This past Saturday hockey fans were treated to quite a game during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Despite the fact that you may have needed to get up at seven o’clock in the morning on the East Coast to catch all of the game notwithstanding.
The game I speak of was the fantastic shootout victory for the United States over the favored Russians who lost on their home ice. With both teams tied and a five minute overtime period not enough to settle things, the two teams went to the shootout where after eight ‘innings’ if you will, the US finally broke through for the 3-2 win.
While the game certainly had drama and intensity, the comparisons I’ve seen and heard to the 1980 match-up are reckless and down-right hilarious. I have no doubt those comparisons come from individuals who weren’t even alive when the ‘Miracle on Ice’ happened. This is a classic case of what really ails sports journalism today and that’s hyperbole.
The two games cannot be compared anymore than 2014 can compared to 1980. To use the ‘apples and oranges’ analogy would not even be fair to either apples or oranges. For starters, the United States team did not consist of professional hockey players. At that time, professional athletes were not allowed to participate in the Olympic Games, summer or winter.
It was only when the Eastern Bloc, or communist countries during the Cold War for you youngsters, was basically paying and training athletes. Steroid use was rampant among means’ and women’s’ sports in several countries like East Germany and the Soviet Union. As I mentioned in a previous post this past week, the US had enough once its basketball teams filled with collegians started getting beat.
Basketball is an American creation and there was no way in hell that we were going to keep losing at that so in came the ‘Dream Team’ in 1992. Hockey really wasn’t much different but for one major distinction. The top players in the National Hockey League were, and are, from Canada, Russia and several other European countries. Therefore, hockey would be slightly more balanced than basketball.
The main point of my rant however is that we too often try to compare and measure other great games and events in the past to games of today and that isn’t fair to either generation.
If we go back to 1980 for a minute we also have to go back to the times as well. This wasn’t just the United States playing the Soviet Union on American soil in New York. This was a battle of ideologies and ways of life. If you need a further example, think “Rocky IV’ when Rocky takes on communism and Ivan Drago. This hockey game was beyond sports. It was in fact, way beyond sports.
In the days leading up to the Olympics, the young US team played an exhibition in Madison Square Garden against the Soviet team. The Soviets entered that game with many of the top players in the world, four of whom would enter the Hall of Fame. Team USA was beaten 10-3 and that score wasn’t really indicative of how bad the game was for them.
In the Olympic semi-final, the two political rivals met again in front of crowd of just 8,500 people. Although Canada broadcast the game live, ABC did not and instead aired it at 8pm. The vast majority of Americans did not know the outcome in the pre-social media days. As the clock wound down with the Americans clinging to a 4-3 lead, the intensity was thickening with every Soviet rush.
Think of Saturday’s game then multiply it by 1,000. No one could believe these college kids could play with the well-trained and heavily favored Russians but they were. If you watched this game then you know exactly where you were and who was with you. Will you really be able to say that about Saturday?
Not a chance.