Remembering the Movie Miracle and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team Gold Medal Winners!
In these time of economic, political, and social turmoil, it's hard for most of us Americans to find inspiration. With high unemployment, jobs overseas, a weakened dollar, a huge national deficit, big businesses more willing to invest abroad than at home, there's no doubt that we are at an extremely high level of uncertainty concerning our future.
Many of us are broken down by doubts and frustration towards our politicians and big companies. We walk around with more burdensome questions than we have answers, while being spoon fed opposing ideologies. It's hard to even know which way to turn. There's no doubt that our confidence has wavered in many aspects.
I've seen Miracle before, but the meaning of this true story about Herb Brooks (Kurt Russel) and the young men he led with assistant coach Craig Patrick to U.S. Winter Olympic Gold in 1980 hadn't impacted me like it had after I watched this movie again last night. This time it was more special to me.
On the surface, this movie seems like it's just a hockey movie. It seems like it's simply west versus east, or a Cinderella story about beating what seemed to be a formidable and virtually unbeatable Soviet hockey team during the time.
There's no doubt that the Soviet team during the 1980 Winter Olympics was superior, and the U.S. team were seemingly outmatched. In fact, the U.S. team was considered heavy underdogs throughout the 1980 Winter Olympics compared to their European rivals. The Soviet team was considered the best ice hockey team in the world at that time. They were highly favored, and many doubted a U.S. victory over them during the medal round.
It's true that in order to beat the Soviet ice hockey team, Herb Brooks had to incorporate a different strategy against the formidable Russian team. He had to adapt his team to a different style of in order to have a chance.
In terms of skill, the American team were competitive but could not match the Soviets. Russian veteran players like Boris Mikhailov, Valeri Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev, Vladimir Petrov, all considered legendary hockey players today, were still in peak form at the time. Also, exciting new blood with young players like Sergei Makarov and Vladimir Krutov added a new, fearsome edge to the Soviet team. Guarding the net was Vladislav Tretiak, whom was regarded as the best goalie in the world at the time of the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Conditioning and speed and quicker mobility and adaptability were needed. Just being able to skate with the Russian team was a major challenge, but there was other challenges besides skill that Herb Brooks and the U.S. hockey team faced.
"Breaking Down Gods To Mortals"
The U.S. Winter Olympic hockey team Herb Brooks would put together comprised of talented young college hockey players from around the country. Nine of the players played under Herb Brooks at The University of Minnesota. Four on the team were from rival Boston University. Others were from different states.
Although the team was talented, Brooks knew he had to break the psychological mystique that the Russian players had on his team.This was even more of a priority when the U.S. team was manhandled 10-3 by the Soviets during a pre-Olympic exhibition game at Madison Square Garden.
Brooks recalls that his players were applauding the Soviet team while the Soviets were being introduced before that humiliating exhibition started. Brooks realized he needed to "break down the Soviets to mortals."
Brooks would often tell his players that the great Boris Mikhailov looked like Stan Laurel of the comedy team Laurel and Hardy in order to knock Mikhailov off the pedestal his players had him on. Brooks would often then ask the team, "You can beat Stan Laurel, can't you?"
Although exorcising the team from their humiliating defeat against the Soviets at Madison Square Garden and bringing what was considered "The best players in the world" down to their level was a huge obstacle, there was one very important obstacle that Herb Brooks and his team would have to overcome to have any hope in defeating the Europeans and the Soviet hockey powerhouses.
The True Conquest
Although the U.S. hockey team faced many obstacles against their European counterparts during the Winter Olympic in terms of skill and psychological intimidation, their biggest obstacle would be conquering themselves.
Herb Brooks and his players had to get past uneasy and bitter college and regional rivalries amongst themselves. Herb Brooks did this by uniting the team against himself. Despite his rigorous physical demands, Brooks also tested the boys psychologically.
He would often verbally question the boys whether they were good enough, tough enough, and worthy enough, pushing their hot buttons at every opportunity to instill a high level of determination.
Steve Janaszak, back up goalie for the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, recalled a nose-to-nose confrontation between Brooks and left-winger Rob McClanahan in the locker room during the U.S. vs. Sweden tournament opener. Suffering from a severe charley horse, McClanahan's was convinced by Brooks to continue the game by challenging his manhood in a heated fit. McClanahan went off with cursing of his own.
Enraged McClanahan went out and played the best he could with his muscle knotted up, and Janaszak would say more than a decade later, "That locker room scene is still vivid in my mind,"
“He messed with our minds at every opportunity,” said defenceman Mike Ramsey in looking back at the experience.
The effect of unifying his team against himself would have such a lasting effect that team captain Mike Eruzione would say years later, “If Herb came into my house today, it would still be uncomfortable."
Even more so than "getting inside the heads" of his players, Brooks made it undeniably clear that all obstacles were going to be overcome. None of the players were use to his coaching style. Brooks was a combination of George Patton and philosopher. His players would end up keeping notebooks of his quotes, dubbing them "Brooksisms."
Brooks knew he could not just face off with the European and Soviet teams head on. He knew he had to rely on a more creative approach and use the combination of various assets and styles that each of his players had.
The Conehead line of Mark Pavelich, John Harrington, and Buzz Schneider was an example of three unique styles that made up a creative, cohesive yet effective playing dynamic. "They were the only line that stayed intact because no one could play with them," Eruzione recalls. "I played with them once, and I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going."
Goalie Jim Craig was one of the players that Brooks knew how to motivate and fuel. Craig's performance was astounding during the tournament and against the Russians, as the Russians came out strong and were out-shooting the American team by a huge margin.
Brooks knew that talent alone wasn't enough. He would often tell the team in real life and in the movie, ""This team isn't talented enough to win on talent alone."
What Brooks wanted was the determination to dig down deep and the discipline to keep pushing to go above and beyond their capabilities to defy the odds. In the Winter of 1980, the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team did just that. They beat the Russian juggernaut in what was called the "Miracle on Ice."
Then they moved on to beat Finland 4-2 to win the gold medal, coming back from behind as they did throughout the tournament.
What I Took From The Movie & This True Story
The fact that the U.S. hockey team during the Winter Olympics in 1980 were huge underdogs and defied the odds by pulling off one of the greatest upsets in sports history made me realize why this movie is so inspirational.
Sure, it's a Cinderella story, but it's more than just that. Sure, it's an uplifting story, but it's more than just that also. I realized that this story defined what America is suppose to be about. It was not the first time we were ever considered "underdogs."
This nation was born of "underdogs." We were underdogs with the British during the Revolutionary War. Who would've ever expected us to win our independence against the most powerful empire on earth during the time?
We have always been a nation of people who dared to dream! We dreamed of a government that would protect the liberty of it's people. American immigrants dared to dream of a better life when they arrived on these shores, whether it was for religious freedom or just the freedom to become more than who they were before.
Americans dared to dream of automobiles, airplanes and rocket ships. We dared to dream of moving pictures, telephones, trains, rock n' roll, personal computers and a world wide web that would connect people from all over the nation and the world.
We dared to dream of making what would seem like the impossible possible....despite the odds and despite the obstacles. There have been many obstacles in this country's history. There always will be.
However, it's not just the daring to dream that has contributed to us coming this far. It's the freedom to act on those dreams that makes this country unique. That principle and ideal alone defines the United States of America.
Much like our founding fathers, the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team dared to dream. They dared to dream and believe. As quoted at the end of the movie:
"Ive often been asked in the years since Lake Placid what was the best moment for me. Well, it was here - the sight of 20 young men of such differing backgrounds now standing as one. Young men willing to sacrifice so much of themselves all for an unknown. A few years later, the U.S. began using professional athletes at the Games - Dream Teams. I always found that term ironic because now that we have Dream Teams, we seldom ever get to dream. But on one weekend, as America and the world watched, a group of remarkable young men gave the nation what it needed most - a chance, for one night, not only to dream, but a chance, once again, to believe."
I know that times are hard and many are downtrodden. As a country, we've been here many times before. Our success as a nation is right there in front of us. It's in our history, a history that details our failures and our successes.
"Do we dare to dream again?" I know that's an important question, but a question even more important is, "Do we dare to dream and to believe? Not just with our politicians or big companies or whatever, but ourselves as a people and as a country?"
I believe we do.
© 2012 Vic