RIP Vladimir Krutov
Don't believe me? Keep reading.
I was 17-years-old when I first saw Vladimir Krutov play. He was in Lake Placid, New York, competing in the 1980 Winter Olympics. He was not the player that he would eventually become but he wore red and had CCCP written in white across the front of his sweater.
He was a communist. And he played for the Soviet Union's National Team. I thought being a communist and playing for CCCP was the definition of evil.
Although he didn't have the reputation, he was one of the best wingers in the world. Krutov would eventually play with teammates Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov and form one of the most potent scoring lines the world of hockey had ever seen. They were called the KLM Line.
On a Friday, February 22, of 1980 I was preparing to watch the US Hockey Team compete against the Soviets in a medal-round game at Lake Placid. Growing up in Buffalo, New York made me an avid hockey fan by proxy. The Buffalo Sabres were as popular as the Buffalo Bills and although I couldn't skate (weak ankles) there was nothing other than death that would have kept me from planting myself in front of a television. Hockey was awesome and the Soviet Union was unbeatable.
Vladimir Krutov scored the first goal of the game.
The United States would come back three times in this game and we all know the rest of the story: The Miracle on Ice. A team of amateur and college hockey players of US descent came from behind three different times to finally win the game 4-3, beating the most dominant team, in any sport, the world has ever known.
The Soviet Hockey team had won nearly every world championship and Olympic Tournament since 1954 and they had just lost to a bunch of rag-tag amateurs who dared to believe.
This had a profound impact on my psyche.
That very night my brother Craig was preparing for the NFL draft. His agent said he could be drafted as high as the third- round, but we were all filled with doubt as to what would happen after that; this was the National Football League, after all. Kids that you knew, especially your brother, didn't get drafted and go on to play in the NFL. It might happen for Mike Webster, Drew Pearson, Bobby Bell and Mel Renfroe, but it definitely did not happen to your brother. A scholarship to Syracuse University was one thing but playing professional football didn't happen to kids that grew up on dead end streets that emptied into a gravel pit. Being a son of a truck-driver carried its own reality.
Vladimir Krutov's goal, giving the Soviets a 1-0 lead, confirmed these realities. I was crushed not only by teenage immaturity but by how predictable life truly was. My shoulders slumped, I pushed my back against the couch with my chin on my chest.
What was I thinking? Did I really believe Team USA was going to beat CCCP? Did I truly think that a bunch of kids could compete and beat the likes of this Vladimir Krutov guy? Krutov was a Soviet, part of the CCP, the Red Army was strong -- a superpower -- and the strong and privileged prospered in this world. Kids that grew up wearing shoes three-sizes too big and "I Dig Earth" t-shirts didn't beat the Red Army!
Did I really believe Craig was going to go pro and help my mother and father financially?
That goal by Vladimir Krutov was the last time I allowed myself to believe that dreams couldn't or didn't happen. The kids at Lake Placid never quit and there was a lesson to be learned from their determination.
February 23, 1980 was somehow different from the previous day. The days following The Miracle on Ice included Craig getting drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and playing 12 years in the NFL. I received a college scholarship to play at West Virginia University and played professionally as well. My younger brother Dale was better than both of us put together and received a scholarship to my alma mater.
Wednesday, Vladimir Krutov died in a hospital in Moscow.
And this is what poured out of me. All apologies.