Sports

Bernstein: USA vs. Russia Stirs Memories, Marks Time

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Cam Fowler #3 of the United States celebrates after scoring a goal with James van Riemsdyk #21 and Phil Kessel #81 against Russia.   (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Cam Fowler #3 of the United States celebrates after scoring a goal with James van Riemsdyk #21 and Phil Kessel #81 against Russia. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Dan-Bernstein Dan Bernstein
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since...
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By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist

A family on a couch, watching the US hockey team against the Russians.

It was that way 34 years ago on a seasonably cold Friday night in Deerfield, with four people living and dying with the tape-delayed broadcast, like almost everyone else in the country blissfully unaware of the shocking, momentous result.

Dad and mom, a sister there paying half attention, and a newly-hockey crazed 11-year-old boy who had become enthralled with the upstart Americans even before the Lake Placid games began. As the preliminary wins mounted, the walls of his bedroom amassed newspaper photos and stories held by plastic push-pins: a black-and-white Bill Baker after his blue-line slapper that tied Sweden, an action-shot of Buzz Schneider after his three points in the win over Czechoslovakia, and then Rob McClanahan following his two goals against West Germany. By the time the medal round was set to begin, even the Walter Payton poster had been moved temporarily from its favored position above the desk, ceding space to the moment.

On that night the kid was clutching a hockey stick brought up from the basement, channeling nervous energy with idle wrist-flicks and random taps on the coffee table that drew an immediate “Danny, stop that!” each time.

The tension was not merely due to hockey, as many of us remember so vividly. The waning months of the Carter presidency were the time of an economy in stagflation, and the endless Iran hostage crisis and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan combining for daily reminders of an increasingly unstable world and questionable American power, all while boys were ever mindful of Carter’s reinstatement of military draft registration.

The hockey sublimated that sense of unease.

Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov replaced star goaltender Vladislav Tretiak with Vladimir Myshkin to start the second period in a 2-2 tie – an uncharacteristic move that allowed us to speculate that even the great powerhouse was capable of panic – but Aleksandr Maltsev beat Jim Craig just minutes after play resumed. Mark Johnson tied it on a power-play goal midway through the third, and then there was Mike Eruzione’s high-slot wrister. Bedlam, as Al Michaels described, and history.

The game was already on when I woke up and came downstairs Saturday morning, but soon there was another family of four gathered in front of the TV, and I had to pause after feeling a powerful rush of time.

A seasonably cold day on the northwest side of Chicago, and something both familiar and foreign: Dad, mom, a sister there paying half attention, and a hockey-crazed nine-year-old boy who had been committing the Olympic rosters to memory and tracking his NHL favorites from the Blackhawks and elsewhere to their national teams. His own bedroom walls had already featured these guys for years, crammed with posters from SI For Kids, tacked-up cards, and pictures cut from his USA Hockey magazine.

Instead of the hockey stick in the living room, it’s in the trunk of my car for our immediate postgame trek to his game in Romeoville.

A 26” Zenith on a floor-stand in the corner is now a 50” plasma screen mounted on the wall. It’s Russia, not the CCCP. In fact, three of the teams vanquished by the US team in 1980 no longer exist.

Exotic international rivalry has given way to multimillionaire teammates merely reshuffling for two weeks, our loyalties watered down by having rooted hard for a temporary enemy, knowing that today’s hated Russian will once again soon be a hometown Penguin or beloved Capital. And our everyday lives still contain all kinds of geopolitical dread, but too many to remember easily enough to cause the same deep fear as mutually-assured destruction from one of two sides pushing the first button.

But the hockey, again.

Cam Fowler, Joe Pavelski, and the sprightly Jonathan Quick. Pavel Datsyuk and the Russians’ skilled hands and feet on every next line. The Patrick Kane breakaway chance. The cutaways to the grim-faced Vladimir Putin. And Oshie, Oshie, Oshie and Oshie, and another wildly entertaining victory.

A family watching together, a generation later, with the parents a bit older this time around. Perhaps that’s the reason for my inclination to notice the temporal parallels, this creeping awareness of the acceleration of time. 1980 was forever ago, but it was this morning.

A wife and a daughter, and a young son made very, very happy by the outcome of an Olympic hockey game. It certainly did not matter in the way that it once did, but I was surprised that it did to me.

It’s not something I’m good at, believing in miracles.

Follow Dan on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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