The United States celebrates, top, while, bottom, the defeated Soviet Union ponders its future after losing the Miracle on Ice game at Lake Placid in 1980. SC photos by David Staver
The United States celebrates, top, while, bottom, the defeated Soviet Union ponders its future after losing the Miracle on Ice game at Lake Placid in 1980. SC photos by David Staver

It's early Saturday morning and I'm watching the United States play Russia in Olympic hockey, a few days shy of 38 years to the day from Feb. 22, 1980 when a group of American college kids beat the Soviet hockey machine.

The Miracle on Ice. The question comes up: “Where were you when the U.S. beat the Soviet Union and Al Michaels said ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ 

That may be hyperbole. It certainly is when compared to those few historical moments that traditionally command that question of 'where were you?: Pearl Harbor, Kennedy Assassination, man on the moon, 9-11. Either way, in the realm of sports it’s as close to one of those moments as it gets.

I remember where I was. I didn’t hear Al Michaels make the call. That’s because I was there.

The two pictures here would, quite simply, not pass the quality control standards of most newspapers, the Santiva Chronicle included. They are here because they are mine. I took a small camera belonging to the newspaper I worked for at the time with me to the Olympics and took these photos from my seat, not on press row but in the crowd. The picture of the Americans celebrating was taken about five seconds after the final horn blew and ABC Sports announcer Michaels gave the game its name with his famous line. The second photo is of the Soviet Union, waiting for the celebration to subside so they could do the traditional handshake and asking themselves if they could spell Siberia.

So much has changed since I snapped those pictures late on a Friday afternoon in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980. The game on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, was between two teams, but it was also a game between two nations – two nations locked in the Cold War.

In 1980 the Soviet Union expected to win the Olympics, to go home with more medals than any other nation. It was another of the U.S.S.R.’s ways of showing the world the superiority of the Communist system. The hockey team, which was illegally made up of professional players, was the heavy favorite and the Russians had already put that medal in the gold column. That some of the players might spend some time making little rocks out of big rocks someplace cold if they lost was not out of the question, much in the manner Soviets had treated failed generals down to slacking workers from the days of Stalin forward.

In 1980 the United States team was composed of college-age kids who either weren’t ready for the National Hockey League or never would be. A week before that game my friend that I was at the Olympics with and I innocently purchased over the counter tickets to a semifinal hockey game. We paid $50 a ticket.

With each U.S. victory in pool play the value of our tickets went up. When the U.S. got in that game and the opponent was the same one we were fighting in the Cold War, the value went through the roof. We had no intention of selling our tickets. Instead, we went to the Ice Arena, which seated a cozy 7,700, and went ticket shopping outside in what had become during the course of the Olympics a ticket Wall Street. Our tickets were in the upper deck. My friend Speedy swung a deal with two guys from Sports Illustrated who had tickets on the lower level. We paid $75 apiece – a pretty good sum in 1980 – and then Speedy dealt our upper deck tickets for $100 apiece.

With a $50 profit we went to our seats and found them on one of the blue lines on the third row. Perfect, and before us unfolded the most unlikely upset in American sports history. The U.S. fell behind and tied the game. They fell behind and tied again. And again. Then, late in the third period, Mike Eruzione scored to give the United States the lead.

With Siberia on their minds, the Soviets, a team of fully grown, hockey-playing professionals, pulled out all the stops. They changed lines every 30 seconds or so to keep fresh legs on the ice. They started rush after rush. Right in front of me, at the blue line, these rushes were met over and over by the young Americans. The collisions were ferocious, befitting this mini-war between the world’s two superpowers. That blue line was the Berlin Wall.

Time ran out. The United States won and I took my pictures. I knew I had seen something special but I didn’t take time to consider how this game would be viewed 38 years down the road. Here we are, 38 years later, and it still holds the same high place. It is still the 'Miracle on Ice.'

How far the mighty have fallen. A decade after losing that hockey game the Soviet Union did to itself what the United States and N.A.T.O. could not do. It blew itself up.

No longer do the menacing red uniforms say “C.C.C.P.” across the front. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is no more. Russia appeared in these South Korean Olympics as the Olympic Athletes of Russia, not the Soviet Union.

Russia is still an enemy, but not like it was in the Cold War. We root against the Russians now like we would root against any other opponent of our American teams. The tinge of hatred that 7,700 felt inside the Lake Placid Ice Arena when the chant “USA, USA” was born is much tamer these days.

Further, there will not be any retribution at home for Russian athletes who missed out on medals in Korea. A coach or two might be fired, just like it would happen here, but there aren’t any more trips to Siberia for losing a hockey game.

Like the other 7,699 who saw the Miracle on Ice on a Friday afternoon in the small village of Lake Placid, I cheered until my lungs hurt, and I snapped that picture. I don’t know how many others did, but I took the time to look the other way, to take a peek at the defeated Soviet Union, and I snapped that picture too. No game, I thought to myself at the time, is worth what these men might be facing.

I don’t know if any of the hockey players went to hard labor. I hope not. Thirty-eight years later, if the Russians lose, they won't have to worry about it. There is no Communism to support and hockey is back to what it should be – a game.

The Miracle on Ice can’t happen again. The ingredients aren’t there any more. The Soviet Union is gone. It’s all different. I’m glad I was there. I’m more glad that the cloud of the Cold War is gone. My pictures, as fuzzy and as far away as they may be, are a memory of a happy time, but a time that was always tempered by the Soviet threat. I’m glad they are pictures from an era that the world has put behind it. And when the subject comes up, and someone says where he or she was when Michaels asked 'Do you believe in miracles?, ' I can always respond that I was there.