32 years ago today I was out in the cattle pasture behind my home in Hugo, Oklahoma with several of my friends 'skating' around on a low-lying area that had frozen over the night before. We were skating in boots or tennis shoes but no one had ice skates. We had a Tinker-toy wheel for a hockey puck and tree branches for hockey sticks.
For hours in about 15-degree weather we played the only hockey game any of us rural Oklahoma kids would ever play. It was one of the greatest days of my young life.
The night before I was in my best friend's room watching a small black and white television set that was showing the tape-delayed broadcast of the United States vs. Soviet Union Olympic hockey game. As a 13-year old sports nut who also followed the politics of the day, I was riveted by the unfolding story surrounding our hockey team as they won game after game against inumerable odds.
As I sat - near breathless - on the floor watching the impossible unfold before my eyes I could sense that something transformational was happening in Lake Placid, New York.
My first recollection of anything political in America was the Watergate Scandal. For the rest of the 1970's I was aware of the problems of Vietnam, stagflation, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the ineptitude of the Carter Administration and more. I knew that times were very bad politically and economically in our country and had heard many people claim that it was a matter of time before the Soviet Union completed its expansionist doctrine and took us over too.
With all of that as a back drop, the moment Mike Eruzione scored the game-winning goal against the Soviets, I erupted with very vocal tears of pure joy. I could barely keep a thought in my head that night as I tried to fall asleep. The next day I worked the phone until I had enough kids willing to come over and play our own version of Olympic hockey.
The next day Americas greatest sports heroes beat Finland to win the gold medal. When I saw goalie Jim Craig with the American flag draped over his heroic shoulders I felt a pride associated with being an American that I had never felt before. For the first time in my young life I experienced what it meant to believe that America was the greatest country in the world.
In the years since then I have come to know and keep in touch with Jack O'Callahan, one of the mainstays of that great team. He was gracious enough to conduct a long interview (see http://www.jackchambless.com/ and click on MY BOOKS) for my books and has sent my sons autographs. Both of my sons now play ice hockey and every year on February 22nd my family watches the move "Miracle" - one of the greatest sports movies ever made. I even start off every February 22nd by saying to my wife and kids, "Happy miracle day..."
I know that the probability of anything like the 1980 Hockey team happening again is near zero. I also know that many things have happened since 1980 - accelerating in recent years - that have caused me to not feel the same sense of pride and patriotism I felt on that freezing weekend in 1980. Yet I also know that I am truly blessed to have ever lived in a country that could produce 20 young men who would give us all hope that America can achieve anything as long as people are free.