This subject came up on the blogosphere today. See Was the 1980 Miracle on Ice team really that much of a Miracle? by Tangotiger. He links to an article by Hawerchuk. But what Hawerchuk does is very similar to something I wrote about 6 years ago when the movie about the team came out. I wrote an article for the newspaper of San Antonio College (where I teach). The link to that original article is no longer on line, so it is below. But I have some details after it that proves when I wrote it. Here is the article:
Do you believe in critical thinking? If not, stop reading. The movie "The Miracle," about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, provides a great opportunity to use critical thinking, which shows that the game against the Soviet team was not as big a "David vs. Goliath" story as the movie made it out to be.
But first, it's a good movie. Kurt Russell portrays coach Herb Brooks well. Brooks was a good coach who did a great job of preparing his team. The hockey scenes are exciting. The team spirit and patriotism in the movie seem sincere and genuine. Thumbs up.
But back to the "David vs. Goliath" angle. Was team USA a "David?" In hindsight, we know that twelve of the U.S. players went on to play in the NHL. Some very soon after the Olympics were over. Some had long and fine careers. So the talent was there. At the end of the movie, we're told what the players are doing now. But no mention of their NHL careers. If they had mentioned this, we might not have seen them as such a little "David." So the director only told us what he wanted us to know, to play up his angle.
If we compare the U.S team in 1980, to the team in 1960, which also won a gold medal, we can see how good the 1980 team was. Only two players from the 1960 team made it to the NHL and one had a career of only 12 games. Now, in 1980, there were 21 teams in the NHL and in 1960, there were only six. So if it were 3.5 times easier to make it to the NHL in 1980, we might expect 7 players from the 1980 to make it if they had the same talent level as the 1960 team (3.5*2=7). But many more, 12, did. Furthermore, the 12 from the 1980 team played a total of about 6,000 games in their NHL careers while it is just 675 for the 1960 team. So it seems even more miraculous that the 1960 team took the gold since it looks like they had much less talent than the 1980 team. The 1960 team also beat the Soviet Union, who were the defending gold medal winners. Haven't heard about a movie for the 1960 team.
Were the Russians invincible? No. But the movie shows the U.S. players watching the Russians beat a team of NHL all-stars 6-0 on TV just prior to the Olympics. If you know nothing about the history of hockey, you might say to yourself while watching the movie, "wow, how can these young kids beat a Soviet team that clobbers the NHL's best?" Well, that 6-0 loss was part of a three game series in which the NHL won one game (4-2) and the other was close (5-4). In 1972, a team of NHL all-stars beat the Russians in a seven game series. In 1976, a team of NHL all-stars won the Canada Cup tournament, which pitted the best national teams of the world against each other. This included the Russians, who won 2, lost 2 and tied 1. Also, these NHL all-star teams did not spend six months practicing together as a team like Team USA did in 1980. If they had, they would have done even better and the Russians would not have looked so invincible. It takes both talent and team work to win.
The old format of the NHL All-Star game also shows the value of teamwork. In 1950s and 1960s, the defending Stanley Cup Champions played a team of All-Stars at the start of the NHL season. Obviously the All-Stars had more talent than could be assembled on any one team. But the all-stars only won the series 10 wins to 7, with two ties. The Detroit Red Wings beat the all-stars 7-1 in 1950. In 1959, the Montreal Canadiens beat the all-stars 6-1. So sometimes all-star teams get beat pretty bad because they have not had a chance to practice together as a team. To make an issue out of one game (the 6-0 game mentioned above) is to reach a conclusion based on a small sample size. That can be very misleading.
In the final seconds of Team USA's victory over the Soviet Union in 1980, the announcer Al Michaels shouted, "Do you believe in miracles?" Calling something a miracle does not make it so. If you believe in critical thinking, you won't be so easily fooled. Maybe the movie should have simply been titled "The Upset." But an upset is not as compelling as a miracle, now is it?
You can actually see pretty much what I wrote as a comment at IMDB. Click here to see it. You just have to scroll down a bit. You can see the date it was posted. Look for "Good but misleading, 12 February 2004."
Also, an article about me that was published in the Chicago Sports Review in 2004 mentions the article. Click here to see that. You will see that it was posted August 13, 2004 09:55 PM (GMT). Look for where it says about me and my website: "He even includes an essay he wrote debunking one of this country's most cherished myths: that the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's win over the Soviet team was a miracle. Morong's essay calls it an upset, yes, but by no means a miraculous victory."