Monday, March 1, 2010

Searching for Meaning

Yesterday's men's hockey game between the United States and Canada was almost certainly one of the biggest hockey games of all time.

It came on a grand stage:  the Olympics.
It came for the utmost prize:  a gold medal.
It was played in front of a rabid partisan crowd and an enormous television audience.
It featured a stirring comeback, a dramatic game-tying goal, and sudden death overtime.

But we don't know -- we can't know-- yet how meaningful the game will be.  We don't know its impact yet.

The 1958 NFL Championship and Super Bowl III were meaningful, putting professional football on the map in this country.

The Immaculate Reception was perhaps the greatest play in the NFL's history but it was not meaningful.  The Pittsburgh Steelers never made it to the Super Bowl that year.  Same with the greatest play in baseball's history, Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard Round the World."  The Giants lost the World Series while the Dodgers, undaunted, won the National League pennant in four of the next five years.

Cassius Clay's knockout of Sonny Liston was meaningful, launching heavyweight boxing to new heights of popularity.  But not one of boxing's many touted fights in the last decade has proven to be the least bit of meaningful.

Michael Phelps capturing eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics:  meaningful.

Apolo Ohno breaking the career medals record at the 2010 Winter Olympics:  not meaningful.

Brandi Chastain's shootout goal to end the super-dramatic 1999 Women's World Cup was not meaningful.  Women's soccer is not any more popular now than it was in the 1990s.  Men's soccer and MLS were barely impacted for the long run by David Beckham's American excursion.

Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak:  meaningful for the right reasons.

Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds breaking home run records:  meaningful for the wrong reasons.

It's tough to gauge meaning and impact, especially so close to the event, but I guarantee that people all over the continent are already trying to predict the impact on hockey's future... or already trying to pooh-pooh the significance of the game.

In time the impact will be revealed.

But it really was a great game, wasn't it?

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