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PostThe Great Hockey Game of 1980; Nixon Rides Again (David Duggan, USA, 02/23/20 4:56 am)
Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the US Olympic hockey team's 4-3 victory over the USSR at the Lake Placid Cold War Olympics. It is also the first weekend in eight years that former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has spent outside a prison cell. And it is the first weekend after Trump loyalist Roger Stone's sentencing to 40 months courtesy of US taxpayers for obstruction of Congress. The unifying theme of these events is of course Richard Nixon.
Back up to 1972 and the US Olympic basketball team lost its first game ever to the pesky Russkies in the scandal-scarred gold-medal contest. After a series of last-second officiating blunders marked by Soviet gamesmanship, the Red team won 51-50, and the US team refused to accept their silver medals. This led to wide-spread criticism of the way that the US selected its Olympic teams: all from the amateur ranks unlike the Eastern Bloc countries who somehow managed to find jobs in the military for its best basketball and hockey players (those being the marquee team sports of the summer and winter Olympics, respectively). Nixon was president then, and though he was no athlete of consequence, he started the ball rolling toward allowing professionals to compete, and establishing independent governing bodies for each of the Olympic sports, taking over from the old Amateur Athletic Union. In 1978, President Carter, no athlete either, signed the Amateur Athletic Act which constituted the US Olympic Committee and the national governing bodies of each sport (such as the US Gymnastics Federation of recent controversy). Amateurs were no longer representing the US in every-four-years-made-for-TV competitions, leveling the playing field somewhat with the Commie shamateurs.
At this time, Stone, a 20-year old political neophyte, was working on Nixon's re-election, officially as a scheduler, but in the off-hours as a dirty-trickster (he'd hired a spy to work as Hubert Humphrey's driver in the Hump's second run for the White House). So devoted was he that he had Nixon's visage tattooed on his back. Fast forward 48 years and 11 presidential political campaigns and Stone stands convicted of having threatened witnesses in Robert Mueller's special prosecution of the "Russian collusion" investigation. The victim of a pre-dawn raid at his Ft Lauderdale home, Stone didn't help his cause by posting Instagram pictures of the judge assigned next to what appeared to be cross-hairs. Stone claimed that it was simply a "Celtic cross," an ancient symbol used as a logo of the organization against which the judge's photo was superimposed. Looking at them, he has a point, but it's a bit late now.
After Nixon resigned from office, he was living in an eastside NYC townhouse (once owned by Judge Learned Hand) and Blagojevich, then an aimless college grad was camping out hoping to catch a glimpse. Blago, as he came to be known because Blag-oy-eh-vich doesn't fall trippingly off the tongue, attended Pepperdine Law School (later headed by Kenneth Starr--yes that Kenneth Starr) and became an assistant State's Attorney in Cook County under Richard M. Daley (yes--that Richard Daley) before using his father-in-law's influence to win elected office, first as state rep, then as congressman, and ultimately as governor of the 5th largest state in the country. His reign of extortion ended 11 years ago as the FBI under Robert Mueller (yes--that Robert Mueller) authorized a pre-dawn raid and arrest at his Chicago home three miles from where I live. The FBI had been bugging and taping Blago's calls for five years and his language is every bit as salty as Nixon's. Blago was charged and convicted of trying to sell Barack Obama's senate seat for campaign donations and sentenced to 14 years behind bars (I had predicted 12, or two-times the sentence given out to his immediate gubernatorial predecessor George Ryan for fund-raising abuses). On Tuesday President Trump commuted Blago's sentence to the eight years he had served. The difference between a pardon and a commutation is that with a pardon, the pardonee implicitly acknowledges his guilt. Blago has never acknowledged his although the United States Court of Appeals, which has the say, said the evidence coming out of Blago's foul mouth was overwhelming and the Supremes never took the case. The day before Pres. Ford pardoned Nixon in 1974, a lawyer from the Department of Justice flew out to Nixon's Western White House in San Clemente to make that plain to Tricky Dick.
And that hockey game in 1980? The American team was drawn largely from minor leaguers who would have earlier been banned from the Olympics, although Golden Gopher (U Minn) coach Herb Brooks keenly picked a lot of his Iron Range players, feeling that they had the heart to play the Soviets. Down 3-2 going into the final period, the Americans scored two goals in the last 20 minutes. "Do you believe in miracles? Yes," cried announcer Al Michaels as the game-ending buzzer sounded on February 22, 1980. Against the dim background of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian capture of our diplomatic passport-holding hostages, and the impending bankruptcy of Chrysler Motors, the Americans' victory was a shot in the arm for a beleaguered nation.
And Richard Nixon was nowhere to be seen.
JE comments: Another great mash-up of sports, politics, and history from our master of the genre, David Duggan. I never would have drawn the Blagojevich-Nixon connection, although the Nixon-tattooed Stone is something you can't even make up. Once Stone's time is served, maybe those two could set up a lobbying firm specializing in shenanigans.
Kenneth Starr spoke at Adrian College just a year or so ago. I attended out of curiosity. He came across as chatty and avuncular.
The Great Hockey Game of 1980--High Over the Northern Pacific
(Michael Sullivan, USA
02/24/20 2:55 AM)
Speaking of the American Olympic hockey team's upset victory over the Russians in the Olympic Games in 1980, it was a world-newsworthy event. I may have shared this anecdote years ago on WAIS when the subject came up before.
On that day somewhere in the vast regions of the Western Pacific, a Russian Bear reconnaissance aircraft flew close enough to an American aircraft carrier that the alert fighters were launched to intercept the Russian aircraft. The fighters intercepted and joined on the Bear which was a normal, routine procedure which took place regularly whenever a unknown aircraft got close enough to the carrier to warrant a response. The Bear then signaled the Navy fighters to switch to a radio frequency that both the Russian and American aircraft had. The Bear then announced something like, "Congratulations, the Americans just defeated the Russian hockey team in the Olympic finals at Lake Placid!" The Bear aircrew a had evidently been listening to the game on one of their long-range radios!
What's noteworthy is there is no hostility between the Russian and American aircrews when these kind of intercepts are made, as both militaries are just doing their job/mission and we'd probably be friends if we lived next door to each other! It's the countries' leaders and politicians with their agendas that stir up the hatred and discontent that makes it so difficult to get along!
JE comments: What grace and chivalry. Michael, I vividly remember hearing this story once before, but it merits a replay. Especially on the anniversary of the greatest hockey game of all time. I found the earlier post, and it dates from before you and Nicole cruised the Volga in 2008. Holy smoke--can that have been twelve years ago?