If you spoke with an American sports fan today, and said that a win in 1980 over the Soviet Union Ice Hockey team was an amazing achievement, they would not be too sure of your statement. It is something that you can only fully understand if you were living through those days.
When we look back at the 1970s and early 1980s, it is obvious to everyone that the Soviet Union was the premier team on the ice during those years. Even the Canadians could not get close to them, and the United States were certainly not a team that was expected to hold its own. Even when they did reach the final at the 1980 Winter Olympics, everyone was expecting a thrashing.
Even the most optimistic pre-match predictions were saying that it would be amazing if the United States made it competitive. Others were saying it would be great if the Americans could get one goal, and not concede too many at the end. A 3-1 defeat would be something they would be proud to see, given the might of the Soviet Union in that sport, and at that time.
But the Americans went one step further. The players put on the game of their lives, and they emerged as 4-3 winners. In most of these cases, it is an early onslaught that decides the game. But the Americans grew into this game. The score was 2-2 after the first period, and the Soviet Union were 3-2 up at the end of the second period. At this moment, most expected they would run away with it. But the Americans had other ideas.
They rallied and scored two unanswered goals in the third period, and won the game 4-3. It was an amazing game, not only for the result, but because of what it meant for the United States. It was a win over the “enemy,” in a sport where they were not supposed to have any chance. Sure, home field advantage played its part, but even that New York crowd was not expecting anything from their heroes on that night.
The Soviet Union had some incredible players on that roster, and the best among them was Vladislav Tretiak. He was considered by everyone as the best goaltender in the world at that time. He was not at his best in the game, though, and he was replaced by his coach after the first period. It was a shocking move to many, and it did not pay off in the end.
Sports games are made even more iconic by the commentary surrounding these great moments. And if you ask any fan who watched that game on television as it happened, they will tell you about the iconic call from the commentator Al Michaels as the game drew to its conclusion. “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” he said. It was a moment that American sports fans will never forget. Those who followed ice hockey at the time know what a historic achievement it was for an American team to beat the Soviet Union that night.