will have many more edge-of-your-seat moments before the flame is extinguished in Sochi.
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