Herb Brooks is being initiated into the Olympics Hall of Fame.
There’s something about Herb Brooks that has always gotten me right in the throat, reminiscent of him shouting at the Czech player, on national television, during the 1980 Olympics: “I’ll bury that goddamn stick in your throat!”
If you ever get a chance, check out the HBO documentary about the 1980 Olympic hocky team called (of course) Do You Believe in Miracles? Incredible interviews with him, you just so get the feeling that he was a fearless (and fearsome) leader. It is truly inspirational what he did. I NEVER get over it. I remember the 1980 Olympics – I’m not a big hockey fan – but even I got swept up in the moment.
There’s a moment in the HBO documentary, during an interview with the real Brooks, when you get a glimpse of the power of this man as a coach. It’s very subtle, but the hairs rise up on my arms at the same moment, every time I see it.
It’s the kind of influence any great teacher has. Not only is WHAT they are saying meaningful and inspirational – but it is HOW they say it. It somehow makes you feel like … you can DO it. You can go out and slay Goliath.
Brooks was describing the US team’s nervewracking arrival at Lake Placid. Brooks had felt for years that the Russian team was too cocky, they were OVER-confident. The US team was terrified and intimidated by the Soviet team, especially since they had just been crushed by them at Madison Square Garden 3 days before. Brooks started to chip away at the mystique with his team – making fun of the looks of the players (all of whom were hockey GODS), giving them all silly nicknames … “Look at these guys – they just want to have a nice vacation – they want to buy new blue jeans – they aren’t serious about hockey – and look at that guy’s NOSE – he looks like a chicken!” etc.
Anyway, Brooks is describing this – and he says, “I kept saying to the team – whetting their appetite – ‘Someone’s gonna beat those guys. I don’t like how they’re playing. They think they’re better than they are.’ I made fun of the Russian players – to relax my team, to help them build up their confidence – but also – to remind them … Someone’s gonna beat those guys.”
I suppose you have to hear how he says it, to get the power of it. But it is clear, in that moment, in how he keeps repeating, like a mantra, “Someone’s gonna beat those guys” – that Herb Brooks is a motivational and inspirational man. Because what is beneath that “someone”? The call to action to HIS team: “Someone’s gonna beat those guys” also means: “You all can beat these guys!”
One of the sportscasters interviewed for the documentary said, “For a few hours – a magical coach convinced a magical group of kids – that they could do something … that they really, actually, couldn’t do.”
This was the power of Herb Brooks. I’m all verklempt.
I know Herb Brooks really means a lot to the people of Minnesota – for many reasons other than the 1980 Olympic win – but for me, he will always be that tense-eyed intense man in the plaid pants on the sidelines, WILLING that group of college kids to beat the Russians.
Truly incredible. After I first watched the HBO documentary I wrote a blubbery piece about it on the blog – Here it is:
I had such a catharsis last night, watching the HBO documentary Do You Believe In Miracles? It is the story of the U.S. Olympic hockey team, winning the gold in 1980.
I don’t know exactly what doors it opens up in me … All I know is I was a blubbery MESS, and I still am one today. Perhaps it is the story of bucking the odds so unexpectedly that gets me. Or the fact that those kids came from nowhere, nowhere, and beat the greatest hockey team in the world. No one expected that of them.
I think, though, it is merely the specific human moments represented in this well-done documentary that slay my heart. The moments are emblazoned in my brain.
–The Iranian hostage, being released from captivity, was shown a videotape by the State Department of everything that happened in America during his absence. The hostage said that the best part of the videotape, for him, was watching the hockey game, and watching all the people in the stands losing their minds. He said, “I was in deep captivity for over a year. Being held hostage shows you the ultimate depravity of humanity. But then … watching that hockey game … I saw the complete opposite. I saw all of these Americans going crazy over a hockey game. I just wish that I had been there.”
–The one shot of Jim Craig, the goalie, draped in an American flag, right after they won the gold, skating along, looking up into the stands, searching with his eyes, saying, “Where’s my father? Where’s my father?”
–Pretty much every single shot of coach Herb Brooks’ face. What a face! He rode those kids HARD, he made them a team. There was rivalry between the Minnesota kids and the New England kids – they hated each other. Herb Brooks said, “I wanted to blur the boundaries of this country. I wanted them to know that the USA on the front of their jerseys really meant something.” He also knew that they HAD to win. And they did. After that “miracle game”, they still had one more game to win before they could take home the gold. They had to beat Finland. Herb Brooks came into the locker room beforehand, and said, “If you lose this game, you will take it to your fucking grave.” Then he turned and walked almost all the way out, before turning around and saying again, “To your fucking grave.”
–One of the Russian players described watching the American team flipping out when they won, rolling around on the ice, crying, screaming, cavorting – complete mayhem. He said, “We were so used to winning. We watched how emotional they were and we had forgotten that. I was almost jealous of their emotions.”
Emotions like this:
Jack O’Callahan straddling Mike Ramsey in the foreground – screaming to high-heaven – his big wide-open mouth – with one front tooth missing – Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. Mike Ramsey said, in an interview in the documentary, and he almost couldn’t finish the sentence … “I’ll take that … I’ll take that picture … to my grave with me.”
A tribute to Herb Brooks. All of them.
What a cool picture!
Most people forget that this win was for the gold medal game not the gold medal… never knew about his warning to his players.
The way most of the players NHL careers panned out, this was truly a miracle on ice.
Right – there was still another game to win after “the miracle”. Pretty amazing. LIke the mental focus that it must have taken to not get over-confident! Wild.
As always Sheila, very eloquent.
JFH-True mostly, but remember this was back in the days when pro players didn’t compete in the Olympics, at least on teams from the West. Those kids went up against guys who really were pros and beat them, way beyond expectation.
Gets me all over again just reading about it.
Funny, isn’t it, that the Gold Medal game could seem almost inconsequential in comparison? The team exceeded most everybody’s wildest expectations by beating the Russians. It would have been sooo easy to be satisfied with that. Herb Brooks’ hardest coaching job just might have been keeping his team from being satisfied with what it had already done. He knew it wasn’t enough, would never be enough. God, what a coach.
Kinda like “Rocky I”- he didn’t win, but rather he went the distance. Sometimes that is better than just winning.
My God. I just compared Rocky to real life. Geek.