Jan Scruggs
Memorial founder

Jan Scruggs

Founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.


An underdog win gives us hope

Q:Exactly thirty years ago, a bunch of little known players from the United States scored a stunning upset over the Soviet hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Why do we find these kinds of success stories so compelling and what can we learn from them? What are your favorite David vs. Goliath upsets?

This remains my favorite Olympic upset of all time! I remember watching this true-life drama unfold and the pride I felt when our American team beat the Russians at their own game through teamwork and sheer determination. There have been plenty of upsets in baseball and other sports, but this Cold War-era Olympic rout was special for its inspired playing and international intrigue.

It is human nature for us to want the underdogs to win amazing victories against stronger opponents in sports or other endeavors in life. It gives us hope--if this athlete or politician or business owner or performer can succeed in spite of overwhelming odds, maybe we, too, can overcome the challenges in our own lives.

My friend Lionel Chetwynd wrote the screenplay for the movie "Miracle on Ice," based on the 1980 Olympic hockey win. There is a great line in that movie, when coach Herb Brooks is trying to motivate his team to get over their fear of the other team and give their best. I think this line can be used by all of us as we face our own personal challenges:

"Take this moment and make it belong to you. Play your own game. Play with courage. Play with character. Then, you will have won no matter the outcome."

By Jan Scruggs  |  February 19, 2010; 9:26 AM ET  | Category:  underdog miracles Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Often, it's all relative | Next: Despite All Odds


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Deep down, we all have insecurities and fears that we'd rather not admit. As great as our own doubt is, it probably pales in comparison to those felt by the 1980 US Olympic hockey team. Remember, this is the equivalent of an all-star college team playing an all-star NHL team. They got trounced by that same Soviet team a week or before the Olympics began.

And yet they won.

It shows that we too can overcome our fears and shortcomings to do the impossible. It taps into the latent American thought of manifest destiny, that given a chance, we're all capable of greatness. We're subtly reminded of this every time a huge underdog wins big: the 1968 Jets, 1983 NC State Wolfpack basketball team, 2006 George Mason basketball team, etc.

I couldn't disagree with Impudicus more. If the odds are 50-50, there are never upsets. But if the 1980 US-Soviet hockey teams played 20 times, the Soviets would win 19 of them. It just happened that the one time they lost was the one that counted. We can argue why the Soviets were flat, why goalie Tretiak was pulled, but you can't just look at the Soviets' losing that game. You also have to look at the US' winning it, their single-minded determination, and their unthinkable result.

Posted by: yo_tamon | February 23, 2010 2:18 PM
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There was no "miracle on ice"

Athletes are not robots whose performance can be guaranteed every time they play. This applies both to individual athletes and teams. The diference between winning and losing can be one play, one player or a matter of inches or seconds. Remember Peyton Manning and Brett Farve against the NO Saints. Did the Saints have two miracles? No. They won two games because two great quarterbacks threw a pass that was intercepted. The winners can always ask , Did we win the game or did the other team lose it? Success and failure are the opposite sies of a coin. Eachh time the coin is tossed it can land on either side and the odds are always 50/50 each time it is tossed.

Posted by: Impudicus | February 22, 2010 3:15 PM
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