Do you remember where you were on February 21, 1980?
I do. It was a Friday night and I was a sports-crazy sixth grader at J.C. Wood Elementary in Fairfax City. I had been following the US team as they tied Sweden, then beat the Czechs and Germans. Then drew the Soviets in the semi.
For a young person today, it’s hard to describe the full-on Cold War rivalry between the USA-USSR. They were the antithesis of all we held dear. And their sports were the best in the world. Their hockey team had killed an NHL All-Star team by a 6-0 scoreline.
Of course, the Soviets used professionals in all their sports, while the USA still used amateurs in the Olympics. But I digress …
The US-Soviet game was considered to be a route. It wasn’t even televised live. Rather, the network put it on a 2-hour tape delay that night.
At 8 pm, we were sitting in the basement — our whole family — to watch the US play the Soviets on tape delay. No Internet, no problem. Amazingly, the Americans stayed closed. They scored a goal at the end of the 1st period to knot the game 2-2.
In the third period, the Soviets were wearing down the Americans. Down 3-2, it looked like it was slipping away — then the Americans snuck one back in a net scramble. The Soviets were furious and stormed back. Goalie Jim Craig was all over the place, stopping the flying pucks.
In the announcer booth, a young Al Michaels said “the Americans are relying too much on Craig.” Then a puck slipped free from the side boards. In the iconic moment, the team captain Mike Eruzione (a Boston guy all the way) took it on his stick and rifled the perfect shot over the goalie’s glove hand.
For those of us in the D.C. area, the game had one last bizarre twist. Midway through the third period, in a commercial break, a news anchor stated “The U.S. beats the Soviet Union” as a teaser for the evening news. I was getting a glass of root beer but my parents heard it — and kept it secret to the final whistle.
Sunday was the gold medal game. The U.S. was actually losing to a very good Finnish team 2-0, before storming back to win 4-2. They won the gold and deserved it. They beat every other team — and those were the best teams in the world.
The USA-USSR game was a miracle, if only because the Soviets were perhaps the greatest team in hockey history. But the USA team was no slouch; nearly all its players moved on to the NHL and several of them (Dave Christian, Neal Broten, Craig Ramsey) became All-Stars at the next level.
If you watched the US-USSR game you never forgot it. It has stood the test of time as a life memory. Do you remember where you were that night?