Miracle Monday: Of Miracles and Men

We're shaking things up a little bit today, friends! In case you're unaware -- and missed my copious amount of tweets about it -- last night ESPN premiered a new 30 for 30 movie called Of Miracles and Men. And you know I'm not going to pass up an opportunity to talk about it, right? ;)

Full disclosure: ever since I found out about this movie, I was very unhappy that it was about the Soviets instead of the Americans. It was billed as being about the Miracle on Ice but from the Soviet perspective, and my reaction was that, well, have we really heard the American perspective? I mean, the "ragtag bunch of misfits who overachieved" narrative has been absolutely beaten to death, and we essentially ignore the individual players behind it. So it felt as though this film was just playing into that; even though the Americans won, we still overlook them in lieu of the Soviets. So I was pretty pissed.

However, after watching the movie, I'm convinced that they advertised it wrong. The Miracle on Ice certainly factored into the story arc (how could it not?), but it was certainly not a movie about the Miracle on Ice. It was about the development of hockey in the Soviet Union, and the men that figured prominently in making it all happen. So it didn't take long for my bitterness to give way to enjoyment.

Guys, this movie is good. The director has said that his goal was to humanize the team that everyone saw as a machine, and if the all feelings I have now are any indication, that was certainly accomplished.

Of Miracles and Men is about Slava Fetisov in the way that Miracle is, essentially, about Herb Brooks. Everything was essentially framed around his experiences and, post-Lake Placid, followed his journey that eventually led him to become the first Russian player allowed to come play in the NHL. And holy cow, did he earn my respect.

I'd read several reviews before the movie premiered, and one of them criticized the director for bringing Slava back to Lake Placid to have him reminisce because it took up time that they could've used to show more archival footage. But honestly, seeing him standing solemnly on the ice in the empty Herb Brooks Arena with audio of the Americans' post-win celebration dubbed over it? That was hands down one of my favorite moments of the whole film. It was so personal, and so poignant, and I think it did more to humanize him than just about anything else. He and his daughter also visited the locker room, and you could almost physically see the ghosts of 1980 there with them. And I dare you not to feel something when he says, "Thirty years later, I can blame myself."

It was really great to get the reactions of individual players to that loss. As much as they say it was only one loss, that it ended up meaning very little in the grand scheme of things, it still clearly cuts very deep with them. Boris Mikhailov in particular got progressively more agitated the more he spoke about it, and had a little bit of an outburst when he was asked if he'd ever seen Miracle. ("Why would I watch it? I'll watch a good movie! One where I win. Let the American team watch what they did!") And while they were all pretty devastated to not get gold, I wanted to stand up and cheer when Vladimir Petrov said, "To me, that silver medal is still worth a lot. I sacrificed blood for it."

My favorite quote, though, goes to Vladimir Myshkin: "Maybe the gods deemed that day that the Americans deserved their Miracle on Ice." I think this is the first time that I've heard any of the Soviets tip his hat to the U.S. team without a trace of bitterness or "we really should've won, though" in his voice.

That was probably the biggest takeaway: that these guys may have looked big and cold and intimidating, but they were good people. They essentially sacrificed their whole lives to play hockey (to the tune of living in army barracks away from their families for 11 months out of the year), only to retire in their early 30s because they were burnt out and no longer getting enjoyment from playing for the national team. They became an incredibly tight-knit family, rallying around each other and, when Slava was cut from the team in the late '80s, refusing to play at the world championships unless he was reinstated. Slava had opportunities to defect to America so he could play in the NHL, but he insisted on coming over the right way so he could open the door for other players to get there as well. (Seriously, what a stand-up human being.)

Gosh, there's so much more I haven't even touched on, but I need to cut myself off before I go on for a million words, as we all know I'm capable of doing. I do, however, need to mention the word "miracle." Right at the beginning of the movie, Slava says, "In America, people always ask me to talk about the Miracle on Ice. But we made our own miracles. And that's what I want to talk about." I was pretty skeptical about this -- mostly because the overuse of that word does a major disservice to what the U.S. team actually accomplished in Lake Placid -- but honestly? Hearing everything that Slava went through with his coach and his government to try and get out of the Soviet Union and into the NHL, watching him hoist the Stanley Cup in Red Square in Moscow did feel pretty miraculous.

(...I still want a 30 for 30 about the U.S. team, though.)

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