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Film / Miracle

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"11 seconds, you've got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!"''
Al Michaels

Miracle is a 2004 film starring Kurt Russell based on the true story of the 1980 USA Ice Hockey team and the "Miracle On Ice" at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

In 1979, the United States is in turmoil, knee-deep in the Cold War and international conflict (which would eventually result in the U.S. eventually boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow as a response to the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan). While the Winter Olympics weren't an issue, as the U.S. was hosting them in Lake Placid, New York, knowledgeable Americans were still uneasy at the idea of the Soviet team, winners of the last four Olympic hockey gold medals dating back to 1964, coming to American turf and kicking everyone's ass.

Enter Herb Brooks (Russell), decorated head coach of the University of Minnesota's powerhouse hockey team and a former player who was the last man cut for the 1960 U.S. Olympic team that won gold that year. Assembling a roster of collegiate players, his job over the next year is to shape them into a team capable of taking down the Soviets, learning how to play with and for one another and for their country. Both the U.S. and Soviet teams emerge from the Olympic group stage to face each other on February 22, 1980, with the right to play for the gold medal hanging in the balance. What looked like the biggest David vs. Goliath matchup on paper turned into arguably the greatest upset in American sports history, capped at the final buzzer with announcer Al Michaels famously asking the viewer if they believed in miracles, hence the title.

The film also stars Patricia Clarkson as Patti Brooks and Noah Emmerich as Craig Patrick.

Miracle was another evolution of sports movies for Disney. After a wave of kid-aimed sports comedies involving Ragtag Bunches of Misfits in the 90's, Disney scored a commercial smash in 2000 with Remember the Titans, a football movie that, while still aimed at families, was an outright drama, although Very Loosely Based on a True Story. Miracle goes a step further into a full-on Docudrama, staying close to historical accuracy whenever possible, avoiding a Broad Strokes approach, and, unlike nearly every Disney-branded film at that point, was a drama aimed at older audiences (for instance, there are no major speaking parts for children). Disney replicated Miracle's docudrama format several more times, with The Greatest Game Ever Playednote , Invinciblenote , and Glory Roadnote . Miracle was directed by Gavin O'Connor, who would direct two more critically acclaimed sports movies with Warrior (mixed martial arts) and The Way Back (high school basketball).

This film provides examples of:

  • The '70s: While the Games are played in February 1980, the recruiting and training, not to mention the culture, politics, and Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan are still here. The Opening Credits are a very succinct montage of American events of the decade to give an emotional feel of How We Got Here.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "Who do you play for?" is the question Herb keeps asking the team and he keeps getting the expected answers from his team of bitter rivals and prideful players ("Massachusetts!" "Minnesota!"). It takes constant drilling and verbal abuse and even more constant drilling together for the team to finally understand what it means to be the American Olympic Hockey Team. "I play for... The United States of America!
  • Artistic License – Music: As with the American Broadcasting Company's broadcasts of the Olympics from 1968 to 1988, Leo Arnaud's "Bugler's Dream" is played under Jim McKay's commentary of the USA Hockey Team's victory against Czechoslovakia. The version heard here is the Boston Pops Orchestra's 1996 rendition as arranged and conducted by John Williams.
  • As You Know: The opening scene where Herb meets with Team USA brass is full of this to quickly bring the viewer up to speed on that point in Olympic hockey, including Herb's achievements at the college level, the Soviets' dominance, and the United States' long odds to even medal going in.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: The medal ceremony, after Team USA beats Finland for the gold.
  • Based on a True Story: It's not even the first "Miracle on Ice" movie. (The first one was made very shortly after 1980.)
  • Big Good: Herb knows he can unite and motivate the team by exploiting their resentment of him being a Manipulative Bastard and a Drill Sergeant Nasty. However he wants to them to win for national pride and the good of their sport, and for their own sakes; ultimately, he's this.
  • Big "YES!": The answer to Al Michaels's iconic call of "Do you believe in miracles?!"
    • The audio transitions from Michaels’ recreated commentary into the original 1980 audio, as there was no way he could try to reproduce the emotion of his famous call.
  • Boring, but Practical: How Herb builds his team. He composes the squad not just by picking the best players, but the players with the specific skill sets to run his hybrid system of play based on speed and synergy. Knowing they won't have the most talent in the Olympics, Herb pushes their fitness relentlessly for months on end, banking on the U.S.'s ability to simply wear teams down and outlast them to the final whistle.
    Herb: The legs feed the wolf, gentlemen. I can't promise you we'll be the best team at Lake Placid next February. But we will be the best-conditioned. That I can promise you.
  • Brutal Honesty: When the U.S. coasts to a tie against Norway in an exhibition, not giving a full effort, Herb forces them to sprint their asses off after the game while laying in this trope.
    Herb: Think you can win on talent alone? Gentlemen, you don't have enough talent to win on talent alone!
  • Calm Before the Storm: The team is in a quiet mood right before their big game with the Soviets as Herb comes in and gives them a Rousing Speech.
  • Censorship by Spelling: A banner hung during a game: "Soviets, get the puck out of Afghanistan!"
  • Dare to Be Badass: Beating the unstoppable Soviets — gold medal winners in the previous four Olympics — with a bunch of college kids seems like an impossible goal, which is why Herb tells his squad "this cannot be a team of common men, because common men go nowhere."
  • David Versus Goliath: The U.S. vs. the Soviets, maybe the most famous in sports history. Even Herb admits to the team he can't feed them "a load of crap" about how the U.S. is better than the Soviets, because they're not. What Herb says he needs from them is the ability to take the fight to the giants and not wilt in their presence, something even the NHL All-Star team did in an exhibition match where the Soviets handed their asses to the supposed best collection of players in the world.
    Herb: I also know there is a way to stay with this team. You don't defend them, you attack them. You take their game and you shove it back in their face. The team that is finally willing to do this is the team that has a chance to put them down. NHL won't change their game, we will. Rest of the world is afraid of them; boys, we won't be.
    • Calling it David vs. Goliath is actually a massive understatement to the point where it might as well be considered half a David vs double a Goliath. The movie does make a good effort to try to explain just how different the two teams are, largely that while the American team had experienced players and the better part of a year to train together the Soviet team had spent most of the last 10-15 years together. note 
  • Defeating the Undefeatable: The Soviets had won gold for the previous four Olympic competitions. To put this in perspective, the last time the Soviet Union failed to win Olympic gold, most of the men on the Miracle-team weren't even born yet. No wonder they were so scared.
  • Down to the Last Play: Being based on the true story this was Averted. Team USA takes the lead halfway through the final period and holds the lead all the way to the end through furious, determined talent. It's also mentioned in passing they still had one more game to play before winning the Gold, but most everyone knew this was the deciding game of the Olympics.note 
  • The Dreaded: The Soviets. Gold medals in the last four cycles of Olympic play. The NHL All-Stars were routed 6-0 by the squad. Herb lays out that the reward for going through Olympic play is a showdown with the best team in the world, full stop.
    Herb: 42 games in the last three months, 42 wins. Their main weapon is intimidation; they know they're going to win, and so do their opponents.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Herb invokes this, being a brutal conditioning coach, making them run drill after drill. The reasoning being if they all hate him, they can't hate each other.
  • Dropped-in Speech Clip: After the team has gathered together for a Christmas celebration, Herb turns on the radio and drives off. As we watch the boys outside throwing a football around, Jimmy Carter's "Crisis of Confidence" speech is heard.
  • End of an Age: It's mentioned in the closing monologue that it wasn't long after that the Olympics would relax the standards on amateur competitors, allowing for "Dream Teams" of already professional athletes to dominate. This meant stories like this regarding fresh-faced amateurs rising to the gold less likely.
  • Fire-Forged Friendship: The team start out as people from different colleges, with players Jack O'Callahan holding a grudge against Rob McClanahan for a cheap shot in a previous game. By the film's end, however, they've grown to True Companions.
  • Flipping the Table: In his efforts to rally Team USA into defeating Sweden, Herb angrily flips the team's table during their intermission.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Yes, team USA wins.
  • Genghis Gambit: Implied to be the reason Brooks is so hard on his players - if they're united against him, they "won't have time to fight each other."
  • Graceful Loser: While Coach Tikhonov is clearly stunned by the loss, when he briefly makes eye contact with Coach Brooks and the latter gives him a "Good game" motion, he gives a slight nod in response. The Soviet players also silently watch the celebration and then shake hands with the American players. note 
  • Hate Sink: Herb turns himself into a Drill Sergeant Nasty for his team so they can focus on hating him and not each other. He makes it clear at several points that he doesn't care if any member of the team hates him, so long as it directs their attention to playing the game.
  • "Hell, Yes!" Moment: Invoked by Brooks during the semifinal game against the Soviets. At the start of the second period, Vladislav Tretiak is substituted by Vladimir Myshkin. Brooks uses it as a rallying point for his players, pointing out that they, a bunch of scrappy college players and amateurs, managed to bench arguably the best goaltender in the world.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Downplayed for Brooks regarding his decision to keep the US players from interviewing the media during the Olympics in order for them to keep their focus - reporters suggest he's doing it to hog the spotlight for himself. During the next session of reporters, Herb doesn't show up (letting Craig handle it instead), which could be interpreted as his answer to that implication.
  • International Showdown by Proxy: Between the US and the Soviet Union. Truth in Television and by no means an isolated incident: practically every Olympic Games from World War II until end of the Cold War was one of these.
  • It Began with a Twist of Fate: That game tying goal in the final minute of the opening game of the tournament against Sweden is shown to be a confidence booster and gives the team momentum for the remainder of the Olympics. However in terms of the final standings it was a lot more important than basically anyone remembers, or even realized at the time. note 
  • It Will Never Catch On: When scouting for players to join the team, Walter and a USA Hockey representative decline to include Eruzione on the team. Brooks, going over their heads, picks Eruzione anyway, and Eruzione later becomes team captain.
  • Manly Tears: After the Americans beat the Soviets, Herb walks into an empty corridor under the stands and sheds a few of these in happiness.
  • Meaningful Echo: When the US and Soviet teams line up for the opening faceoff of their exhibition game in Madison Square Gardennote  it's abundantly clear just how in awe the Americans are of their Soviet counterparts. Fast forward to the faceoff with 10 minutes left in the climactic game.note  Every American on the ice is radiating a look of pure intensity, if not outright hostility, and this time, it's the Soviet players who seem hesitant.
  • Meaningful Name: Mike Eruzione. It's Italian for "eruption."
  • Miracle Rally: For Americans, it's THE Miracle Rally.
  • Opposing Sports Team: The Soviets, though they're not portrayed as an "evil" team like most examples of this trope. They're simply shown as being a superior hockey team — which, in all honesty, they were. As Brooks pointed out, if their Olympic team played the Soviets ten times, the Soviets might win nine... but not that night. And not that game.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Craig tells Herb that the team is starting to call Pavelich, Harrington, and Schneider "the Coneheads". Herb has never heard of the SNL sketch and Craig's attempt to explain it does not help.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The US team, but gradually grow into True Companions.
  • The Rival: The Soviet Union, probably the best team in the world at the time having won the gold medal in 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1976.
  • Rousing Speech: Coach Brooks has a particularly awesome one delivered to his team before their game versus the Soviets, which is basically verbatim from the real one he gave.
    Brooks: Great moments... are born from great opportunity. And that's what you have here, tonight, boys. That's what you've earned here tonight. One game. If we played 'em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. 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!
  • Shown Their Work:
    • During the USA's game against West Germany (FRG), the scoreboard mistakenly shows the team abbreviation GDR, which was German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. However, the mistake wasn't made by the filmmakers; rather, it happened in the original game.
    • As revealed in the making-of extras, every major moment/play, many of the little details (the way the original players held their sticks, Eruzione's victory-run across the ice, etc), and even the actors' likenesses were rigorously gone over from the original game(s), and the real-life Herb Brook's own account, to make it as close as possible.
  • Sports Widow: Brooks's wife wishes he would pick his head from out of the game film and have some family time every now and then, but for the most part, she stays supportive of his goal, especially once it becomes clear how important their Olympic performance could be.
  • Training from Hell: After a particularly lackluster exhibition performance, Herb has them skating line sprints well past the time the arena lights go off until they understand who they play for. Counts for the cast as well; to make their fatigue look as real as possible, they actually did the sprints for hours on end over three days, so all that retching and coughing is quite real.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Part of the reason the team struggles during the early months of training is that there's bad blood between several of the members stemming from their games against each other in college. The rivalry between the University of Minnesota and Boston University in particular proves to be sore spot for Rob McClanahan and Jack O'Callahan.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Herb Brooks. Much of his Training from Hell and harsher moments are done specifically so he can mold the hockey team into one that can beat the Soviet Union, and at times provoke players into giving him their very best performances. As stated in-film, "Herb has a reason for everything he does".
    Herb: A bruise on the leg is a hell of a long way from the heart, candy-ass!
    Rob McClanahan: What'd you call me?
    Herb: You heard me.
    Herb: I want you to be a hockey player!
    Rob: I AM A HOCKEY PLAYER! YOU WANT ME TO PLAY ON ONE LEG?! HUH?! I'LL PLAY ON ONE LEG! *restrained by teammates while trying to go after Herb*
    Herb: (out of earshot leaving the room) Think that'll get them going?
    Asst. Coach Craig Patrick: (smiling) Oh yeah. I'll clean up.
    • Explicitly guessed by Doc early in the film that Herb is making them all hate him on purpose, so that they don't have the time or energy to keep hating each other.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: A variation. The ending credits begin with a montage showing each actor and their role, with the real player's current profession listed after their name.
  • Whip of Dominance: In preparation for taking on the Soviet hockey team, at the time the undisputedly best team on the planet eight years running, Herb Brooks puts his players through a grueling regiment to get their skill level and their ability to work together to a point that they can actually challenge the Russians. At Christmas time the guys get him and his assistant coach, Craig Patrick, gifts to "thank" them for their efforts. For Craig, they get a toy whistle (he's the one who sends them on their "herbie" exercises with a whistle blast), and for Herb, they get a whip.
    Herb: Oh, yes. The gift that keeps on giving.
  • Worthy Opponent: After the victory, Brooks makes eye contact with the Russian coach. While he is obviously stunned at what happened, he politely nods in acknowledgement of what they accomplished.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: The final game for the US was not against the Soviets, but Finland, who were also a very strong team. note