Thursday, September 29, 2005


I’ve become obsessed with the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team. A couple of weeks ago we rented Miracle, and after seeing the movie I went and bought a recently published book called The Boys of Winter. Here are a few fun facts :

* Nine of the twenty players were Minnesota Gopher Hockey players; no other college program had more than 2 represented on that team. Of course, Brooks was at the time the Gopher coach, so one could argue that the team may have looked very different if that were not the case, but then again a win is a win. (Whereas the University of Chicago boasts many more Nobel winning economists than Minnesota, they had no players on the team; indeed, it is probably the case that no one who has ever graduated from there has ever learned to skate).

* Mark Johnson, who I remember as the star offensive player, was a Wisconsin Badger; not only that his father was the coach of the Badgers, and he and Brooks were like night and day. Bob Johnson was this extroverted happy go lucky coach, whereas Brooks took the “a leader must be hated by his men” approach, with his success stemming from making his players hate his opponents slightly more than him. Coaching in the same conference as Johnson, to his Gopher team he would bad mouth Coach Johnson constantly. There was fear that the personal animosity between him and Johnson would lead Mark to forego the Olympics; at the time he was recognized as the premier amateur player in the country.

* The US played the Soviets in Madison Square Garden a couple days prior to the Opening Ceremonies, and got demolished.

* If you’ve seen the movie, so far it is very consistent with the facts in the book (I’m halfway through). Brooks changed his whole brand of hockey to mimic the Soviets and chose a team intended to be able to better exploit the wider ice used in the Olympics.

* The dorms that housed the Olympic Village in Lake Placid are now a low security federal prison.

Anyway, the book is OK; you learn the back stories of the different players, as well as those of some of the Soviets (of course the author whitewashes all of the Commie conspiracies these guys were no doubt knee-deep in). But the only thing worse than watching hockey in TV (in comparison to seeing it live) is reading about it. You cannot appreciate the speed and athleticism of these guys unless you see it live.

But if watching hockey on TV pales in comparison to the real thing, the movie’s coverage of the action is worse than TV. Ironically, the extras on the DVD go into all the details about how they scripted over 70 plays exactly as they happened in the game with the Soviets. This was done right down to the details of how guys on the periphery of the action were holding their sticks. The scenes are filmed as if you are on the ice skating right next to the players. Somehow it just doesn’t work –you can never see the plays developing like you can with the typical eye-in-the sky view you get as a live fan or on TV.

They also had Al Michaels essentially re-broadcast all of the plays, with the exception of the call he makes at the end, "Do you believe in miracles?" For that they used the original, as they felt there'd be no way to mimic the sincere emotion in his voice when he made the call in real time. They interview Michaels, and he talks about how he's proud that his call at the end has helped launch the story to the prominence it now enjoys. What an ass! He could have blurted out "I'm having an affair with Jim Craig" instead and it wouldn't have made any difference. I've hated that guy ever since he used to trash Buddy Ryan on Monday Night Football.

The book also discusses what the guys have done after the Olympics, and where they are today. So far they are all pretty normal, which is in a way surprising to me. To paraphrase a George Bernard Shaw quote that has always stuck with me (and which partially redeems him for being a Stalin-loving Commie), the two greatest tragedies in life are not achieving a goal that has consumed you, and achieving a goal that has consumed you. It would seem to me that that tragedy becomes even worse when the whole country was so vested in your performance and you achieve a degree of fame as a result, and all at the age of 21. How can playing in the NHL compare? I would have thought some of these guys would eventually run into some serious troubles, but so far in my readings they are all pretty normal.

As Kurt Russell as the Herb Brooks character as the movie winds down, and I am garbling this quote no doubt: "Today we have the Dream teams being sent to the Olympics, but ironically this kills the dream." The author of the book says something similar - the athletes we send to the Olympics now (at least in Hockey and Basketball) add glamour to the Olympics, but take away all of the romance.


Blogger pbryon said...

I've never liked Eruzione--I think he cashed in on this way too much. The book (and the truth) may dispute my perception, but its my perception nonetheless.

Incidentally, one of my co-workers up here (and a former roommate) was at the game, and can be seen in the original game footage. He was a SUNY-Plattsburgh student at the time, and those students were given opportunities at lots of volunteer jobs at the '80 Games. In return for doing those jobs, you got tickets to assorted events. He didn't have a ticket to teh US-USSR game, but snuck in anyway. At the end of the game, he was standing over the tunnel that led back to the US locker room. On the footage, you can see him hanging over the railing, high-fiving numerous players as they're leaving the ice.

I live about 2 hours from Lake Placid, and my wife grew up in Saranac Lake a few miles away. You'd be amazed at how small a place it is. The speedskating oval made famous by Heiden was (and is) nothing more than an iced over running track at the local high school. I can't imagine where they put spectators.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Professor Vic said...

It's funny, but I just refereed a soccer game last weekend at Boston University. There are an amazing number of hommages to Eruzione and the rest of the team up in their athletic center.

BU is a bit like Minnesota-Duluth. Pretty small-time athletics (America East being one of the least powerful D1 conferences) but a huge hockey following and a pretty glorious history. (Not quite that of the mighty Gophers, however!)

11:42 AM  
Blogger Incredible Dirigible said...

I was never really all that into hockey, but I've been to a couple of Flyers games & concede with Dr. Hatch that going to the games is a LOT cooler than watching them on TV.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't folow the mirachle on ice in 1980. I was too drunk on Chartreuse.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Pulvarizer said...

Never really got into hockey. Grew up in Denver and left after the Avs came to town.

Although Hatcher and I do have something in common, our dislike of Al Michaels. That condensending little prick always used to talk down to Dierdorf, as if Michaels was some sort of intellectual. He went to ASU and majored in journalism for crying out loud. If Michaels hadn't made that excited utterance during the 1980 games, he's be telling the folks of Lincoln, NE if it was going to rain or snow tomorrow on the local FOX station.

However, who defends Buddy Ryan, that little troll?!?!?! Who does he think he is not shaking the opposing coaches hand after a game.

3:16 PM  

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