The Way We Were: A Hockey Miracle That Unified America
It happens a lot these days. Memories and moments of sadness that remind me of what we used to be. Moments of recollection from days long gone when it becomes so very clear what we once were. What we are now. And what all signs say, we will never be again. No matter how wildly Donald Trump succeeds at doing exactly what those red hats promised he would.
Unified. Patriotic. American. A nation fully as friendly as the day is long. Both sides. One side. Our side. A helping hand and an open door. The way it used to be.
These days, a gift for reminiscing is a dangerous thing. When what you remember is so much kinder and sweeter than present reality, the contrast is a burden borne. A milepost turned to headstone. An epitaph to a better time.
Along this odd and bumpy road in our long journey to national estrangement, cracking open the American scrapbook of memories brings sadness and joy. And times when singular moments of remembered unity bring a lump to my throat once reserved only for that special feeling of pride that those moments captured and distilled about all it meant to be an American, blessed to live in the greatest nation God ever allowed to be. Anthem moments of splendid gold. Moments of commonality and triumph that bound us all together to celebrate, or to mourn, or to realize a little deeper just what it is we’ve all been blessed to receive. Bound together in ways that seem unlikely and downright impossible anymore. Both sides. No sides. Just us.
Maybe you’ll remember them, too. In no particular order.
The Challenger disaster. Iranian hostages set free. Presidents shot, but still alive. Presidents shot, and laid to rest. Troops returned home. And those that never did. 9-11-2001 and all that came after and in between.
And February 23, 1980.
Set against the rest it seems a triviality at best. But it wasn’t. Not then. It meant the world. And we all felt it. On that day, an underdog hockey team wearing red, white and blue, accomplished what no one but them believed they ever would or could. Scrappy and plucky and tenacious and fast, 20 guys from blue collar families and too young to be any good pulled off a sporting world miracle that became a symbol of American promise. They beat the almighty Red Army on American ice and restored just a smidgen of American pride in an age of malaise. A peanut farmer’s melancholy lament.
Lake Placid wiped it all away.
An encapsulated moment of star spangled magic that transcended stagflation and gas shortages, rising interest rates and a hostage crisis. And the weak-kneed President that the world kicked around like the sap that he was and is. If only Herb Brooks could have done both jobs. At least until Sheriff Ronnie could ride into town.
Watching a retelling of that magical, miraculous, victorious day from childhood, it dawned on me as clearly as a slap shot to the face. And stung just as much. Maybe more. The realization that the Evil Empire no longer resides in pointy roofed buildings in Moscow. It no longer threatens with missiles and fuzzy hats and shaking fists. The Evil Empire, as we all know, is right here on American soil. And with every passing moment of the Trump era, it is every bit as intent on taking back control and destroying our nation as Khrushchev and Brezhnev and Gromyko ever were.
The Evil Empire, as we all know, is right here on American soil. And with every passing moment of the Trump era, it is every bit as intent on taking back control and destroying our nation as Khrushchev and Brezhnev and Gromyko ever were.
The Deep State wants revenge.
Confirmation truth is that the closest thing I’ve felt since that “Miracle on Ice,” happened in November of 2016. And Donald Trump’s amazing, unexpected, improbable and equally incomparable victory over an invincible foe and all the assembled forces of establishment power structure intent on shutting out the lights on the American Dream. Hillary’s Evil Empire, denied. The Deep State kill shot swept wide at the final horn. An extra period to see if this old Republic can find the will to overcome the demons of our worst selves and the misguided madness of those who’ve somehow forgotten or never learned that Communism kills more assuredly than cancer.
It brings a bone deep sadness I can’t describe to remember when we were all Americans, who cheered our triumphs and mourned our tragedies and who wanted America, as she was, to soar and thrive and fly high again. And to always be what she was always meant to be. Not to change her into something new but old and forever ruined in ways that ancient Red Moscow Menace tried and abandoned after an unwinnable Cold War ended and sent the Olympics and Rocky movies in search of new villains and different plots.
We were all Americans back then. Not Democrats and Republicans, nor Trump fans and Bernie Bros.
We were a nation of Americans united as one and only at war with common enemies from far away who hated freedom and liberty as much as we would never live without them. And we all wanted America to be great again. Even if only on a tiny patch of ice for a brief moment of glory to tide us over until new management could finish the revival. Hoping for Communism in America or thinking of socialism as salvation was as unthinkable back then as half the country watching that fateful Olympic hockey game, hoping for the indomitable Russian powerhouse to beat the United States.
I liked it a lot better that way. We all did. And we will never see it again.
Prove me wrong, the table sign might read. And good luck with that.