December 09, 2006

Remembering Herb Brooks and the "Miracle on Ice"

Several months ago I had the opportunity to see the HBO documentary “Do You Believe In Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team,”
The film was interesting in that it did not simply trace the path of the US team, but it placed the events into the historical context of the United States in the 1970’s. Malaise had gripped the nation with the end of the Vietnam War, Watergate,and inflation. The Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and President Carter’s threat of a boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow took a further toll on the psyche of the nation. The movie showed how the young skaters and their battles on the ice became symbolic of the Cold War for a nation badly in need of a win.
It was the man behind the team that gave the US that victory that was also amazing.
Herb Brooks was chosen to coach the US team that year. In 1960 Brooks himself was on the Olympic team but was cut just days before the Olympics started. That was the last year that the US won Olympic Gold in hockey. The Russians had dominated the sport for the next four Olympics and Brooks was determined to end that streak.
He assembled a team of young collegiate skaters from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Massachusetts. He drove them hard, mentally and physically. Bringing in new players and threatening the teammembers with replacement until just before the games were to begin. What he did next was pure genius.
A week before the start of the Games in Lake Placid, New York, Brooks scheduled the team to play the Russian National team in Madison Square Garden. These were the men that had won four straight Olympics gold medals. The Russian Army Team that had beaten the US and Canadian pro teams. The team that Brooks touted to his skaters as the best team in the world. The team that could not be beaten. Needless to say, the kids on the US team were demolished.
With only a week to go for the start of the Olympic games Brooks began to change his tune about the Russians. They were old. They were slow. They were funny looking. When the two teams meet again the Russians are over confidant but the Americans are ready to play. At the final buzzer,with the US ahead 4-3 announcer Al Micheals declares "Do you believe in miracles?" and the chant U.S.A. U.S.A. U.S.A. lifted a nation.

I was reminded of this story when I read that Herb Brooks, who was killed in a car accident in his native Minnesota in 2003, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame November 13, 2006.

Here are the final two minutes of that game and the celebration that ensued. It is interesting to note that after the game was over Brooks can be seen walking back to the locker room alone. Leaving the ice to his kids that made the miracle happen.

No comments: