During the Olympics, no sport receives as much attention as hockey. Seeing many of the best players in the world competing while their league willingly gives them time off only helps the sport on an overall basis. The interest is still there, even though it’s now basically a professional showdown. Thirty-five years ago, all hockey players in the Olympics were presumably amateurs. We would never have had the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” if all the players had been professionals. Part of the charm of that team was that it was a bunch of college kids playing and beating “amateur” teams in which many of the players were supported by their governments.
What if the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics had been open to professionals? Would Canada have put a young player, who was in his initial NHL season, onto their team? Would he have made a difference in who got to the gold medal game?
This player had joined the NHL out of the late World Hockey Association (WHA) and was only in his second season in hockey’s upper echelons. And then, would playing in the Olympics made him even more popular in 1979-80 then he was? Obviously we’ll never know the answer but it’s fun to imagine if Wayne Gretzky had been able to participate in the Olympics during his career. You have to believe the world-wide recognition would have made him even more popular more quickly than he became.
Late in 1979, his Topps and O-Pee-Chee Rookie Cards were released and in cooperation with eBay, this Beckett graded 8.5 Topps rookie card is our Card of the Day. It’s the best value for the grade that we found.
Other Wayne Gretzky cards and memorabilia are available here.
Would the Olympics have changed Gretzky’s popularity? In his specific case that is doubtful because the numbers he amassed as a pro the Stanley Cup run he led stand head and shoulders above anything else. However, if you take many hockey greats of the past, even the likes of Bobby Orr or Steve Yzerman, Olympic fame might make them even more beloved then they already are. Orr at least has a “Canada Cup” series which was at the time the closest thing to the Olympics NHL players could participate in and he did have one last blast of greatness in a Canada Cup series. However, the Canada Cup is not the Olympics and we’ll always wonder about what an Olympics with the Great One might have been like.