I was only 6 when it happened, on this date, February 22nd, 38 years ago, but I still remember watching part of the game in our house (tape delayed!). I still remember loving what happened. I vividly remember the silky blue “USA Olympics” coat I wore everywhere after the games were over. It was one of those coats I wore long after I outgrew it and for months after it developed tears and holes and my mother wished I would wear something else…anything else.
For sports fans alive in 1980, the USA hockey team defeat of team USSR in the semi-finals of the Olympic Games is unforgettable. David defeating Goliath may be the only underdog to overcome greater odds than that team, since the Soviets had won the gold medal in hockey every Olympics since 1964. In fact, a week prior to their showdown in Lake Placid, NY, the Soviets had demolished the U.S. team in an exhibition game. Few people thought the Red, White and Blue had any chance against the seasoned veterans of the mighty U.S.S.R.
Despite facing an early deficit, the Americans did the unthinkable and rode the incredible goal-tending glove of Jimmy Craig, combined with timely goals from key players to knock the Soviets out of gold medal contention. A few days later the U.S. squad knocked off Finland to secure Olympic gold and sports immortality with, “The Miracle on Ice!”
The game was given that nick name because of the famous call, by a young broadcaster name Al Michaels. Yes, that Al Michaels that just called Super Bowl Lii along with five or six other Super Bowls and just about every major sporting event since 1980. But in 1980, he was just Al Michaels, not the legend, not the familiar voice of a World Series baseball game or a Monday night football game. He was Al Michaels, the youngster who had to cover the hockey game.
I recently heard Al interviewed on the radio about that moment in Lake Placid and he joked about how he ended up with the call. You see, to most people, it was a foregone conclusion that the Russians would clean up in the hockey finals, and few of the broadcasters wanted to cover an event that would have so little drama. While assignments were being handed out during the week, it was revealed that Al had called a hockey game in his young career, so, he was given the tournament.
As the Americans started playing with some surprising results in the 12 team tournament, the remote possibility of an unprecedented upset began to stir among fans and sports writers. Despite the lopsided loss America had sustained against Russia in the exhibition game just days before the Olympics, the arena was packed beyond capacity and chants of “U.S.A.” rattled the foundation and rafters of the arena hours before the puck dropped.
Politically, in 1980, president Carter was gearing up to fight for re-election against an actor-turned-politician out of California, and oil prices were thru the roof. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States made the rivalry between these two teams even more intense. It was as if two ideologies were competing on the ice, more than just two groups of men who play a game on a frozen pond.
The Soviets took the early 2-1 lead, but with less than 10 minutes remaining in the 3rd period, captain Mike Eruzione hit the go ahead goal that gave the Americans a 4-3 lead. Jimmy Craig deflected multiple shot attempts in the final 10 minutes and, famously, after a deflection was sent to the other end of the ice rink, the clock began ticking down and Al Michaels spoke the unforgettable words, “5 seconds left in the game…do you believe in miracles? Yes!”
The Soviets had been defeated. The Americans had won. Al Michaels was a legend.
One of the things that strikes me about this incredible piece of history, is the place in history that Al Michael’s shares because of his part in the game. He gets invited to reunions that are open ONLY to players/families of that team, and when a movie was made capturing the magic of that day, Al was included and the actual call for the game was incorporated to the film’s finale. In fact the film’s director said, “Al, without you and your call, this movie can’t be made.”
And he was there, in that place on that day, because he had called one other hockey game in his yet, not-so-illustrious career.
I marvel at how God does this with us all the time, and how often we miss His working because we don’t want to be backstage, off-camera or picking up trash after the big event. Al probably wasn’t the best announcer of that Olympic Games, and he might not have even been the most qualified announcer for hockey. Yet there he was, prepared, ready to go, and eager to take the task handed to him without knowing the outcome would change his trajectory and career.
Has God placed you in a minor league hockey game today? Are you serving Him backstage while the “show” goes on without you? Are you in a place where no one knows your name or your part, and you wonder if you will get the chance for something else?
As I’ve studied the Scriptures over the past 21 years of pastoral ministry, one of the patterns that has emerged through the lives of God’s chosen people, is how often He takes the people who are faithful to serve Him, quietly, almost passively, but whose hearts are for Him, and uses them for exceptional work! In fact, the people who long for the spotlight, the people who crave the affections of the crowd, are rarely the ones God assigns for His greatest tasks. Just look at this (very incomplete!) list of people that God used for great tasks; people whose lives were relatively unknown prior to God’s working through them:
Moses was an 80-year-old, stuttering shepherd living in the desert when God called him.
Jael was a stay-at-home mom before God used her to defeat an army.
David was the youngest of 8 brothers, a lowly shepherd who liked rocks and harps.
Esther was an orphaned, very beautiful, teenage girl living with her uncle.
John lived in the desert and wore a shirt made of camel hair, and apparently had an appetite for locust.
Ruth was a widower and foreigner in a land that wasn’t fond of her particular type.
Abraham was a son and uncle, a nomad and wanderer, and was older than your great grandfather when he had his first child.
Mary was a sweet young Jewish girl who grew up on the other side of the tracks.
Gideon was a man hiding in a winepress when God came to him.
The “other” Mary was a demon-possessed prostitute before she met Jesus.
Yet each of them was extraordinary in what they did for the Lord. Moses led Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land, taking them on a 40 year route thru the wilderness. Jael drove a tent peg into the temple of the leader of the enemy of Israel, affectively ending a war. David became Israel’s king, serving for 40 years and prepared for the temple to be built by his son Solomon. Esher saved her people from extinction during the Assyrian captivity of the Jews. John proclaimed the coming of The Lamb of God and pointed the people to Jesus. Ruth became a great grandmother of King David. Abraham became the father of the entire Jewish nation. Mary gave birth to God’s Son and was among the first disciples in the church. Gideon led Israel’s armies against an army 500 times larger than his. The “other” Mary poured perfume on Jesus and wiped his feet with her tears and hair, and Jesus forever proclaimed her connection to the Gospel.
None of these people sought the position they were given, but all of them were ready when the opportunity arose. Because they were more talented, gifted or intellectual? No. They were ready because they gave their talents and gifts and intellects and hearts to God in the little things of life. When God called them they were obedient to Him. No matter how unqualified they may have felt, no matter how much they may have tried to convince God they weren’t ready, they obeyed God’s voice and thru them, He accomplished great work.
Embrace your calling in life and take on those minor league hockey games with all your might. Clean up after the event as if you were cleaning up the Lord’s table. Serve your family with all your heart. Take out the garbage and empty the dishwasher with joy and diligence. Give that report as if God Himself were sitting in the room listening. As you make it all about Him, you will begin to care less and less about platform you have and will begin to care more and more about bringing Him the glory. Then, you might not even notice, that one day He gives you an opportunity to do something that reaches more people than you ever imagined. And you will be ready.
The Miracle on Ice story is unforgettable. But it pales in comparison to the story of God’s meekest child who lives in reverent obedience to Him, even in the greatest obscurity. Live a remarkable life by following and serving Him where ever you are, and you will marvel at what He can accomplish thru you.
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!