It is that time of year again. For the 42nd straight winter, we can bask in the eternal afterglow of the Miracle on Ice, which took place this week in 1980. It was Feb. 24 when the U.S. beat Finland for the gold, 4-2, when Herb Brooks delivered the single-greatest locker-room speech in sports history. Trailing 2-1 after two, Brooks kept it simple.
“You lose this game,” he told his hockey team, “you’ll take it to your f—in’ grave.” They heeded the warning.
Two days earlier, of course, the U.S. beat the USSR in what was understood even in real time as being something of a genuine marvel, the U.S. made up of college players from Minnesota and Massachusetts, the Russians comprised of professionals, the Red Army Team. And when the deed was done, after Lake Placid Field House exploded in a roar for the ages and the Soviets watched with curiosity from their blue line as the Americans celebrated raucously, an interesting thing happened.
“They shook our hands,” Mike Eruzione recalled a few years ago at another Olympics. “And we shook theirs. And, I swear, a few of the Soviet players even had smiles on their faces.”
And there you have it.
If the U.S. and USSR, in the very middle of a frigid Cold War, can find it in themselves to actually go through a postgame handshake line, then the basketball coach at the University of Michigan — or any other school, for that matter — ought to be able to make it through a postgame handshake line and not turn into Bruce Banner, with one cross look turning him into the Incredible Hulk.
In the wake of Juwan Howard getting suspended for the rest of the season after throwing a punch during the postgame handshake line after Sunday’s Michigan-Wisconsin game, the subject has gone fairly quickly from hand-shaking to hand-wringing, as in: Maybe we should just get rid of the postgame handshake line altogether.
Which is, in a word, absurd.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo became something of a spokesman for sportsmanship Tuesday when he opted for a common-sense take on all of this: “That, to me, would be the biggest farce, joke, ridiculous nature of anything I’ve ever heard of,” Izzo said.
He added: “Not shaking hands, that’s typical of our country right now. Instead of solving the problem, let’s make an excuse and let’s see if, instead of confronting and demanding that it changes, let’s eliminate it so that we don’t have those problems.”
He’s right, of course. From the first time we play competitive sports as young kids, the first thing we learn is that after the game’s over, you shake hands. When you’re 7 and you’ve just lost a basketball game 33-5, the last thing in the world you want to do is shake the other guy’s hand. Then, at 7, you probably don’t want to do your homework or take a bath, either.
Except there’s usually a grown-up somewhere telling you: It’s the right thing to do.
Honestly, now more than ever, it’s important to honor the postgame handshake line, not make it disappear. It’s part of who we are, after all. It’s part of our culture. After they were done pulverizing each other for 15 rounds, Apollo Creed hugged Rocky Balboa, said, “Ain’t gonna be no rematch,” and Rocky said, “Don’t want one.” After the Mean Machine beat the guards in “The Longest Yard,” one of the hacks actually tells Burt Reynolds’ Paul Crewe: “You know, you guys ain’t half bad.”
“You’re right,” Crewe says, laughing.
(Of course, at the end of “Bad News Bears,” after the Yankees tell the Bears they’re sorry and offer up a cheer for their rivals, suing for peace, Tanner Boyle screams, “Hey Yankees, you can take your apology and your trophy and shove it up …” It would appear Juwan Howard has seen “Bad News Bears” a time or two.)
Yes, it would be madness to eliminate the postgame handshake. Hockey players (save, notably, Billy Smith) spend seven games trying to obliterate each other and always shake hands at the end. Scott Stevens, as fierce a competitor as who’s ever been born, once told me, “The handshake is a bond. It says ‘I respect you,’ even if I can’t stand you.”
Football, too. One of the great pictures of this recent postseason was the Rams’ Odell Beckham Jr. consoling the 49ers’ disconsolate Deebo Samuel a few minutes after the end of the NFC Championship game. You see that all across sports, at every level. It’s actually one of the truly pure things left in those games.
Even in 2022, there ought to be room for sportsmanship. If there isn’t … honestly, what’s the point?