Thursday, August 20, 2009


Today I would like to post an exellent article by Tom Jones first published in 2002

Tom Jones, Star Tribune. Published Feb 6, 2002

Twenty-two-year-old Herb Brooks sat slumped and silent in the living room of the East Side house he grew up in, watching the flickering black-and-white images of a dream. His dream.

Next to him, his father, - Herb Sr., Insurance Man - the man who told his son to stop these silly Olympic dreams and finish college, become something - a lawyer, an accountant, a banker. This is the same man who answered the telephone day after day for a year, his son telling him he wasn't coming home, that the Olympic team still had a place for him. This is the same man who told Herb to get back home and start his real life. And then Herb broke the news that he was the last - the God-forsaken last! - player cut from the Olympic roster, mere days before the 1960 Squaw Valley Games.

Back home and with a pit in his stomach, Herb sat next to his father and watched the guys from the neighborhood, buddies he used to play hockey with on the outdoor rinks and frozen ponds of their youth, win the gold medal. As he sat in his living room watching the American celebration, Herb felt a rush of emotion: happiness for his friends, and jealousy, sour green jealousy, because his dream was someone else's reality. He turned to his father, looking for comfort.

Herb Sr. looked at his son and said the words Brooks, to this day, can hear: "Looks like Coach cut the right guy."

That moment, those seven words lit the fire in Brooks' belly. The dream, the very purpose of Brooks' life, was born. This, you see, was Brooks' defining moment. This was his "Rosebud," the thing he has remembered all his life. That day, Feb. 27, 1960, in that little room in that little house off Queen Avenue in St. Paul, changed his life forever. And it changed the face of American hockey.

Dreamer of dreams

Not long ago, Herb Brooks, now 64 (the article was published in 2002 - A.N), sat in his White Bear Lake home, surfing through television channels when he stumbled on to one of his favorite movies, "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

"You know, Willie Wonka said it best: We are the makers of dreams, the dreamers of dreams," Brooks said. "We should be dreaming. We grew up as kids having dreams, but now we're too sophisticated as adults, as a nation. We stopped dreaming. We should always have dreams.

"I'm a dreamer."


Brooks dares to dream things no one thinks possible. He dreamed of playing in the Olympics, and he did in 1964 and 1968. He dreamed of coaching the U.S. Olympic hockey team, and he did in 1980. He dreamed of taking a bunch of American college boys and beating, perhaps, the best hockey team ever assembled, the mighty Soviets. And the boys did it.

Through it all, Brooks never stopped dreaming.

"I'm still driven by these same dreams," said Brooks when explaining, after all he has accomplished, why he would put it all on the line to coach in the Olympics again. "I'm driven by the pursuit of perfection as opposed to the quick-fix mentality that I think has engulfed our society today. I'm not talking about the dream team, I'm talking about the dreamers. I'm probably a dreamer more than anyone else."

Brooks' dreams these days haven't changed much from the days when he was knocking around Payne Avenue in St. Paul. He dreams of challenges. He dreams about the pursuit of perfection. He dreams of gathering groups of people and making them believe the impossible is possible.

"He makes you believe you can do anything," said Mike Ramsey, a member of Brooks' Miracle on Ice team in 1980.

It's why he is back coaching the U.S. Olympic team. He wants what he calls "one more kick at the can."
It's one more chance to dream.

"The dream now," Brooks said, " is no different than it was in 1960 or 1980."

Inspiring the 'Miracle'

Here's something Herb Brooks never dreamed of: coaching at the University of Minnesota. He was grateful for the opportunity. And he was good at it. He took a last-place team in 1972 and seven years later, the Gophers had the nation's Rolls Royce program, having played in four national title games, winning three of them. But coaching at Minnesota simply was a rung on the ladder. At the top? Coaching in the Olympics. For Brooks, it always was - and is - about the Olympics.

"The Olympians, with all the stories and athletes like Jesse Owens, well, to me they were up here," said Brooks, holding his hand above his head. "The Olympics have always captivated my attention. It's a world sport. It's not ho-hum business as usual. It's national pride, it's legacy, it's history. Those are the stories I grew up with. The Olympics transcend the game itself."

Still, it was a miracle that Brooks coached the Miracle on Ice team. He wasn't USA Hockey's first choice to coach the '80 team. Or its second. Maybe not even its third. He was 42 at the time, the youngest college coach in the country. But because of a variety of reasons, some not even fully known to this day, the job slipped down to Brooks.

Immediately, Brooks asked his players to do what he did back in 1960, a lesson he learned when he was the last cut for the Olympic team: "Sacrifice for the unknown." Be willing to give everything you have for something that may never happen. Take a leap of faith.

No one gave his college boys, average age 21, a chance.

"I understood the pragmatics of the situation," Brooks said. "But I wasn't going to leave those dreams on the table. I was driven by this thing as the athletes were driven by this thing."

But it wasn't easy. Brooks needed to push these kids beyond where even they believed they could go. Everything needed to be full-out. Brooks couldn't just screech his tires around the curve, he had to be willing to take out a stretch of guardrail. He shoved. He challenged. He prodded. He yelled. He was part motivator, part teacher, part psychologist. And full-time, well, Brooks said, "I was a bastard a lot of times, no question."

It worked. There was a tie against the Swedes. And Eruzione's goal against the Russians, and the magical Sunday morning against Finland while the world watched. And Brooks' kids had their Olympic gold.

And then that was it. Brooks was supposed to climb onto his white horse, ride off into the sunset, coach a few years in the NHL (which he did), then come back to St. Paul and wife Patti and live out his days as a Minnesota legend, like Paul Bunyan. His name would go down in coaching lore. We would have Bear, and Knute and Red. And right along with those names: Herbie. All went according to plan.

Until three years ago..

The 4 a.m. call

Neil Sheehy tossed and turned in his hotel room in Florida. The former NHL player and current Minneapolis-based players' agent started thinking of all the years and miles during which he became friends with Herb Brooks. He thought of the car rides to North Dakota, to Duluth, to Mankato, to Madison when the two talked about hockey and players and dreams.

The alarm clock in Sheehy's room clicked over to 4 a.m., sending Sheehy to the telephone to track down his shotgun rider. Brooks awoke to the ring of the telephone in his South Bend, Ind., hotel room. Groggily, he answered.

Sheehy didn't identify himself. He just said: "Herb, you got to coach the Olympic team in 2002."

Brooks' reaction? "You're crazy. Or drunk."

After assuring Brooks he was neither, Sheehy concocted the plan to bridge the gap that had grown between Brooks and USA Hockey. Brooks was intrigued, but he wouldn't allow himself to believe that it could come together. After all, even though he coached the U.S. team to its greatest victory - perhaps the greatest moment in American sports of any kind -- Brooks was never asked to coach an American national team after 1980. Brooks is stubborn, headstrong, opinionated. He had his way of doing things, and it was different from the way USA Hockey (read: Walter Bush, president, USA Hockey) did things.

"A lot has been said and a lot has been written that Herb and I don't get along," Bush said. "But it was never as bad as people thought. We have had different thoughts on how to run this. From a hockey perspective, I couldn't agree with Herb more."

Sheehy, patiently and perfectly, set out to close the gap between Brooks and USA Hockey, and found out the gap really wasn't that wide. He began working on USA Hockey to consider Brooks. He then worked on changing Brooks' stubborn ways.

"Herb, you want to change the world," Sheehy told Brooks, "but sometimes to do that you have to change yourself."

It all sounded great. Nothing, though, came easy. During one telephone conversation, a frustrated Brooks told Sheehy to "Forget it! I'm out!" and slammed down the receiver.


That prompted a letter from Sheehy to Brooks that challenged Brooks to reconsider. Sheehy closed by paraphrasing Brooks' speech to his 1980 team before the showdown with the Soviets.

"Herb," Sheehy wrote, "you were born to be here. You were born to coach."

But when one hurdle was cleared, another popped up. Because NHL players would be involved, there was a thought that maybe the team should be run by an NHL coach. That obstacle, though, was overcome when Brooks coached the Pittsburgh Penguins for most of the 1999-2000 season. Brooks' success in Pittsburgh (29-24-5-2) proved he could deal with temperamental and arrogant millionaires.

Meantime, Brooks had other issues. He thought the Olympic job should be passed from coach to coach and he had already had his moment. He wasn't -- and still isn't -- crazy about letting professionals play in the Olympics. Sheehy's words ("Herb, you want to change the world, but sometimes to do that you have to change yourself.") echoed in Brooks' head. Brooks can be bullheaded, but he also believes in democracy. He also knew he was on the losing side of the pros-vs.-amateurs argument. He could either whine to anyone who would listen while someone else kicked the can, or he could get with the program.

The announcement came on Nov. 1, 2001: Herb Brooks would coach the 2002 United States Olympic men's hockey team.

It's about hockey, and dreams

Why? Why is Herb Brooks interested in coaching the Olympic team in 2002? Choosing Brooks makes sense for USA Hockey. Brooks is a masterful coach, an innovative strategist and a brilliant motivator. His hiring conjures up memories of the Miracle on Ice in 1980 as opposed to what the story line could've been going into these Games: Team USA's embarrassing performance on and off the ice in Nagano in 1998. Hiring Brooks seems like a no-brainer .

But why is Brooks doing this? Even he admits there never will be another Miracle on Ice. Why risk damaging the legacy?

"I'm doing it for the cause," Brooks said. "And the cause is this: Hopefully our Olympic team will be an impetus and a catalyst to further the growth of American hockey. . . . I've seen American players go from the apprentice in the game, to the journeyman in the game, to some real masters of the trade. I want to continue to see that growth, and this is a vehicle to do that."

But that isn't all. Brooks remembers that day in 1960, sitting on the couch, hearing his father saying: "Looks like Coach cut the right guy."

"Well, it's the same dream as 1960 and 1980," Brooks said. "We want to win the gold medal. It's the same motivation. We all -- the players, me -- have that little boy in them.

"We should all have dreams. My dream is win a gold medal. My dream is to work with a group of individuals and prepare to do something great."

Tom Jones is at twjones

1 comment:

  1. Even I don't like all this buzz around as named Miracle on ice, I agree Herb was THE coach and THE man