NBC and Al Michaels did a terrific job yesterday with their look back at the 1980 Miracle on Ice game, when the young American hockey team beat the Soviets at the Lake Placid Olympics. I can hardly ever see a reference to that game without choking up, and the segment yesterday moved me to tears several times. (Just like the movie Miracle does every time. I'm just a little girl when I watch that.)
Most Americans have a couple of incorrect memories about the game. First, they think they saw it live on ABC Friday night. In fact, that was a tape-delay broadcast of a game that started about 4 p.m., Central time. ABC begged the International Olympic Committee to move the game to prime time, but the IOC refused.
The game was broadcast live, however, in Canada. Stan Hubbard, owner of KSTP-TV in Minneapolis and a huge hockey booster, arranged for KSTP radio to take the audio feed from the Canadian broadcast.
My close friend and teammate, Keith Jacobson, and I had season tickets for Gopher hockey, and we would usually meet Friday afternoons at the Varsity Bar and Cafe on University Ave. We'd have a couple beers, grab something to eat and then walk down to old Mariucci Arena for the Gopher game.
That afternoon we got there at 4:00 and the good folks at the Varsity had piped the KSTP radio feed into their PA system. So we sat there with a pitcher of beer, listening to the scratchy audio of the game as it was played in Lake Placid. By 6:30 it was over, the Americans had won, and we went down to Mariucci, where most of the crowd knew about it, and was buzzing.
The Gophers were playing UMD that night, which was always a special matchup for Keith and me. We had both gone to UMD for two years, then transferred to the U, so we had spent time watching former Bulldogs Mark Pavelich and John Harrington, who were on the Olympic team, and were classmates with all of the Gophers on the team as well. And while beating the Russians was certainly a national victory, that night in Mariucci it felt very much like a Minnesota victory.
So, while we were watching the Gophers-Bulldogs game, most of America was watching the taped broadcast of the game, which is why most people think it happened Friday night.
The other common incorrect memory most people have is in thinking the game was for the gold medal. It wasn't, and the U.S. still had to play Finland Sunday. If they lost that game, they faced the possibility of not medaling at all, let alone winning gold. Of course, they came through, won the gold and the rest is history.
But even 30 years later, it's hard to properly explain what that moment meant to a kid who grew up playing hockey in Minnesota. We were always made to feel inferior by the Canadians, and the Canadians were considered inferior by the Russians, so we knew we were a ways down the hockey totem pole.
But suddenly that wasn't true. It turns out that you could take a bunch of Minnesota kids, throw in a few Easterners, put them under the direction of Herb Brooks - the ultimate Minnesota "rink rat" - and you could beat the best team in the world.
On one level, it was just a sporting event, and I suppose you really can't compare it to life events like marriage, the birth of your children, etc.
But I still don't have any problem saying that it was one of the most significant moments of my life, and 30 years later I can still get a lump in my throat just thinking about it.