It’s been more than three decades since the United States ice hockey team took the gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics, an achievement that was only possible thanks to the Feb. 22, 1980, upset of the Soviet national team. Since that time, Team USA’s win has been around the top of the upset charts. Here are five reasons why it will never be topped.
The Soviet national team had a record of dominance at the time of their loss to the red-white-and-blue that spanned a quarter of a century. That’s right, for more than 25 years they were the top ice hockey program in the world. Capturing just about every world championship and Olympic tournament dating back to 1954, the Soviets would even hammer the very same Americans in the months leading up to that fateful showdown 10-3. As if that wasn’t enough reason to suspect an easy Russian victory, there was also…
Team USA didn’t have a single professional-caliber player on the roster. Each and every player was either an amateur or a collegiate up-and-comer. On professional football terms, this matchup was like a few arena football players being paired with a few major and junior college all-stars and taking on the Super Bowl champions. Furthermore, coach Herb Brooks had only proven himself at the collegiate level and had been only a fair player in his skating days. And then there was that abysmal exhibition beat-down.
Aside from the David-versus-Goliath nature of the pairing, the Miracle on Ice has little chance of ever being beaten due to media overload. Soccer is an even larger presence today than it was back then, and has effectively infiltrated American pop culture. The NFL grows larger with each passing year. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association are both on the rise. Ultimate Fighting Championships didn’t even exist in 1980, but now commands a significant global presence thanks to the efforts of Zuffa Sports. And while ice hockey hasn’t helped its chances of attracting public interest with its strike/lockout-happy bickering, it still has its fans. Basically, for an upset to have the same value as the Miracle on Ice, the people have to care. It’s hard to do that when they’re getting pulled in so many different directions.
With media overload, lots of different sports get lots of attention. Athletes have more choices on which to focus their energies. Money and exposure pull them in different directions and so the most talented individuals are not funneled into one area of competition as they would have been 30 years ago. As a result, the lowly Kansas City Chiefs could beat the Baltimore Ravens on any given Sunday and even an Arkansas State Red Wolves can fare better than their Arkansas Razorbacks counterparts. Yes, there is still a talent differential for different collegiate and professional organizations, but there is not as wide of a gap as there used to be.
Even illegal substances now take away from the glory of a good old-fashioned underdog story. We question everything because we’ve been burned by the Mark McGwires and the Lance Armstrongs of the world. The thrill of the sport still fascinates us, and we acknowledge that sometimes the ball bounces in the direction you wouldn’t suspect, but rather than sit there gazing at the TV, jaw scraping floor, we shrug and go about our business with the thought, “Yeah, they’re probably juicing.”
Now 33 years removed from the Miracle on Ice, the state of the sports world seems more tarnished than it ever has been. And perhaps it’s this fundamental shift away from innocence that makes the 1980 Team USA victory more special to us. What do you think—will the 1980 Miracleon Ice ever be duplicated in another sport, or are there upsets you feel rise above this accomplishment? If so, we want to hear about it. Share your thoughts below!