What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of a blog-a-thon celebrating Kurt Russell. This is an event hosted by two “must-read” blogs, Return to the 80’s and Realweegiemidget Reviews. If you are a fan of film, television, or music, these two sites need to be in your bookmarks.
To the untrained eye, or better yet, to the eye that wasn’t alive in 1980, “Miracle” comes off as yet another formulaic “cheer for the underdog” sports movie. To that end, Kurt Russell’s portrayal of head coach Herb Brooks is completely cut from the stereotypical cloth of the hard-assed, stern disciplinarian who takes the proverbial band of rag-tag hockey players from across the American collegiate ranks and transforms them into a team who can beat the best pucksters on the planet.
As one would expect, the plot of “Miracle” is the sojourn through the struggles of our band of underdogs, first as their first formation as a roster, then as the roster becomes a team, even if that unity is largely based on the hatred of their authoritarian leader. That is demonstrated in the scene where Russell’s Coach Brooks is angry with his teams lack of effort in an international competition, so following the game he makes them skate practice drills until they puke. Even assistant coach Craig Patrick (played by Noah Emmerich) wonders if Brooks’ hand isn’t a wee bit heavy. But Brooks sweeps such concern aside with the usual “when the going gets tough…” kind of stuff you would expect from such fare.
Eventually, we get to the moment where the team has a collective decision to make; they can rebel and reject Brooks’ discipline or they can come to accept that his hard-assery is making them better hockey players.
Like “Titanic,” this movie is one of those movies where everybody knows the ending. Unlike “Titanic,” this movie isn’t two hours too long. They both spend time letting you get to know the characters on the run-up to the conclusion, but with “Miracle” you can allow yourself to get into the story because you know all the characters aren’t going to be hyper-refrigerated fish food in two hours.
Now, you may think I’m not a fan of this film because I’m using terms like “formulaic” and “kind of stuff you would expect.” I actually find this movie very enjoyable; I even like the 1981 made-for-TV version of this story “Miracle On Ice” starring Karl Malden in the role of Herb Brooks.
The reason is I was alive in 1980.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
The hidden sports analogy in this film is really only hidden by the tyranny of time. 1980 was 38 years ago, and even though I’m a noob to the world of classic movie blogging, it has been my observation a great deal of members of that community are not of the age to understand the context of the time.
Yes, the “Miracle on Ice” makes for a tremendous tale on its own as it is arguably the greatest upset in all of the history of sport. The Soviets were the best hockey players in the world; they had been playing together as a team for quite some time and they had just beaten an all-star team of National Hockey League professionals. Meanwhile, the Americans were a collection of college players who had never skated together previously.
But on top of that, the late 1970’s heading into 1980 was a truly awful time in America. Regardless of your politics, if you think this country has difficulties now, today is a walk in the park compared to 1980. The economy was in shambles; the economic doldrums of 1970’s was culminating in the recession of the early 1980’s. Unemployment was heading toward 10% and inflation peaked at 13.5% at the end of the Carter administration. Instability in the middle east caused oil prices to skyrocket, the Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt would ultimately lead to a protracted war, and the revolution in Iran led to the year-and-a-half long Iranian hostage crisis. America was just coming off the national trauma that was the Vietnam War; the political divisions which were borne of that period exist to this day.
But what really set the stage for the “Miracle on Ice” was the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, which plunged the temperature on the “Cold War.” When you cobble it all together, America was at a point in which it was more in need of heroes and a unifying event than at any other time in my lifetime.
Heading into the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, the story was supposed to be the dominance of American speed-skater Eric Heiden. The story of Heiden’s capturing all five Olympic gold medals for speed skating may very well be one of the greatest accomplishments in all of sports; taking home the gold for 500 meters, 1000 meters, 1500 meters, 5000 meters, and 10,000 meters would be like a track athlete winning the 100 meter sprint, the marathon, and everything in between. In fact, if you watch a documentary about the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team, they will be the first to admit they were watching Heiden.
However, Heiden was a reluctant hero, and once the U.S. tied Sweden and man-handled a very good Czechoslovakian squad to advance to the medal round, the stage was set for the showdown with the “Evil Empire” of the Soviets. Both teams entered the medal round without a loss, but just before the Olympics, the Soviets gut-punched the Americans 10-3 in an exhibition match in Madison Square Garden. Not only did the Soviets look like they had the Americans completely over-matched, but Team USA suffered a key loss when defenseman Jack O’Callahan suffered a knee injury.
But two things happened as a result of that crushing exhibition loss. Soviet head coach Viktor Tikhonov later admitted that win “turned out to be a very big problem” by causing the Soviets to underestimate the Americans. But Herb Brooks used that loss to reinforce his message about hard work and dedication, then doubled down with a serious message about loyalty by keeping the injured O’Callahan on the team roster so he could play in a potential rematch against the Soviets, which he did. That means not only did the Americans advance through Olympic group play, they did it with only 19 players.
The next time you watch this film, keep the backdrop in mind of what was happening in America at the time. That’s how you get the best sense of what a monumental moment this was not just in the world of sports, but in American history.
The Moral of The Story:
What else is there to say? Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!!