Some of you probably watched yesterday as ESPN aired the Disney movie Miracle in celebration of the 40th anniversary of arguably the greatest upset in sports history: a 4-3 victory in the semi-final medal round in the 1980 Winter Olympic Games at Lake Placid, New York by a very young, inexperienced U.S. hockey team over a dominant, heavily favored Soviet Union team that had won gold in the previous four Winter Olympic Games and five of the last six.
Herb Brooks, chosen as head coach for the Olympic team, had just seven months to select a group of twenty players to compete in the Winter Olympics.The average age of his national team was 21, mostly college players, with only four having minimal minor league experience. They would be competing with seasoned professionals with much international experience. Herb spent many hours pouring over game films before selecting his team and then put his players through many, many hours of rigorous training to be assured his team, though not the most talented in the competition, would be the best conditioned. He also focused on their becoming a “family,” genuinely playing together as a team and not as individual stars. His tactics in accomplishing that were often questioned by the players as well as the assistant coaches, but he obviously succeeded. Herb’s approach definitely demonstrated the truth that “Together Each Achieves More.”
Prior to the beginning of the Olympics, the U.S. team had an exhibition match in Norway and tied their team. Coach Brooks, however, wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort, so after the match, kept them on the ice doing drills until they dropped from exhaustion. Next they had a warm-up match against the Russian team at Madison Square Garden in New York and were dominated by a score of 10-3.
In the opening round of the Winter Olympic Games at Lake Placid, the U.S. team played a tough Swedish team to a 2-2 tie and then pulled off a 7-2 upset of second-place favorite, Czechoslovakia. Along with the Soviet team, the U.S. entered the medal round undefeated. Their first game in the medal round was against the Russian team that just three weeks before had beaten them 10-3. But, despite being huge underdogs and with a couple of the young men playing injured, and goalie Jim Craig being knocked unconscious for a brief time, the U.S. pulled off an amazing upset, winning 4-3 on Feb. 22, 1980. The U.S. went on to win the gold in their matchup with Finland.
The victory became one of the most iconic moments of the games and in U.S. sports history. Al Michaels, covering the match for ABC television, with seconds to go in the final period, as the U.S. was fighting valiantly to hold on to their slim 4-3 lead, declared, “Do you believe in Miracles? YES!” In 1999, Sports Illustrated named the “Miracle On Ice” the top sports moment in the 20th century. In 2004, Disney released the film Miracle starring Kurt Russel as Herb Brooks. It was dedicated to Brooks, who died shortly after the photography for the movie was completed.
“Miracle on Ice” is the amazing story of a victory “against all odds.” The Bible is full of similar stories where God intervened for His people and provided victory against great odds. One of the most familiar of those stories is that of Gideon and the Midianites (Judges 6-8). The Midianites and Amalekites were enemies of Israel, and would come in and destroy the Israelite’s crops and livestock. It tells us too that they were “like locusts for number…innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it” (Judges 6:5). The people cried out to God (v. 6) who said, “I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land…I am the LORD your God…” (vv. 8-10). God selected Gideon to go and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian, saying, “I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man” (v. 16). We know from Judges 8:10 that the Midianite army numbered 135,000 men and Gideon started out with only 32,000 so the Israelites were outnumbered more than 4-1. Not very good odds. But then “The LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful saying, ‘My own power has delivered me’” (Judges. 7:2). So God had Gideon pare his army down until only 300 remained (7:6). Now the odds were 450-1! Gideon “divided the 300 men into three companies.” (7:16) After dark they blew their trumpets and smashed the pitchers allowing the light from their torches to be seen suddenly, and cried out, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon” (7:20). The Midianite army, in confusion, began killing one another and fleeing. Gideon’s little band of 300 men routed a Midianite army of 135,000! In God’s strength, they enjoyed victory “against all odds.”
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Ro. 8:31). “The LORD is for me; I will not fear; what can man do to me?…It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Psa. 118:6-9…Verse 8 is the central verse of the Bible!). It is not the size of the army in the fight; it is the size of the God in the army!
Who or what are the “Midianites” gathered against you in your life—those seemingly unconquerable, always intimidating problems you face? God is greater! “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed…for the One with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles” (II Chr. 32: 8). He can/will give you the victory “against all odds.”