Toward the end of the fantastic and illuminating new ESPN 30 for 30 movie “Of Miracles and Men,” a Soviet journalist covering the epic USA-U.S.S.R. 1980 Olympic hockey game was asked what kind of a story he wrote on the event.
“Nothing special,” he replied. “Just that they lost.”
Elaborating, he comes up with a perfect metaphor: If a young boys grows up dreaming of kissing Sophia Loren, then one day finally does it, he runs around telling everyone for the rest of his life that he kissed Sophia Loren. But does Sophia Loren remember kissing that boy? Of course not. It was no big deal.”
This is part of the genius of Jonathan Hock’s movie, which traces the rise of Soviet hockey from the 1940s until the classic 1980 “Miracle on Ice.” To Americans, that game will live forever as a wonderful underdog story. To Russians, it’s just an unfathomable loss that’s painful to speak out, even three decades later.
And that’s one of the many takeaways of the film: In interviewing all the key Russian players from that era (Slava Fetisov, Boris Mikhailov, Vladislav Tretiak, etc.) you can tell how much the loss still hurts. These guys trained 11 months a year, year after year, to become a robotic, unstoppable machine on ice, to never, ever lose. And for many years they didn’t lose, embarrassing everyone they played.
They were a machine, but they had zero fun, which is why watching the Americans play with such joy and freedom at Lake Placid was jarring to them.
The best parts of the movie come when stars like Tretiak (the goalie who was inexplicably pulled after one period in the Miracle on Ice game) talk about the final moments of the shocking Lake Placid loss, and when Mikhailov, the best and most heartfelt interview subject, reflects on what life was like when they got back to Moscow.
Fetisov, who later became a trailblazer by leaving the Soviet team and joining the NHL, is the emotional center of the film, literally going back to Lake Placid 30 years later to try to recapture memories of the loss.
It’s funny, there suddenly are two new movies from the Soviet hockey perspective of Lake Placid; a documentary called “Red Army” has just been released, too.
I haven’t seen that one, but “Of Miracles and Men” is well worth seeing, showing us that the Russian players were far from the “Evil Empire” we have in our popular imagination.
“Of Miracles and Men” will air again on ESPN2 tonight (Monday) at 11:30 p.m., and Saturday morning at 8. It’s well worth going out of your way to see.
Much like “The Americans” does, “Of Miracles and Men” has me sympathizing with Russia during the Cold War, not an easy task.
**Next up, I’ve never been a big Gatorade fan, but I am a fan, as you know, of awesome, iconic commercials that you remember decades later.
The “Be Like Mike” ad certainly fits the bill; for their 50th anniversary Gatorade has “digitally re-mastered” the spot that made Michael Jordan even more famous than he already was.
It’s OK, you’re now going to be humming “Sometimes I dream …” for the rest of the day like I am.
**Finally today, this story is a couple weeks old but it’s so obscure that I feel confident you will not have seen it. It’s possibly the greatest and most clever fan protest I’ve ever seen. (I first heard about it on NPR’s “Only a Game.”)
A first-division Polish soccer team named Zawisza Bydgoszcz is having a rough season; they’re in last place and at one stretch lost 10 consecutive matches.
Their fans were pissed, but they didn’t just put bags over their heads or write angry letters to the local newspaper.
No, they did something so much better: After a recent loss they broke into the team’s home stadium and left 15 wooden coffins on the field. Each coffin featured the intials of one of the team’s players (drawn, of course, onto genitals stenciled into the wood) and the team’s owner.
I mean … American fans would never be this awesome. Bravo, Polish fans, bravo.