What Was It like To experience The Biggest Upsets In Sports History: The
1980s U.S Hockey Team Defeat of the Soviet Union
How It Affected The Cold War
The U.S hockey team defeating the Soviet Union’s national team in the 1980s Olympics will always be one of, if not the biggest upset in sports history.
But what was it like to experience that game, and how did it affect America?
While modern hockey fans know something of this game’s history, it must have been an entirely different experience that game firsthand, seeing the U.S team who were huge underdogs win during the heart of the Cold War. The game wasn’t even broadcast live, so imagine waiting to see a game that wasn’t just an Olympic event, but an event filled with political stresses. The 1980s was a time period where you couldn’t simply take out your cell phone to look up the score when the game was over or go on the internet to see who won.
“The game wasn’t shown live on T.V.,” remembers Tim Delaney, now a sociology professor at SUNY Oswego. “I was an undergrad. Everybody wanted to watch it, but we couldn’t. We had to watch it on delay [and] even then a lot of people didn’t know the score because there wasn’t social media.”
Despite this, Delaney does remember the feel of his college dorm during the game.
“It was exciting,” he said.”People were overly patriotic, of course, as Americans tend to be very patriotic when it comes to sporting events like the Olympics.”
This was especially true during those Olympics, where Russia and the U.S. were at political odds. In 1980, the Olympic Games were in Lake Placid, which gave the Americans the home-ice advantage when it came time to verse the four-time defending champions that were the Soviet Union national hockey team. When twenty college kids defeated the Soviet Union, it gave the American people a sense of hope and pride during a time of economic downturn and uncertainty. However, that one game didn’t change the fact that the gas prices were terrible or that the economy at the time was really bad. The U.S hockey team just brought the American people together for a day when the country was at its worst.
The attention on the Olympics and the politics of the day meant that not just hockey fans watched this game: everyone did. The 1980s Olympics began in a time of political turmoil between the U.S and the Soviet Union. Jimmy Carter, the president at the time, said during an HBO sports special about the event that: “The 1980s were born in turmoil, stride, and change.” Depression had been the way of the late 1970s, but there were many who saw the 1980 hockey game as a sign of better times to come economically and socially.
Experiencing the U.S defeating the Soviets was a moment of tremendous pride, remembered Christopher Mack a professor that teaches many history class here at SUNY Oswego.
“In 1980 I was 18…and I can remember a bunch of us all got together in the common area of our dorm,” Mack said. “It was so unexpected for the U.S to win that game that the atmosphere … was obviously very patriotic about it. We went from hoping to getting really excited and the atmosphere just became electric and more and more people came to watch the game.”
This game was different to many American people. To some, it was about showing the Soviet Union and the world that the U.S was strong and capable of overcoming difficult challenges. The American people saw the game as a microcosm of the day’s politics In 1979 and the Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan and had taken American hostages, which added much more tension and hatred between these two countries during the Cold War before their two hockey teams clashed. The U.S.A fans were obviously very patriotic towards the team not only because not only the atmosphere and the situation of the game because it being an Olympic game and the U.S was versing the Soviet Union in the middle of the Cold War, but the U.S fans wanted to see their team beat the Soviets in their country. That is why this game was so memorable to not only were the Soviets Union four-time Olimpic champs in hockey. The Soviet Union had been playing with each other for over ten years and hockey was their job. The U.S fan didn’t want their team to be embarrassed on their home ice.
Catherine Noto, a retired nurse in Farmingdale, NY, remembered watching the U.S defeat the Soviets in the 1980s Olympics. “I don’t think I sat down for the entire third period,” she said. “I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown while it was going on during that game, what was going on I’m not sure but the stadium the roof was about to come off of Lake Placid… It was probably one of the best places to be in the entire world ever. … Everywhere you went. ‘Do you believe in miracles? YES!! ‘Everyone knows where that’s from.”
So how did head coach Herb Brooks create the miracle on ice and the experience that the American people will cherish forever? Brooks started with recruiting kids from Boston and Minnesota, these two colleges are bitter rivals. Brooks though had a plan to make them into a team. The plan was simple Doc said this in the 2004 film Miracle “If they hate him they won’t have time to hate each other.” Turning the players against Brooks so that they work together is a great strategy for any coach. Which makes the players work together and not as an individual. So Brooks’s plan worked and he trained twenty ordinary college amateurs who were bitter rivals to work together as one to defeat the Soviet Union 4-3 in the 1980s winter Olympics.
Catherine Noto, also remembered that “ You couldn’t even hear what was going on the ice watching the players skate back and forth the stadium never stopped.” the stakes for the U.S team was obviously very high and the game was very crucial. However, with the game being so intense and at such a high energy level, it made the American people feel pride in their country and it made them feel proud to fly the American flag.
The ones that experienced that game have a memory that the American people will cherish. It is all because the head coach was on a mission. Herb Brooks was the last player to get cut from the 1960 U.S hockey team, and Brook said in an interview with HBO Sports that, “When they won it my father looked over and said, ‘looks like Coach Riley cut the right guy.’” After he saw the 1960 team win and noticing that the Soviets Union had won the gold in 64, 68, 72, 76, he wanted to beat the Soviets Union.
Peter Noto, a physical education teacher in Wyandanch, NY remembered the game and the way that Brooks’ strategy created a lasting victory for the American people. “By the time the game was over, it seemed like America hope that we could get out of the dark days that we were in,” he said. “As the game went on it got more and more intense, and we started to hear the chant “U.S.A” on the T.V so we started to chant it in the college union.”