Wed, Feb 11, 2004 - Page 20 News List

`Miracle' may give Americans a boost when they need it

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

By now, you've probably heard about, if not seen, Miracle, the sports movie that transcends sports. It's the story of how Herb Brooks' cold-blooded coaching forged the 1980 US Olympic hockey team that upset the Soviet Union and won the gold medal at Lake Placid during the Cold War when, with hostages in Iran and the Soviets having invaded Afghanistan, America badly needed a jolt of jingoism.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, coincidentally, with young American soldiers being ambushed in Iraq and with a struggling economy, the movie comes at a time when America needs another lift.

The movie's focus is on Brooks, as it should be. If coaching is making a team better than it really is, Brooks may have done the most remarkable coaching job in the history of any sport. And in a movie that never needs to get corny because honesty is always better than hokum, Brooks, portrayed so well by Kurt Russell, is the sculptor of a shocking upset by mostly college kids.

This was a dream triumph, not a Dream Team, the basketball term that players like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson popularized in the 1992 Summer Olympics. In a way, the Soviets who, for all practical purposes, were state-sponsored professionals on what was world hockey's Dream Team. Yes, better than any of the best National Hockey League teams of that era.

With NHL players having participated in the last three Winter Olympics and pros participating in most Olympic sports, you will never see another miracle quite like it.

But for anyone who was in Lake Placid, the movie prompted outtakes that, understandably, could not be squeezed into the screenplay. The lasting memory here is a Sunday scene after their 4-2 gold-medal victory over Finland -- their appearance on the auditorium stage of Lake Placid High School, which served as the news media center.

Throughout the earlier games, Brooks had seldom permitted his players to talk to the news media. But now, still in their sweaty red-white-and-blue uniforms and with their gold medals hanging from red-white-and-blue ribbons around their necks, here was the team, in shoes instead of skates, flopping into big chairs as Brooks stood at a microphone.

"You're watching a group of people who startled the athletic world," Brooks said. "Not the hockey world, but the athletic world."

Among all the notebooks and microphones, a reporter asked if any of the players had one word that described what they had accomplished.

"Well," said Mike Eruzione, the captain who had scored the winning goal against the Soviets on Friday, "we're all a bunch of big doolies now."

To his listeners, doolies was a new word. Realizing an explanation was needed, Eruzione turned to Phil Verchota, a left wing who had coined it.

"I got a gold today, so I'm a big doolie," Verchota said. "It just means big wheel, big gun, big shot."

"Is there," another reporter asked, "any favorite Brooksism to describe what happened here?"

"Well," said John Harrington, a right wing who was quietly famous among his teammates for his imitations of the coach, "we were damned if we did and damned if we didn't. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. We reloaded, we went up to that tiger and spit in his eye. We went to the well again -- the water was colder, the water was deeper."

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