In 1980, a ragtag team of amateur hockey players, led by Herb Brooks, a drill-sergeant of a coach, pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history by beating the Soviet Union in Lake Placid, N.Y. Miracle chronicles their path to Olympic gold, but it isn’t a hockey movie per se. It’s a film about the intense personality and tactics of Coach Brooks as he selects and trains his men.
Brooks stresses chemistry over talent (“I’m not looking for the best players; I’m looking for the right ones”). He preaches hockey basics, teamwork and heart. He knows his players will never be the most gifted in the world (“You don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone”), but he’s committed to molding them into the best conditioned team on the ice.
This discipline combined with a sense of team-as-a-family (a significant obstacle, initially), plus a bit of destiny is what keeps the United States from experiencing Olympic embarrassment. Of course, before the big game nobody really believes the U.S. team will hear the “Star Spangled Banner” during the award ceremony, they just don’t want to get humiliated. Coach Brooks bucks popular opinion and refuses to shoot for anything short of everything. “If we play [the Soviets] 10 times they might win nine,” he tells his team, “But not this game.”
Coach Brooks loves his family, but he’s a driven man who easily leans too far on the side of devoting time to job/hockey/Olympics and not enough to Patti and their two children. This domestic conflict of interest could be fodder for after-movie discussions on what is, and what is not a healthy balance. Furthering that dialogue are Patti’s personality and responses. While willing to let her husband’s compulsive coaching style continue, she’s no doormat, and she knows when to put her foot down (“Don’t ever criticize me for caring about you”). Still, in fairness, the movie highlights these issues better than it answers questions about them.
In one scene, Coach plays table hockey with his son. In another, he apologizes to his wife for not talking to her about the time commitment required by coaching, and tells her sincerely that whatever the outcome of his career, it would be meaningless without her involvement.
In addition to his family, Brooks cares about his team. His coaching style is rough and often abrasive, and early on, he tells potential players he’s not their “friend.” Still, he agonizes over having to release a player in order to get down to the maximum team size of 20.
Elsewhere, player Jim Craig’s special bond with his father is encouraging. The team doctor laments the fact that there’s “so much hate and fear” between the United States and the Soviet Union, before pointing out that the U.S. hockey team has its own “cold war” between players from Minnesota and those from Boston. Profanity mars the sentiment, but Coach Brooks stresses that his team is playing for the country, not their own personal goals (“The name on the front [of your jersey] is a h— of a lot more important than the one on the back”). To prove his press conferences are not about his own ego (as implied by a reporter), Brooks sends his assistant coach to the follow-up meeting.
A few fans and one player are shown praying during the big game. Coach Brooks encourages his team to greatness by appealing to a bigger—some may assume Divine—plan (“You were born to be hockey players … you were meant to be here tonight”).
A newsreel clip from the early ‘70s shows a naked hippie (rear view). Rebuking two players involved in a brawl, Coach Brooks describes their antics as “a couple of monkeys trying to hump a football.” U.S. players check out girls at the Olympics (nothing overtly sexual is said or implied).
Hockey is a rough sport and Miracle doesn’t soften the blows during game time. Two players duke it out on the ice (Brooks let it happen) over unsettled “cheap shots” during a game they competed in in college. One winds up with a bloody nose. An angry Brooks turns over a table in a locker room.
More than 30 mild profanities are included here, mostly “h—.” There are also a few uses of “crap,” “screw,” “ass” and “bastards.” God’s name is misused a half-dozen times. Jesus’ once. A banner at a hockey match reads, “Soviets get the puck out of Afghanistan.”
The U.S. hockey players socialize in a bar where they drink beer. At a team Christmas party, players and Coach celebrate the occasion by downing suds (most are shown holding beer bottles even though only a few are seen taking swigs). No one is intoxicated. Cigarette smoke drifts upward at a meeting of Olympic Committee members. A newsreel clip shows Billy Carter drinking his signature beer.
After being worked to near total collapse, one player spits up (more saliva than vomit).
Teens will identify with these everyman athletes even if they can’t relate to Brook’s 1970s plaid slacks. And parents can capitalize on the film’s attention to family issues, the pursuit of excellence and the ethics of competition. They can even turn some of the movie’s socio-political references into an impromptu civics lesson.
Content-wise, Miracle skates along pretty smoothly for the most part, but the ice gets a tad rough and rutted when it comes to language. So families hoping it would follow the same restrained path taken by Disney’s The Rookie will be disappointed.
Ultimately, Coach Brooks proves that he’s no saint. His temper gets the best of him. His workouts border on abuse. And his professional obsession creates conflict at home. But it’s this balancing act of job, team, success, wife, children and authority—and how best to treat people along the way—that provides a relatable microcosm of everyday life and everyday pressures that we all have to face. Here, it just so happens to be packaged in a motion picture about an Olympic hockey team.