February 4, 2004, - 2:13 pm

Hollywood’s Greatest “Miracle”

By Debbie Schlussel

Do you believe in miracles?

The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey victory over the Soviet Union was a sports and political miracle.

Two decades later, it has inspired an entertainment miracle.

The miracle is that, in 2004, Hollywood actually released a great movie that is uplifting, pro-American, and devoid of sex and violence. That movie, “Miracle,” debuts today [Friday, February 6, 2004] and is destined to be a hit. “Miracle” tells the story of coach Herb Brooks’ and his 1980 team’s incredible David-versus-Goliath victory.

In January 1981, when U.S. hostages were released from Iran, they viewed a highlight tape of major events they missed during their 444 days of captivity. Several freed hostages said the highlight of highlights was Brooks’ team’s semifinal victory over our Communist nemesis. The victory ultimately led to a Gold Medal for the U.S. (over Finland).

Amidst shouts of “USA, USA,” announcer Al Michaels’ rhetorical question and answer, “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” is the most memorable sports broadcast quips. Young boys dressed as the U.S. Hockey Team for several Halloweens to follow.

The miracle was not just that Americans beat the Soviets. It was that amateur working-class American kids beat paid, seasoned Russian professionals. Despite all of the odds against them in a depressing time of Jimmy Carter malaise, hostages in Iran, double-digit inflation, a virtually “kick-me” sign on America around the world, and lines at the gas pump, the American spirit triumphed. The team of freedom triumphed over the team of tyranny. The unlikely victory was the first spark in what became America’s comeback — the Reagan Revolution.

“Miracle” masterfully tells the story in the context of those events. While President Carter is decrying America’s bleak future, the U.S. Hockey team is out of earshot, playing touch football in the Minnesota snow with the patriotic spirit that portends of their victory.

But there may never be another “Miracle on Ice.”

Yesterday’s Communist threat has largely been replaced by today’s radical Islam –arguably a much more potent enemy. There’s no Bin Laden-sponsored Taliban Hockey Team to beat. The Taliban was banned from the Games in 1999 because of their treatment of women. Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad don’t field ice hockey teams for us to beat. Palestinians, who visited the Olympics as terrorists in 1972, now have an official Olympic delegation.

Al Michaels’ praise of America’s “miracle” amidst chants of “USA” has been replaced by left-wing sportswriters admonishing such patriotic displays. At the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, USA Today’s Christine Brennan dedicated a whole column to denouncing American flag-waving and shouts of “USA” and any other show of American pride. (Yet, on PBS, she praised Australians cheering their own at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games. “They’re charming.”)

Another sportswriter denounced the Salt Lake Games as the most “nationalistic” since the Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Games. American patriotism now equals Nazism?

Salt Lake Organizing Committee President and now-Massachusetts Republican Governor Mitt Romney also admonished Americans. “Around the world it was like, ‘Boy, those Americans, always beating their chests,’” he told The Guardian. “This is not our time to talk about how great America is. It’s not designed to be a patriotic American display.”

Funny, he didn’t say that, when hitting up Congress for America’s taxpayers to heavily subsidize the already heavily-sponsored Games featuring multi-millionaire professional athletes.

That’s another difference emphasized in Disney’s “Miracle” film.

Kurt Russell, playing coach Brooks, tells the audience that the Games and the athletes he coached were different, then.

Gone from today’s Olympics are the working-class, amateur U.S. Hockey Team players who made the 1980 victory over professional, Soviet-subsidized players twice as sweet. Brooks coached guys like Mike Eruzione, the team captain who scored the winning goal against the Soviets, but never played in the professional National Hockey League (NHL). Guys like goalie Jim Craig, whose laid-off father desperately needed him to forgo the Olympics for the money an NHL career would provide. They beat the Soviets when months earlier an NHL All-Star team could not.

Eruzione and his teammates reunited to light the Olympic Cauldron in Salt Lake in 2002. But it was empty symbolism.

In 2002, those amateurs–who had spunk, sparkle, and an underdog hunger to win for the U.S.—had long been replaced by “Dream Teams” of spoiled multi-millionaire, pro athletes. Instead, players were led by team captain and Detroit Red Wing Chris Chelios– who threatened NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s life during the 1994-95 NHL lockout, and led the rest of the U.S. Hockey team in trashing dorm rooms and destroying furniture as team captain of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Thousands were spent haggling with these hockey “pros” regarding Olympic drug testing policy. Brett Hull whined about the trip to “far away” Salt Lake Games. On the dorm-trashing team with Chelios, Hull complained about the distance to Nagano, too.

“Miracle” shows the grueling conditioning Brooks put the team through. It’s doubtful today’s soft pros could withstand a lick of it.

The 1980 team was tough and gritty. They had no product endorsements or part-time jobs by Home Depot and Staples. They were no billions in tax subsidies. 1980 Olympians slept in converted prisons on prison cots, and organizers nearly declared bankruptcy on a $168 million budget. There were no $28 million opening ceremonies or $2 million temporary Olympic cauldrons and sculptures.

But there was heavy American pride.

For that, audiences at last week’s sneak preview of “Miracle” applauded and wept. That Hollywood finally depicts that in a positive way is a huge “miracle” in 2004.

[Debbie Schlussel used to represent coddled NHL players.]

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