To do a classic movie review of a movie as well crafted of a story so well known as Miracle seems foolish. In all likelihood I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. So instead join me on a journey through Miracle as if we were sitting the same couch enjoying Walt Disney pictures spectacularly told true story of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team.
In 1980 the Olympics were a totally different animal from what they are today, especially the team sports. Only amateurs were allowed to play. This meant that once an athlete accepted a professional contract they were off the National team. European nations maintained teams of amateurs, like a standing army. They provided them with the necessities of life, up to the point that they were allowed by IOC rules and in return the players played where and when the country asked. No one had perfected this better than the USSR. From 1960, when the US last won the gold medal in ice hockey, no one but the USSR had won the ice hockey gold medal. The US chose from a group of college students and recent college graduates who had yet to sign with National Hockey League teams. They were undersized, underdeveloped and under experienced in comparison to the national programs of the European countries. In 1979, heading into the start of the training period, not too many believed in that the US could do anything but embarrass themselves in the round robin before the medal round. Winning a medal was a pipe dream, winning the gold would be a miracle.
-Walt Disney Pictures just gets sports movies. Prior to the release of Miracle in 2004 they had released Angels in the Outfield (and remade it), The Mighty Ducks series, Cool Runnings (to be reviewed by Hooking Foul soon), Remember the Titans and The Rookie. Sure some of these are better than the others, but there isn’t a single piece of total shit in the bunch. And Remember the Titans is fucking awesome.
-I was born in 1979 (Cinco de Mayo, I expect gifts) so its obvious that I don’t remember the world that was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The movie begins by running through a series of events that had happened both in the Olympics and throughout the world to help those of who weren’t conscious, or even a glint in our father’s eyes, understand the time frame. It was bad for the US. We were losing the Cold War to the USSR and hope was waning that democracy was going to prevail over communism.
-Our story begins in Colorado at the home of USA Hockey where we meet Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks, then coach of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Brooks is interviewing to be the Head Coach of the US squad that will represent the US at the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid New York.
-In the conference room there is little hope of getting to the medal round, let alone winning a medal, except from Brooks.
-Brooks doesn’t believe he will get the job. He feels they want someone that is more realistic about putting on a good showing and less about trying to actually win. Despite his feelings he gets the job, learning about it at a costume party thrown by his wife.
-Tryouts, 7 months before the Opening Ceremonies in Lake Placid. To put this in perspective some of the players of the Russian team had been teammates for upwards of 15 years.
-As the player’s get dressed and start working out on the ice we meet Mike Eruzione from Boston University! If you don’t know that name folks remember it. Despite the opinion of 1 member of the board who feels he has 0 shot of making the team.
-Brooks hands Patrick a list of 26 names on day 1, amazed that he wants to make cuts already and that he has left off some of the best players, Brooks responds, “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right players.” Great coach speak. I love the purity of it.
-Jim Craig, also of Boston University, is the starting goalie, he has struggled of late since the passing of his mother.
-In Major League Tom Berenger talks about how to make a team, he would be proud of the 1980 hockey team as each reigned in their celebration until the players who were cut had vacated the facilities.
-Brooks first speech to the assembled 26 players is curt, quick and poignant as he sets a very distinct tone.
-Celebrating at bar afterwards the players are discussing the 300 question quiz they have to do, its very much a test to assess personalities.
-The BU and University of Minnesota kids have a bit of a history going back to the NCAA finals a few years back. Specifically 1 BU kid holding a grudge against 1 Minnesota kid. This will come up again later.
-The Boston accents are strong, but they certainly aren’t bad.
-The BU kid borderline cheap shots the Minnesota kid at the first practice. They go at it, classic hockey fight! If you are watching this movie for the hockey fighting get out after this one, because its over.
-Brooks starts talking about how old scores will not be settled here, and that “… the name on the front is a hell of alot more important than the one on the back.” Great coach speak, thanks to My friend Craig for alerting me that I left this out.
-Players in the fight, introduce themselves, “Rob McClanahan – University of Minnesota”, “Jack O’Callahan – Boston University”. Then “Ralph Cox – Wherever nots gonna get me hit.” introduces himself a moment of levity that highlights Brooks point that old rivalries need to die, they need to be a team moving in a single direction.
-Craig, the netminder whose mom died recently, is getting special treatment from Brooks. Its warranted as Brooks knows that to win they need the set of skills Craig showed before his mom died. Craig’s dad wants me to sign a pro contract, they need the money. Craig wants to honor his mother who always wanted him to be an Olympian.
-In a scene of perfect writing we learn about Brooks without him even being on screen. It answers a lot of the questions we want to ask about Brooks in a simple conversation between Assistant coach Patrick and Doc.
Radio Newscast: The Soviets performed a nuclear test, setting off a several-kiloton bomb in eastern Kazakhstan.
Doc: So much hate and fear.
Patrick: What’s that?
Doc: The Soviets and the West. They have nuclear weapons pointed at each other. It’s bound to end in disaster.
Patrick: Oh, come on. They’ll figure something out, Doc. Don’t got any other choice, right?
Doc: Well, yeah, hope so. But it seems to me there are some people who never get along.
Patrick: Yeah. Like hockey players from Boston and Minnesota.
Doc: Our own private Cold War.
Patrick: Hey, Doc, let me ask you a question, all right? You’ve worked with Herb for a long time, right?
Doc: I’ve known Herb for quite some time.
Patrick: So tell me something. Does he always treat his players like this?
Doc: No. No, no. This I have never seen. But, Craig, believe me. Herb has a reason for everything he does.
Patrick: Well, he’s ending up with players who hate his guts.
Doc: Maybe if they hate him, they won’t have time to hate each other.
-SPORTS CLICHE ALERT! Coaching watching film as wife goes to bed. Starts a fight between the wife and coach where she calls him out for striving for the goal of winning the gold medal with this team that he failed to win as player. He then goes back to his home office and pulls out of the back of a bottom drawer the team photo the 1960 USA Hockey team with him in it.
-We get introduced to the shuttle skate. goal line to blue line, back to goal line to red line, back to goal line, to opposite blue line back to goal line, to opposite goal line back to goal line. Its a lot of skating that is supposed to be done as fast as possible.
-”Mark Johnson – University of Wisconsin”
-”Dave Christian – University of North Dakota”
-”Mark Pavelich – UND Bulldogs”
-3 players run one of the plays Brooks had drawn up really well. Brooks decides to keep them together and because of the way they react and talk together they have acquired the nickname “The Coneheads”. Yes the famed Saturday Night Live skit that was extremely popular at the time. It is these small details and subtleties that are so important in period piece films. It gives viewers a true insight in the time. It is done with excellent precision throughout the film.
-Norway, 5 months until Opening Ceremonies in Lake Placid.
-The players on the bench are talking about girls in the stands and not focusing on the game that ends in a tie. This results in Brooks keeping them on the ice to do skate shuttles.
-In between the skates Brooks talks at the players, “You don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.” Great real talk the players needed to hear.
-Still postgame, still skating, the maintenance guy wants to go home, in an effort to speed up Brooks letting the players leave Mr. Maintenance turns off the lights. They continue to skate in the dark.
-Still skating, in the dark, its the turning point of the movie. Brooks is testing the players, seeing which ones give up, waiting to see their response. In many ways it is exactly like the 300 question quiz from earlier manifested differently. Then…
Eruzione: Mike Eruzione – Winthrop, MA
Brooks: Who do you play for?
Eruzione: United States of America
Point made. Team solidified. Team stops skating, finally.
-Waiting in an airport lounge because the plane hit a moose! The moose was fine everyone is more worried about the plane. On the TV lounge is highlights and a recap of the USSR’s dominance over an NHL All Star team.
-Brooks decides it is time to start studying USSR film. If for nothing more than to allow the boys to see more than them simply crushing the NHL All Stars. Its a mixed message because in 42 games in 3 last months, the Russians went 42-0.
-Post the film study of the USSR, Brooks explains how to beat the USSR, to attack them. Brooks feels that each team is so passive and weak against the Russians that this style will work against every team. And so they go to work.
-Intense skating drills, focused just on that, skating to the sound of Brooks voice repeating, “the legs feed the wolf.” Brooks had a million of these colloquial sayings, this is really the only one they used in the movie.
-Big reveal as Assistant coach Patrick realizes and asks Brooks that it appears the USSR is on the schedule for 3 days before the Lake Placid opening ceremonies. Brooks confirms it. This is a huge coach gamble, and I love it when coaches gamble.
-I don’t talk about it enough, but Brook’s wife is amazing. Stern, supportive and anchoring him back to the real world when necessary.
-Cambridge, MA – 3 months until the Opening Ceremonies in Lake Placid.
-After they beat Harvard, Craig is able to talk to his dad who was able to attend the game and Brooks can be heard saying “starting to come together”, SPORTS CLICHE ALERT!
-Brooks, unbeknownst to the players, brings in a kid from his Minnesota team to practice with the team. The players are upset about it.
-The accents are not authentic, but they still aren’t bad. Boston movie accents tend to fluctuate, here not so much. Mildly exaggerated is how I would describe them, or a Bostonian really drunk.
-We find out that Brooks was the last cut from the 1960 US Olympic Hockey team. Cut a week before he watched the team he almost make win the gold medal. The last team other than the USSR to win the Hockey gold medal.
-Brooks is threatening to cut Eruzione and replace him with the kid who has was brought in.
-Brooks is pulled off the bus by a few players and tell them they don’t want the new kid. When Brooks asks why they tell them because they are family. Brooks’s strategy is working.
-In another pointed moment of the time plucked from Jimmy Carter’s most famous “Crisis of Confidence” speech we get an amazing summation of what the majority of the US was feeling at the time. The speech was given on July 15 and written into the movie as a radio year end special that Brooks heard driving home from the team Christmas party.
The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America. The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea which founded our nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else. We’ve always believed in something called ”progress.” We’ve always had a faith that the days of our children will be better than our own. Our people are losing that faith. For the first time in the history of our country, a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. We were taught that our armies were always invincible, and our causes were always just, only to suffer the agony of Vietnam. We respected the presidency as a place of honor until the shock of Watergate. We’ve got to stop crying and start sweating. Stop talking and start walking. Working together with our common faith. We cannot fail.
Carter doesn’t get credit for a lot. He should get credit for that speech.
-Brooks has to cut the last player, 20 years prior he was that player being cut.
-Madison Square Garden, the most famous arena on the planet, 3 days before the Opening Ceremonies, Team USA versus Team USSR. No pressure Team USA.
-USSR jumps out to a quick 1-0 lead and win 10-3. Biggest thing coming out of the game is the injury to O’Callahan. He is out for the first week of the Olympics, 3-4 games, and if they put him on the roster there is no way to replace him or someone else if another injury occurs.
-Brooks is threatening to pull Craig from the net, Craig fights back, showing he wants it and doesn’t get benched for game 1.
-Brooks gives O’Callahan the roster spot. Its a risk, but as they said before the team is a family.
-Brooks is standing alone inside the empty arena moments after giving O’Callahan the spot. Taking it all in. The camera circles Brooks, then continues circling from his point of view and then cuts sharply to the middle of period 1 of the first game against Sweden.
-A great piece of the filmmaking is how they used Al Michaels and Ken Dryden. They were the announcers for the hockey tournament at the time. While they didn’t use their original recordings, they did base the script on it.
-After period 1 Brooks calls out the team, specifically McClanahan who has a bruise and Eruzione who can’t find the back of the net.
-2:49 left in the game, US down 2-1, need to tie or win to have a any real chance at the medal round.
-Brooks pulls Craig from goal to get an extra attacker on the ice. I have goosebumps. Shot, save by Sweden. Shot GOAL USA! By the guy Patrick put on the ice in just the right spot.
-US defeats “2nd best team in the world” Czechoslovakia 7-3. 2nd best my ass.
-Generally US news has so been depressing that their victory over Czechoslovakia has brought them a lot of attention, that Brooks doesn’t feel is valid because its just a hockey game.
-US beat Romania. Even more reporters. Brooks is being even more Belichickian. Or should I be saying Belichick is being Brooksian?
-Medal round. US versus West Germany. Remember folks this was a 1980 world with a Germany divided. US wins.
-US versus USSR in the semifinals.
-In response the media’s accustations that Brooks was being Belickian to keep attention on himself, Brooks sends Patrick in his stead to the press conference while he goes and watched his kids skate and talk to his wife.
-Brooks while talking to his wife sees the game against the USSR as a hockey game, while the US populace sees it a democracy versus communism. He wants the hockey to stand on its own, she reminds him it can’t. Another example of sports continuing evolution as a cultural driving force, time marking device and representative of the world at the time.
-Pregame the US locker room is quiet, intensely focused on playing the best team in the world.
-Enter Brooks, the following is his pre-game speech, or in a word, perfect.
Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played them ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight we skate with them. Tonight we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can. Tonight we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw them. This is your time. Now, go out there and take it.
-After that speech I want to skate through a wall for Brooks and everytime I put on skates I get a concussion, so why not?
-The team leaves the locker room is silence. Focused, attentive, resolute and confident in both their ability and that there country is standing strongly behind them.
-As the filled stadium chants USA-USA, Eruzione, forever the leader sends each player on to the ice with a personal send off. I’m choking up here.
-Craig is sharp early, but the US is having trouble clearing the puck out of the zone.
-USSR 1-0 on a deflection.
-Big hit by O’Callahan opens a lane for McLanahan. GOAL!
-Craig is very, very sharp and facing what seems like a million shots.
-USSR 2-1, despite how sharp Craig is, I’m NOT making that up.
-Crowd sensing the US Team needs a lift after the goal starts chanting USA-USA again and again, forever supportive, never giving up.
-Seconds left in the first period turnover in the neutral zone, controlled by US. Brooks sends Johnson off the bench, streaking toward the goal. Christian shoots the puck on net and the USSR goalie gives up a long rebound that Johnson finds, controls, avoids 2 defenders and scores with 1 second left of the clock. I just cheered out loud.
-Tied 2-2 and the teams leave the ice to chants of USA-USA.
-USSR, in a curious move, changes their goalie, who is considered the best in the world.
-Cheapshot on Craig allows the USSR an easy goal.
-USSR 3-2. 2nd period ends with score still 3-2.
-The USA-USA chants at the start of the 3rd period are deafening. Brooks wants the players to use the crowd energy. If the nation believes they shouldn’t they believe?
-USSR penalty gives the US a power play opportunity.
-With 4 seconds left on the power play Johnson scores again!
-Fresh off the bench the puck finds Eruzione filling a lane, he shoots and scores! I have goosebumps! Its a mob scene!
-USA 4-3, with 10 minutes left to play.
-Craig makes an amazing number of saves and plays in this game. It seems like way more than the 36 saves in the box score.
-The US certainly isn’t winning time of possession, but their winning the hustle plays. FIghting in the corners, diving to knock the puck out of their defensive zone.
-”Do you believe in miracles?” Maybe the most famous sports call in history.
-USA wins 4-3. I’m welling up. I’ve got goosebumps. Its a poignant moment in sports and US history. Time after time people tell the US something isn’t possible, going back as far back as 1776. 204 years later 20 kids and 3 coaches beat back communism like our forefathers beat back the British.
-Remember folks as big a deal as the game was it was only the semi-final. US needed to beat Finland to win the gold, they did.
-Brooks gives an epilogue speech. Part of which I love. He talks about how the Olympics now use Dream Teams, which in the end takes away the best part of the dream. We didn’t know the names of these kids going in, but where I live you hear the name Eruzione or Craig in bars everyday and you think about 2 kids who are heroes.
-In a movie that has a lot of Massachusetts its nice to hear, what in my opinion is, Aerosmith’s best song, “Dream On”.
Sing with me, sing for the year
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tear
Sing with me just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good lord will take you away.
That’s the American Dream folks. 20 College kids proved it, without even knowing they were doing it. They reminded us that we were a nation built on the impossible. They reminded us to dream on.