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A Reminder of What We Can Be
E.M. Swift
December 22, 1980
At a time when international tensions and domestic frustrations had dampened traditional American optimism, the underdog U.S. Olympic hockey team gave the entire nation a lift by defeating the world's top team, the Soviets, and ultimately winning the gold medal. Those youngsters did so by means of the old-fashioned American work ethic, which some people feared was disappearing from the land
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December 22, 1980

A Reminder Of What We Can Be

At a time when international tensions and domestic frustrations had dampened traditional American optimism, the underdog U.S. Olympic hockey team gave the entire nation a lift by defeating the world's top team, the Soviets, and ultimately winning the gold medal. Those youngsters did so by means of the old-fashioned American work ethic, which some people feared was disappearing from the land

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Karl Maiden, the actor who plays Brooks in the forthcoming ABC-TV movie on the team, Miracle on Ice, which will be aired in March, has never met Brooks, but he has studied him on videotape, especially his eyes. "I'd hate to meet him in a dark alley," Malden says. "I think he's a little on the neurotic side. Maybe more than a little. Any moment you think he's going to jump out of his skin."

That's one man's opinion. Malden, that hard-boiled scowler who has no pity in his heart for anyone leaving home without American Express traveler's checks, was brought to tears not once but twice by the sight of Goaltender Jim Craig asking "Where's my father?" after the team had beaten Finland to win the gold medal, first on television, then months later on videotape. Truly, this team plucked many different heartstrings.

Brooks was as sentimental as a stone throughout. After the victory over Finland, he shook hands with two or three people behind the bench, then disappeared into the dressing room. Says Malden, "He could have smiled just once, during the game with Norway, or Romania. But he didn't. Then after working seven months for something, the moment he gets it he walks away from it. You tell me, is that a normal man?"

All right. No. But Malden is wrong about one thing. If you were to meet Brooks in a dark alley, you wouldn't be frightened. He would barely notice you. His mind would be a million miles away. You'd wonder where. He's a driven perfectionist. His wife, Patty, an attractive, bubbly woman, recalls seeing their daughter, Kelly, crawling around and straightening rugs when she was 10 months old. Patty groaned, "Oh, my God, I've got another one!" Brooks is also a brilliant motivator and, like all great coaches, an innovator. He motivates largely through fear. Schneider, who also played under Brooks for three years at the University of Minnesota, says, "He pats you on the back but always lets you know he has the knife in the other hand."

Significantly, the pat is on the back, the knife is front and center. Brooks isn't one to sneak around confrontation. "I gave our guys every opportunity to call me an honest son of a bitch," he says now. "Hockey players are going to call you a son of a bitch at times anyway, in emotion. But they could call me an honest one because everything was up front."

They do, and it requires very little emotion. But most—if not all—of the players realize that if Brooks had been any different, they couldn't possibly have accomplished what they did. "It was a lonely year for me," says Brooks. "Very lonely. But it was by design. I never was close to my university players because they were so young. But this team had everything I wanted to be close to, everything I admired: the talent, the psychological makeup, the personality. But I had to stay away. If I couldn't know all, I didn't want to know one, because there wasn't going to be any favoritism."

Players like Phil Verchota, who played for Brooks for four years at Minnesota and then all of last year, have still never heard so much as a Nice day today, eh, Phil?" out of Brooks. "Say hi, and you'll get hi back," Verchota says. "Not even that sometimes." The man scared the daylights out of them. Gave them the willies. He wasn't human. But he could coach, and they never questioned that for a second.

Which isn't to say they never questioned his methods. (His obsession, of course, was a given.) One of the devices Brooks used to select his final team was a psychological test of more than 300 questions that he had specially prepared. He was looking for a certain type of player, and the test was designed to show how certain people would react under stress. He thought he'd try it. There would be 68 players at the August tryout camp in Colorado Springs, and he had to cut them down to 26 in a matter of days. He would leave no stone unturned.

One player—an eventual Olympic hero—said, "Herb, I'm not taking this. I don't believe in that stuff."

"Why's that?" Brooks asked.

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