Miracle – 1980 USA Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team
Out of the countless memorable sports moments of the twentieth century, the “Miracle on Ice” of the 1980 Winter Olympics was proclaimed by Sports Illustrated as the Top Sports Moment of the 20th century. The 2004 movie Miracle directed by Gavin O’Connor recounts the story of how coach Herb Brooks led the college students who made up the 1980 USA Olympics Men’s Ice Hockey team to an unbelievable victory against the far more experienced Soviet team during the Cold War and a period of economic and social issues affecting the United States.
In 1979, University of Minnesota head ice hockey coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) is hired by the United States Olympic Committee to coach the 1980 Olympic squad when he presents a plan to radically change the team’s strategy in order to beat the seemingly unbeatable Soviet team. The Soviet team had won the gold medal in five of the last six Olympics, and the 1980 team was made up of seasoned veterans who had previous experience playing with each other and had won gold medals at the 1979 and 1978 World Hockey Championships and won the 1979 Challenge Cup against a team of NHL All-Stars.
Brooks had been cut as a player from the 1960 U.S. Olympic team, which was the last time the U.S. won the gold medal, and he sees the 1980 Olympics as his opportunity to experience that glory. The hiring committee is doubtful that Brooks can pull it off with a team of college players who had never played together before, but still award him the job. During tryouts, Brooks tells assistant coach Craig Patrick (Noah Emmerich), “I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.” Though the Olympic hockey committee skeptical of Brooks’ unorthodox approach, the executive director of the Olympic committee Walter Bush stands up for Brooks.
At first, it isn’t clear that Brooks made the right choices when two players from rival colleges get into a fight during the first practice. Brooks admonishes them, which begins his strategy of emphasizing the importance of playing as a team. When the team ties the Norwegian National Team in an exhibition game, Brooks is disappointed because he feels the team could have easily won if the players focused more on winning instead of talking about the girls in the crowd, telling them “When you pull on that jersey, you represent yourself and your teammates. And the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back! Get that through your head!”
After the game, he forces the players to do “Herbies,” a drill in which the team has to sprint back and forth across the ice all night long until they give him the answer he is looking for. When player Mike Eruzione (Patrick O’Brien Demsey) finally responds, “I play for the United States of America!”, Brooks dismisses the players. In the weeks following, the teammates bond and even begin to refer to themselves as a “family.” At the same time, Patti encourages her husband but is concerned that his disappointment of being cut from the 1960 team is causing him to push himself and his players too hard.
When the Olympics begin, the U.S. falls behind Sweden in the first round 2-1, as starter Rob McClanahan is sitting out because of a leg injury. Brooks fires up McClanahan by accusing him of wimping out, to which McClanahan responds by dressing up and playing. The U.S. team ends up tying the game in the final minute and continues to improve in the subsequent games, beating Czechoslovakia 7-3, Norway 5-1, Romania 7-2, and West Germany 4-2. The team’s success begins to capture the imagination of the country. Nonetheless, when the medal rounds begin, the U.S. team has to face the Soviet team that beat them 10-3 in an exhibition game just three days before the Olympics started.
Brooks gives a passionate pre-game speech to his team, ending it with,
“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 ’em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it.”
The team enters the arena to an enthusiastic crowd who are chanting “U-S-A!”
The Soviet team scores the first goal, but the U.S. team responds with a goal shortly afterwards to tie the game. The Soviets score a second goal, but the US team responds again with the tying goal in the final second of the first period. The Soviets quickly take the lead in the second period, which ends with the score of 3-2.
To motivate his team before the start of the final period, Brooks tells the team to listen to the roaring chants from the crowd. When Soviet player Vladimir Krutov is sent to the penatly box for high-sticking, the U.S. team takes advantage and scores the tying goal in the final seconds of the power play. Shortly afterwards, team captain Mike Eruzione scores to give the U.S. its first lead of the game (4-3), which sends the crowd into a frenzy.
With ten minutes left in the game, the Soviets press on to control the game but are unable to score – they take shot after shot at the U.S. goal in the final few minutes, but Craig stops every one. With a few seconds remaining, sportscaster Al Michaels shouts, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”, as time runs out and the crowd erupts in celebration. After acknowledging the Soviet coach and then his wife in the crowd, Brooks rushes back into the locker room and holds a quiet, personal celebration before breaking down in tears.
In a voiceover during the final shots of the movie, Brooks explains what happened next, saying, “Two days later the miracle was made complete. My boys defeated Finland to win the gold medal, coming from behind once again. As I watched them out there, celebrating on the ice, I realized that Patti had been right. It was a lot more than a hockey game, not only for those who watched it, but for those who played in it.” Then, over shots of his team accepting their medals, he continues, “I’ve 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.”
A final title card reveals that the film is dedicated to Brooks, who “died shortly following principal photography. He never saw it.” However, it adds shortly afterwards, “He lived it.”
Contributing author: Chris McKittrick
Real Life, Reel Differences
- Longtime hockey fans will notice that the goalies sometimes keep their water bottles on their nets. However, goalies generally didn’t practice this in televised hockey until about a decade after 1980.
- There are several anachronistic clothing issues throughout the film. During the final game an audience member can be seen wearing an Under Armor hat and in one scene Jack O’Callahan wears a Harpoon Brewery shirt. Neither of these brands existed in 1980. In addition, during the Christmas party scene, a player is wearing a Roots Athletic sweatshirt design that didn’t exist in 1980.
- These anachronistic attire issues also extend to the hockey gear. In several instances the players are wearing skates and helmets that were not available in 1980, and the Finnish team’s uniforms in the gold medal game are not accurate.
- In the film, Brooks chooses the team entirely by himself only after a few hours of tryouts in Colorado Springs. In real life, the tryouts lasted ten days and Brooks was assisted in team selection by several other college hockey coaches. In addition, while in the movie goalie Jim Craig and forward Mark Johnson were at the tryouts, in real life neither attended because they had already been selected by Brooks for the team.
- In the movie several details of the games are not entirely accurate to the actual events. For example, during the Sweden game the wrong player (Mark Johnson) was sent in as the extra attacker (in reality it was Dave Silk). Similarly, in the real-life exhibition game against Norway, regular goalie Jim Craig was not in goal. Instead, it was backup goaltender Steve Janaszak, but the movie depicts Craig in goal.
- In the film, the “Herbies” exercise after the Norway game ends with Mike Eruzione saying he played for the United States of America. In real life, the drills ended when Mark Johnson smashed his stick against the glass because he was frustrated that they had to do the exercise. In addition, in the movie Schneider is present during the drill, but in real-life he had been thrown out of the game and did not redress to join the drill.
- Brooks says that the Soviet team went undefeated in 42 games in the prior 3 months. However, in all of 1979 the Soviet team only played 24 games, winning all of them except Game 1 of the 1979 Challenge Cup against the NHL All-Star team.
- The final game was filmed on a NHL-size hockey rink (200 ft x 85 ft), but the actual game took place on an Olympic-size rink (200.13 ft. x 98.42 ft).
- During the game against the Soviets, Schneider is slashed by Krutov shortly before the Soviets score the first goal and he falls down. In the actual game, Krutov stick checked Schneider and Schneider did not fall.
- After USA scores its fourth goal in the game against the Soviets, the movie depicts the USSR team as taking 12 shots on the USA goal in the final ten minutes and 19 total shots during the third period. However, the USSR only made 9 shots on the goal for the entire third period.
- Though Al Michaels re-recorded his commentary for the games, director Gavin O’Connor felt Michaels would be unable to reproduce the emotion of his famous “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” call. Therefore, the film uses the final 10 seconds of his original call. In addition, the movie depicts the USA team rushing onto the ice to celebrate after the final horn sounds. However, a review of the actual footage shows that the team leaving the bench shortly before the horn sounded.
- Humorously, in real-life Jack O’Callahan was missing a few of his front teeth during the Olympics. However, in the movie he has a perfect set of teeth.
Where Are They Now?
Herb Brooks would spend the rest of his life as a hockey coach. Shortly after the Olympics he coached the HC Davos of Switzerland, but returned to the United States to coach the New York Rangers from 1981 to 1985. He later coached the Minnesota North Stars (1987-88), New Jersey Devils (1992-93), the French Olympic team at the 1998 Olympics, and the Pittsburgh Penguins (1999-2000). After that he became Director of Player Personnel for the Penguins. His final tenure as a hockey coach came in 2002 when he again coached the U.S. Olympic team. Though the U.S. team won the silver medal (losing to Canada in the finals), the most notable event at the Olympics was the U.S. team beating the Russian team on February 22, 2002 in the semi-finals – exactly 22 years after the Miracle on Ice victory. He was inducted in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990, the International Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.
Brooks died on August 11, 2003 in a car accident. Police believe he fell asleep behind the wheel and that his life would have been saved had he been wearing a seatbelt. Though Miracle was not released until after Brooks’ death, Brooks had served as a consultant during production. In his honor, the Olympic ice arena in Lake Placid was renamed Herb Brooks Arena on February 22, 2005.
The Herb Brooks Foundation was established by his family after his death to promote youth hockey. Information on the foundation and its programs can be found on its website.
Mike Eruzione, the Captain of the 1980 Olympic team, was one of the few players from that squad to never play hockey professionally afterwards. Though he received an offer from the New York Rangers, Eruzione turned it down and instead became a television commentator for the NHL and Olympic hockey. Following in Brooks’ footsteps, he also turned to coaching. He served as the assistant coach for the Boston University team, and continues to work with the team in an administrative capacity. He also is a part-owner of the USHL Omaha Lancers and coaches local team in his hometown of Winthrop, Massachusetts. With the rest of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, he lit the torch at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Eruzione also works as a motivational speaker. He does not have an official website, but he stays in touch with his fans on Twitter: @MERUZIONE
13 of the 20 players from the U.S. team went on to play in the NHL.
There was a made-for-TV movie that aired in March 1981 called Miracle on Ice, and a documentary on HBO in 2001 called Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team, prior to Disney’s version of Miracle. On YouTube, there are two different documentaries; I don’t know the source of the first one that’s simply titled 1980 USA Hockey Team Story, while the second one is ESPN Classic’s documentary, Miracle on Ice.
Here is the actual US versus USSR game from the 1980 Olympics, in its entirety. The last minute of the game begins at the 1:21:35 mark: