I was flipping through the channels the other day because I was bored. There was nothing on, so I switched to On Demand and started flipping again. When I reached HBO, I found a documentary called “Do You Believe In Miracles” about the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team. I’d seen parts of it once, back in 2001 when it came out, but this time, I was ready to watch the entire thing from start to finish. So, I clicked “play” and sat back to watch.
As the events of 1980 unfolded on the screen, I started thinking about my dad. We lived in Germany then, as part of a military assignment that would end up lasting 5 years (my father extended his assignment two years so I could graduate from the same high school- an act for which I thank him to this day). My dad was not a huge hockey fan, but for some reason, he was bound and determined to watch the US - Soviet Union match up live, as it was happening.
Let me tell you a little about TV coverage in West Germany in 1980. If you lived on a military base, as we did, TV consisted of AFN (Armed Forces Network). AFN aired programs that ran about 6 months earlier in the US. Any sporting events we saw aired about a week or two after they were played and we never knew what games would actually air. And FORGET about watching any Olympic coverage LIVE. If you wanted to watch German TV, you had to pay for a license to hook your TV up to the German networks. And from what I remember, it wasn’t cheap.
Did that stop my dad? Hell, no! He has a background in electronics, and found a way to hook our TV up to a German network. Granted, the picture wasn’t that great, but you could definitely follow the action on the screen. I remember the night of the US - Soviet Union match up, he got the TV tuned as well as he could, then settled into his easy chair to watch.
The narration was in German, but that didn’t mask the excitement of what was happening in Lake Placid that February night. I heard him cheer as Buzz Schneider scored the first goal for the US. Heard him curse as the Soviets went ahead. More cheers as Mark Johnson scored to tie things up, with just one second left in the first period.
The cheers continued in the second period, as goalie Jim Craig deflected shot after shot, keeping the game close. Third period. The Soviet team is up, 3-2, when Mark Johnson scores again to tie things up. Then… feat of all feats, Mike Eruzione puts the US team up 4-3, with ten minutes left in the game.
I watch this all unfold; listen to players, American and Russian like, relive the action on the ice. But as the players and coaches talk, I see and hear my dad, in front of that fuzzy TV in our apartment in Vogelweh, Germany, cheering, groaning and urging the young Americans on, breathlessly counting down the final minutes of history. And as the clock ran out, I didn’t need to hear Al Michaels exclaim, “Do you believe in miracles?” That’s not what aired on German TV. But the explosion from the easy chair in the living room, was good enough. My dad, career soldier, stationed in West Germany in the waning years of the Cold War, when Russia and East Germany were still threats, cheering for a group of kids who pulled off the impossible.
On my TV screen, some players teared up as they remembered their accomplishment. I teared up as I remembered the pride my dad felt at the US victory. He told me later that he felt as though that win on the ice in Lake Placid illustrated what he felt to serve in the military- standing tall in the face of the enemy. Watching the documentary, I know that my dad wasn’t the only one who felt that way. But he’s the only one I can draw from and the memory is still so strong, it stands out, even now, so many years later.
I plan to buy a copy of that documentary to send to my dad. He only saw that game once, on a fuzzy screen he’d rigged up just for that night in February 1980. I think he should see it in living color, complete with commentary from the amazing guys who made up that team, their legendary coach Herb Brooks and assistant coach Craig Patrick (who went on to make their marks in the NHL, most notably, with my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins). I hope he can recapture the magic he felt that night 28 years ago, on a military base in West Germany, and know that the pride he felt in those kids, is the same pride I feel for him and his lifetime of service to Uncle Sam.