Mark Pavelich, a center on the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team, has passed away at the age of 63. At the Lake Placid games, that team defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union, perhaps the greatest win in the history of team sports. The American victory has since come under fire from the left, which dislikes the idea of the United States as a winner. Back in 1980, the nation was losing badly at home and abroad.
The Soviets were on the march in Afghanistan and their proxies making inroads in Central America. Iran was still holding American hostages and humiliating the United States. Jimmy Carter’s surging “misery index” left the nation with little to cheer for, but at Lake Placid, help was on the way.
As Al Michaels recalled in You Can’t Make This Up, when the American collegians faced a strong Czech team, fans began chanting “USA! USA! USA!” The Americans prevailed 7-3, but the might Soviets lay ahead. For the USSR, athletic victories proved the superiority of socialism, but there was a problem.
As the Soviet announcer noted, the Americans were “skating faster than our players,” and dominating play. Buzz Schneider blasted a 50-foot slapshot past goalie Vladislav Tretiak and Mark Johnson scored in the final seconds of the first period to tie the game at two.
Soviet coach Viktor Tihkonov pulled Tretiak for Vladimir Mishkin. On an assist from Mark Pavelich, Mike Eruzione wristed in a goal to give the USA a 4-3 lead they never relinquished. It was as though a college squad had crushed the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. The USA went on to defeat powerful Finland to win the gold medal, coming back from a two-goal deficit in the third period to win 4-2.
On February 22, 2020, the 40th anniversary of their landmark victory over the USSR, team members Mike Eruzione, Bill Baker, Dave Christian, Ken Morrow, Jack O’Callahan, Mike Ramsey, Mark Wells, Neal Broten, John Harrington, Rob McClanahan, Buzz Schneider, Dave Silk, Phil Verchota and assistant coach Craig Patrick, appeared at a Trump rally in Las Vegas sporting red “Make America Great Again” hats. As USA Today noted, “that didn’t sit well with Trump opponents, who criticized a team that once unified a nation.” One of the critics was Marcos Bretón of the Sacramento Bee.
When he saw “old white men wearing red hats next to Trump, the spell was finally broken.” The players were “all white, fresh faced and eager to embrace the flag without question,” so it was “a lucky win that spawned a myth that died when the red hats came out and the truth was revealed.” The same hatred of American victory could explain the inattention to boxer Leon Spinks, who passed away on February 4, at the outset of Black History Month.
Raised in poverty, Spinks dropped out of high school, joined the U.S. Marines, and won more than 100 amateur boxing matches. Spinks lost in the 1975 Pan American games but still gained a spot on the U.S. team for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
Fighting as a light heavyweight, Spinks defeated Abdel Latif Fatihi of Morroco, Anatoliy Klimanov of the USSR, Ottomar Sachse of East Germany, and Janusz Gortat of Poland to qualify for the final bout. There Spinks faced Cuba’s Sixto Soria, the heavy favorite to take the gold medal.
In the first round, Spinks staggered Soria and in the second the American smacked the Cuban’s mouthpiece right out of his face. In the third round, for those who missed it, hear Howard Cosell call the action.
Soria is “still punching and his hands are quick. He’s coming on. He staggered and hurt Spinks. Spinks is without boxing skills. Remarkable to see the way the Cuban is coming back. What a fight! Don’t talk to me about the officials. Oh, the right! Caught Soria flush in the face! Down he went!”
Leon Spinks, the man with “no boxing skills,” turned pro and in 1978 defeated Muhammad Ali to become heavyweight champion of the world. Ali won the rematch, but that victory, and his Olympic gold, should have qualified Spinks as a legend. For the left, on the other hand, it was as though Spinks had knocked out Fidel Castro his own self.
The gold medalist did not raise a fist in anger against the United States and never appointed himself a spokesman on social issues. Leon Spinks is not on record that the United States is an inherently racist country, so no surprise that the former heavyweight champion of the world got little attention during Black History Month.
Like Leon Spinks, Mark Pavelich fell on hard times. By the time of his death, the great victory of 1980 was being canceled and the Democrat-media axis vilifying anyone who dares to chant “USA! USA! USA!” Beyond Trump Derangement Syndrome, this brand of cancellation is the left’s no-win situation for America itself. The Washington powers are now playing that dangerous game.