I realized then that Miracle was more than just a sports
movie. It was more than just a chronicle of one of the greatest
upsets in sports history. I realized it was about how all of
us have something inside of us that we tap into when we know
the task before us is impossible. It also shows how a culture
desperate for heroes in trying times can find them in the most
unlikely of places. And how, for almost two hours, a father
and daughter cab bond emotionally over what was only, after
all, a hockey game.
Director Gavin O’Conner admits he
Miracle to be a sports movie. He sees it, instead, as a character
study amidst a background of turbulent times. And though I
did have to explain “line changes and power plays,” the
more I watched the film, the more I understood O’Conner’s
On the surface, it was about the late college
hockey coach Herb Brooks molding a group of college players,
a few NHL long-shots, into a team and preparing them to face
what many say was the best hockey team in history. As O’Conner
puts it, “Brooks was a mad scientist and his team a lab
The film did an excellent job of showing
the method of the U.S. coach’s madness. In fact, almost
a quarter of a century later, his former players admit it’s
taken them awhile to comprehend why Brooks did what he did.
Brooks was the prototype “old school” coach,
pushing his players beyond their limits and basically making
them “re-learn” the
game. He knew that in order to beat to best team on earth,
he’d have to take the Soviets’ game plan and ram
it down their red throats.
Veteran actor Kurt Russell did a remarkable
job for a character study. He looked like Brooks, right down
to the late 70s style
plaid bell-bottoms and bushy, blow-dried hair. And he managed
to capture the multifaceted chemistry of a hard-nosed, emotionally
detached disciplinarian who was, as well, the passionate former
player who was the last to be cut from the 1960 U.S. squad
that last beat the Soviets, who had since dominated the Olympics
for two decades. No wonder Russell’s Brooks was teary-eyed
as he made his final roster deletion.
Using Brook’s own words made everything
come even more alive. Just a week prior to the start of the
1980 Games, the
U.S. played the Soviets in a tune-up game at Madison Square
Garden in New York City. The U.S.S.R squad, paid by the state
and mostly members of the Soviet Army, trounced the U.S. team,
mostly amateurs, 10-3. As one American player put it, “It
was 10-3, and it wasn’t even that close.” Coach
Books remarked that his team had been in awe of the superior
Soviets before the game even started.
I knew we were in trouble when the team applauded them during
introductions,” Brooks said. But the U.S. regrouped
and made a surprising run over favored teams en route to
round, only to discover they’d have to face the Soviets
once again to earn a trip to the gold medal game. Brooks
knew the U.S.S.R was a far better team. “If we face
this team 10 times, they’ll probably beat us 9 times,” Brooks
told the team. “But not tonight. Tonight, we are the
greatest hockey team in the world. This is your time. Their
time is done, it’s over. This is your time.” The
underdogs went on to make history.
In a way, the game was almost an afterthought
for the nation. As ABC game commentator Al Michaels said prior
to it, “I’m
sure there are people in this building that don’t know
the difference between a “blue line” and a clothes
line. It’s irrelevant.”
The game took place at the height of the
cold war. The Soviets had already invaded Afghanistan, in what
would later lead
to the United States boycotting the 1982 Summer Games in
But as the U.S team made its incredible run, it seemed everyone
in America became hockey fans. The chants of, “USA,
USA, USA,” carried from the arena in Lake Placid and
into the consciousness of a nation desperately in need of
When the game was over, when we “finally
beat the Russians,” strangers
embraced. People openly wept and celebrated. Spontaneous
renditions of the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful
be heard around the country. American flags were the norm,
and the bigger the better. Brooks’ strategy and tactics
brought the United States an unbelievable Olympic victory.
But he understood. “It was a lot more than a hockey
he said later.
The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team’s
improbable victory over the Soviet Union is one of those moments
in modern history
when just about everyone who watched the game can tell you
exactly where they were when it happened. And as I watched
the movie, I was taken back some 24 years and felt many of
the same emotions. It was especially significant because
my daughter was able to experience the same emotions her father
felt as a young man just coming of age.
My daughter has grown up not knowing the
Cold War. I had to explain about the Soviet Machine, the arms
race, the gas
the aftermath of Vietnam, and the Iranian hostage crisis.
Our country was in a state of uncertainty and political tumult.
And then I realized that her generation is growing up with
its own sense of insecurity and uncertainty. The cold war
been replaced by the War on Terror. And we are again a divided
country on the political front. And now, just as when I was
a kid, we search for hope and just a few moments respite
from what seems like overwhelming circumstances. And like
times in our nation’s history, I pray that we will
see victory. It’s a prayer that has been answered by
our resilient youth, time and time again.
As the final seconds of America’s
Miracle on Ice ticked off the clock, ABC’s Michaels shouted
those infamous words in excitement, “Do you believe in
We’ve experienced 228 years of miracles.
This movie chronicles but one of them.