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USA - Finland - Miracle On Ice Not Squandered

When asked about your favorite Olympic Moment or Event, many, many people, including a number of us whom Yahoo asked some of us to write about it, quickly think of the "Miracle On Ice" in the 2008 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, and not just in the United States, though that's obviously where it meant the most.

It was a time before NHL players could be used, yet the eastern block, and most notably, the Soviet Union, were able to have dedicated "professionals" on their teams, while the west was still using college kids. As a result, the big Red Machine had run off 4 consecutive hockey gold medals, everyone since the last prior "Miracle On Ice" by the USA in 1960, which also just happened to be in Lake Placid. So anyone knocking off the Soviets, who politics aside were one heck of a hockey team, had meaning that resonated world wide.

But in sports, the "big" moment doesn't always come with the championship or gold medal on the line, and that was the case when the USA rallied with a pair of 3rd period goals to get the 4-3 win over the USSR in the next to last round of games in the 1980 Olympics. The win resulted in one of the highest of highs seen in sports, but it didn't win the Americans the gold medal. That came 2 days later against Finland, and that required a 3rd period comeback as well.

Failure to win would have opened the door for the Soviets to still snag the gold medal, because even a tie would allow USSR to have as many points in the Olympic Ice Hockey standings as the USA, and in the odd world of hockey, the head to head meeting mean nothing. Goals for and against, and then overall wins would break the tie, so even a tie against Finland wouldn't assure the Americans the gold.

It would have been a heart-breaker, not to mention the waste of some of the most riveting Friday night "prime time" tv of the time, to not "close the deal", especially in light of the 10-3 pasting the USSR had pinned on the USA 3 days before the Olympics started in a game in Madison Square Garden. That "proof of concept" by the Soviets had made any hope of a USA upset seem preposterous, or at the very least, something that would require a "miracle".

So it was on Sunday against the Finns, and this time on live tv, when the "miracle" would become more than a one-day upset.

The win on Friday, February 22, win over the USSR was shown on a tape delay basis, common then and now for Olympic coverage, so that the television audience can be maximized, and also so that any event that turns out to be a "clunker" can be edited down. So while many did not know the outcome in the age well before the internet, and up to the second news, some did, and watching the USA's come from behind win was more like watching a great action movie.

But with an instant national energization for hockey, Sunday's game suddenly became "must show live" tv. The game was set for 11 AM EST, and the USSR-Sweden game would follow, so there wasn't even any chance for the USA to know the outcome of that game, and whether they could play for a tie (in the event of a surprise by the Swedes). Which didn't happen, by the way; the rather irate Russians took the weekend's disappointment out on the Swedes to the tune of a 9-2 thrashing.

Here on the west coast, it meant an 8 AM start, so lots of us watched the game start over breakfast. Which began to roll around in the pits of many a stomach when the Finns, who weren't in the medal round for no reason, scored first, and then led 2-1 after 2 periods.

Which set the stage for another third period rally, and finally an exclamation goal, as the Americans scored 3 times for the 4-2 win that set off a national celebration. (And didn't hurt Al Michael's career either!)

It was all a great reminder that sometimes a great moment, or great achievement, really only means much if you can follow it up!