"They're as big as the Beatles!" "He is / she is / they're bigger than the Beatles!"
That's rock and roll and pop music, not hockey. The four Liverpudians who invaded North America 50 years ago last week and changed pop culture in America, set a new standard in music. They raised the bar for other groups to meet or exceed. From time to time in decades after the onset of the British Invasion and well after Beatlemania waned from the worldwide psyche, comparisons would be thrown out for different groups or different individuals who inspired a mania of some sort or another from their fans and who were wildly popular and charismatic.
The thing is the Beatles - both the event of appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 and their influence on pop culture and music - went well beyond a mania and album/record sales. They changed the course of music and their contribution still holds weight and influence today. Can you say the Bangles achieved that? How about the New Kids on the Block, or the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls? Is Justin Bieber's music going to be endearing to the masses in the years ahead? One Direction?
Now what the bloody hell does this have to do with hockey?!
Last night while putting together Sunday's Quick Strikes post, I came across Larry Brooks article in the New York Post that suggested that Saturday's Olympic hockey win for Team USA over Russia was the biggest win for USA Hockey since the "miracle" at the Lake Placid games in 1980. I should not have to explain that event or that achievement to any single person who reads Raw Charge or knows the sport of hockey. If you want to know that story from those who were involved in it, I urge you to check out "Do You Believe In Miracles?" from HBO films. It's not a dramatization like the Disney film "Miracle", but it's actual footage, actual interviews, actual recollections from the likes of Herb Brooks, Mike Bossy and other key players on both Team USA and Team USSR from the Games of the 1980 Winter Olympiad
Getting back to the point - Saturday's shootout win by Team USA at Sochi over the Russian Federation was thrilling. It was playoff hockey as we know it here in North America and a great game by both teams... But in no way was it comparable to Lake Placid.
Lake Placid, the rag-tag college bunch trumping the versed pros of the Soviet Union, was a cultural moment. America was down; America was on a morale low that cannot be compared to at this time. Vietnam was in the recent past and the scars from it were still visible; Richard Nixon had resigned in disgrace almost six years earlier, and the US economy was in the gutter at the moment. Iran was in revolution and the American embassy in Tehran breached, with hostages taken and failures by the US military to rescue them.
Things were shit.
The Soviet Union's ice hockey team was indomitable. I can't even tell you how incredible and powerful and successful their national hockey team had been for decades on end in international play. The geo-political landscape was black-and-white: they were the enemies and they were a force that could not be stopped, a force that could not be trumped.
And what happened at Lake Placid? Herb Brooks coached a bunch of college kids above, beyond, and outside their abilities (and with a whole lot of luck) to beat them. Team USA didn't just defeat the Soviets; they'd end up earning the gold.
So what the hell do the Beatles have to do with that?
February 1964 was a dark time In the USA as well. John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been slain in Dallas only three months earlier; "Camelot" was over. Race issues were at the forefront at home, a military action was taking place in Southeast Asia that would further define the generation but hadn't escalated to an oppressive force at that point. The cold war raged on... The Beatles and their mania had already seized Europe but had failed to dent the US up until February 1964. An America in mourning got a shot of pep out of curiosity, and perhaps regained a moment of innocence that had been lost in Daly Plaza with Kennedy's assassination. Oh, I'm sure plenty of people turned up their nose during the performance of "All My Loving" (American TV's live introduction to John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Richard "Ringo Starr" Starkey) - Sullivan's own musical conductor famously stated that the hair was the only difference between the Beatles and everyone else - but the event of that performance stands out in American history... Much like Lake Placid stands out for USA Hockey.
There are no hockey events by USA Hockey - be it the World Junior Championships or the Olympic games - that compare to the feat of Lake Placid. And while the game of hockey probably enjoyed an uptick with the result of those games, it did not influence a grander embrace of the sport in America as-so-much boosted national pride; the chips were still down but god damnit! we beat the Russians! We can still do things!
Do you really think Saturday's win compares to that in any way, shape, or form; a preliminary round contest between two teams largely made up of professionals that ended in a shootout? Are you going to be reflecting on that game in years to come?
Lake Placid was a cultural event that transcended hockey. That's how America was introduced to the Beatles - an event that was bigger than just one moment in pop culture history and bigger than music. It's only under a complex set of circumstances that any event for any country can come close to these moments.
For the sake of clarity, Larry Brooks insinuated that the win Saturday was the biggest since Lake Placid, not bigger than Lake Placid. Still, Saturday doesn't even compare. If that win was the biggest since Lake Placid, then that sullies a lot of great efforts by USA Hockey over the past 34 years - none of them were as big as beating the Russians at that moment, but they were damned huge at the time for the organization. Lake Placid is a bar to try to reach, but it can never truly be compared to or trumped.
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