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Silver and Gold March 4, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Philosophical musings.

Americans have a fondness for sequels. A unique and singular experience can satisfy us quite well, but only for a time, after which we demand a new and slightly better unique and singularly satisfying experience. This is how we wound up with Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow.

One of the most nationally galvanizing moments in American sports history was 1980’s Miracle on Ice. It had every ingredient for sports drama: heroes, villains, underdogs, and triumph. Naturally, here in the land of entitlement and sequel, we have for three decades longed for something to top it. Thus it was that this year’s US Olympic hockey team (the one full of professional NHL players) became described more frequently with every win by the wildly misguided term “Miracle”. And thus it was that Sunday’s gold medal rematch of the US vs. Canada became appointment viewing. Our sequel was on! Miracle on Ice 2: Vancouver Vindication!

You know the story. The game was splendid. A US goal in the final half-minute tied the score and sent the contest to sudden-death overtime. Pressure mounted and legends were being written. NBC producers began wringing their hands, hoping for the perfect timing and phrasing of the sequel to the iconic “Do you believe in miracles?” proclamation following the game winning goal by the new Eruzione. American photographers’ trigger fingers quivered, hoping to capture the one image to be forever associated with this extraordinary triumph. Fathers gathered their children so they would be able to tell their own children that yes, they witnessed Miracle II.

Except that just seven minutes later, Sidney Crosby fired a shot past our new national hero, Ryan Miller, and Canada went and messed up our great big American sequel. Turns out our furious comeback, our last-second game-tying goal, all that served only to add weight to a new Canadian legend. And I’m really kinda glad.

I watched the game on a bar TV across the dining room of a Maggiano’s in suburban Chicago. A wonderful crowd had gathered, and the eruption that followed Zach Parise’s remarkable goal practically shook the restaurant. We felt united, restaurant-as-nation. Sarah, 15 and not really a sports fan, astutely noted that it’s this national identification that makes the Olympics so special. This is not Ohio State-Michigan or Auburn-Alabama. This is an entire country, putting aside political differences and socioeconomic status and cheering, together, for sport, something that matters so very little in the grand scheme of things. But maybe that’s why we can cheer.  

Here’s the thing, though. For our neighbors to the north, the cheering for hockey is not just passionate. It is visceral. Hockey is their sport, not ours. In fact, in that bar in Illinois, there was hardly any reaction when the US lost. No weeping, no gnashing of teeth, no angrily overturned barstools. There might be two reasons for this: first, we all cared, certainly, but just not that much. Second, I think that maybe half the folks watching did not know the rules of hockey well enough to realize that overtime is sudden death and that the game was indeed over. For either reason, I’m glad Canada won. They care so much more than we do, and they certainly know the rules. For all I know, the rules of hockey might be in preschool curricula in Canada.

Parise’s goal sealed our American mettle and made us proud. Lee Greenwood would remind you that being proud is a very American sentiment. Our goalie won MVP for the whole tournament. Our politicians would remind you that America very much likes to be the most valuable player. But in the end, Canada got their triumph, and a country rejoiced.

Maybe we can learn a lesson. Let 1980’s “Miracle” be what it is, and do not clamor for the sequel. We all saw what happened with the recent sequel to We Are the World. In fact, Saturday Night Live just ran a skit for We Are the World 3, and all star benefit to raise awareness of the We are the World 2 disaster. We might even try to be less about the script and more about life. In our age of judges telling prospective American Idols that they need to “really try to wow us with a ‘moment’”, we become so jaded that we miss the real moments and miracles.

Quintessential moments must happen; they must not be manufactured. We need to let them slip up on us, unscripted, even in our society of hyper-awareness. Enjoy your victory, oh Canada. Tell your children and grandchildren about the great Crosby and the gold medals. Savor it. Just don’t demand a sequel.



1. D.S. - March 11, 2010

“For all I know, the rules of hockey might be in preschool curricula in Canada.” I think they play it to them in the womb like a little einstien CD.

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