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Movie Review: "Miracle"

(and Friday Cub game report)

School being out today again for conferences, I took Mark and his friend to see this movie, about the 1980 US hockey team and its amazing win over the USSR and subsequent gold medal.

This seems particularly appropriate this week with the Todd Bertuzzi incident and the ugly state of pro hockey in general, and in the film you are taken back to the 70's (literally, in the opening titles, which I thought was a bit heavy-handed at first, but it serves to remind you of the political climate in which the USA/USSR sports clashes were made in those days), when 20 unlikely young men, college hockey players, were molded by Herb Brooks, who sadly, died not long after the movie was finished shooting, into a disciplined, hockey-playing team.

Hockey is a violent sport, but at the international and college levels it is also a beautiful sport, and though there are people hitting each other, it's done cleanly, not with the gutter fighting that has been common in the NHL, and Kurt Russell does a masterful job at showing the singular devotion that Brooks brought to this role, having been the last cut off the 1960 US Olympic team, and realizing that if he could find the right players and train them well (at times, he's so tough that even his wife, played well by Patricia Clarkson, finds it hard to support him), they could beat the seemingly unbeatable Soviets.

Looking from a 2004 perspective, when we send professional "Dream Teams" to the Olympics (and the one that went in 1998 to Nagano disgraced the US by not only losing badly, but by then trashing their rooms at the Olympic Village and refusing to take responsibility), it's hard to remember this time in history when the USSR was not only the "enemy" politically but the "big bad bully" of international sports, using what everyone knew to be "professionals" against the college amateurs that the US put up against them.

It really was a miracle. We haven't seen that repeated in the Olympics since then, and the players who played there for the USA didn't, for the most part, have great pro careers (Ken Morrow was probably the best of them, with Neal Broten a close second), and Jim Craig, whose pro career was a flameout (pun intended), had the game of his life against the USSR. If you'd tried to write this script as fiction, no one would have believed it.

The filmmakers made an excellent choice by choosing, instead of young actors, young hockey players, making the hockey action perhaps the most realistic of any sports movie that I've ever seen. Almost all of the action shown in the film was the action shot for the film itself (though there is some of the real USSR/USA game action seamlessly woven in, along with quite a bit of Al Michaels' real play-by-play), and the games within the movie, along with the movie itself, get you really into the emotions of the moment, and while it sounds sappy to say this game helped Americans feel better about their country, I lived through it. And it did indeed do that.

Wish I could say the same about the Cubs' blowout 10-5 loss to the Mariners today, in front of 13,366 at Peoria; having been there, I can tell you that's an enormous crowd for that place, perhaps close to a record.

Greg Maddux threw well today -- what's gotten into him? Eight strikeouts? That's not a typical Maddux game. Maybe he's trying to show he can throw with the big boys. Anyway, that was about it as far as the Cubs are concerned. Felix Sanchez, who I saw throw last spring, had about as bad an inning as you can get -- five hits, two walks, six earned runs, and only got two outs -- and he's certainly ticketed back to Iowa.

Two other guys on the Des Moines list -- Scott McClain and Bill Selby, both of whom are past 30 and not prospects -- generated most of the offense today, with Selby hitting his first homer of the spring. It's nice to know that these guys are available at Iowa in case of injury, and Selby has a couple hundred games of major league experience, mostly with Cleveland.

Tomorrow, at last, I (along with anyone else who gets WGN) will get to see the ballclub on TV for the first time since day one of exhibition games, against the White Sox at Mesa with Carlos Zambrano on the mound.

AYRating (for "Miracle"): ***