What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Here we are, half a week past the end of the Winter Olympics, which means our U.S. Men’s Curling might be half-way back to sobriety after what had to be an epic celebration. You can’t tell me there wasn’t Olympic-level drinking following their surprising run to America’s first gold medal in men’s curling. Not only did they have great cause to celebrate, but let’s face it…they’re curlers. It isn’t a coincidence American curling happens in Minnesota and Wisconsin as those are two of our heaviest-drinking states. Even in states which could easily be called East and West Boozylvania, curlers are considered the epitomé of the bottle and glass crowd. Most people don’t know that those 40-pound curling stones are actually carved from the livers of former curlers.
As far as the victory itself, you can say what you will, but this win should go right up there with the 1980 men’s ice hockey victory as it was just as much of an upset. I know it lacks the narrative of beating those commie bastard Soviets set against a backdrop of an America coming off a decade of pure, uncut economic malaise, but let’s be honest. There aren’t very many people out there who would have put their next house payment on @TeamShuster to bring home the gold.
And why would they? The team led by skip John Shuster in Sochi in 2014 finished next-to -last in round robin play with a dismal 2-7 record. Obviously, that put them nowhere near the medal round. Going into Pyeongchang, Shuster had been the skip of this team since 2007, John Landsteiner had been the lead since 2012, and the team as we saw it in Korea was together since 2014 with the additions of Tyler George and Matt Hamilton.
If only I had waited until after the Olympics to write the “Rocky” episode of “Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies,” these guys and alternate Joe Polo would have been perfect for the “underdog” story. After the 2-7 showing in Sochi, Shuster and Landsteiner were dumped from the national High Performance Program, which was setting up a new curling training camp with the idea being forming a new national team. This led to Shuster creating his own rink. Known as the “The Rejects,” Shuster formed the group with other curlers who suddenly found themselves on the proverbial outside looking in; John Landsteiner, Matt Hamilton, and Tyler George.
By 2015, “The Rejects” were sticking it to the rest of U.S. Curling. They won the 2015 U.S. national championship, and beat two High Performance Program teams in the process. Of course, High Performance went into full “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mode by inviting the entire Shuster rink back into the fold. “The Rejects” then won a bronze medal at the 2016 World Men’s Curling Championship, the 2017 U.S. national championship, and the 2017 U.S. Olympic Curling Trials.
That set the stage for PyeongChang, where Shuster made his fourth straight Olympic appearance; three of then as the U.S. skip. Having said all that, and despite what a great narrative that all sets up, the fact remains the U.S. team came into the 2018 Winter Games as a prohibitive underdog.
After six matches in the round robin portion of the Olympic tournament, Team Shuster found itself having dropped four of its first six and needing to win all three of its remaining contests. This would be no small feat given those matches were all against “top four” teams…Canada, Switzerland, and Great Britain. Not only would they have to beat some of the best teams in the tournament, but this team was only as consistent as their skip. Sometimes, Shuster made bigger shots than a Navy SEAL sniper, then there were some which looked like Lonzo Ball after he shot-gunned a 12-pack of Colt .45.
Despite that, the Americans knocked down all three victories to advance to the medal round. The victory over defending Olympic and reigning world champion Canada was America’s first in Olympic play, then they did it again in the play-offs to advance to the gold medal game. The title bout against Sweden was all the classic back-and-forth you would expect, until Shuster unleashed the mother of all kill shots to notch five in the eighth end, which used an automatic nail gun to put the last ones in Sweden’s collective coffin.
Like that last shot to take out the Swedes, nobody saw Team Shuster coming. And like Team Shuster, nobody saw the 1980 U.S. hockey team coming either. And like Al Michaels’ classic call of that moment in Lake Placid 38 years ago, there’s no need to discuss believing in miracles after you’ve seen one.