Commentary: Remembering Herb Brooks

By RON COLBERT, UPI Sports Managing Editor   |   Aug. 12, 2003 at 5:28 PM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- I lost my mother to a heart attack when I was 11 years old.

I lost my father to lung cancer last year.

Like most people, for various reasons, I always have had a heavy heart when people I know or are related to or respect are called home by the maker. Some others were my youngest brother, Kevin, who died of a drug overdose in 1995, actor/dancer Gregory Hines, sports columnist Will McDonough, former president John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Robert; Katharine Hepburn, and the seven astronauts who died earlier this year in the shuttle explosion, to name a very few.

I say this because I, like many people, have been hit hard by the death Monday of Herb Brooks.

I have never been much of a hockey fan, but when the United States pulled off what has been called The Miracle on Ice in 1980, I can say proudly that I was watching the game on live television when it happened.

Ever the sports fan I am and being a student of history, I understood the game's historical significance, and the 4-3 win over the powerful Russians in the hockey semifinals of the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y., is still one of my most vivid memories.

Seeing the happiness on the face of Coach Herb Brooks was almost overwhelming. The win propelled the Americans to the gold medal, and the improbable victory, on Feb. 22, is considered by many to be the greatest sports moment of the 20th century. Three days before those Games began, Russia had crushed the United States, 10-3, in an exhibition contest and expectations were almost non-existent after that thumping.

I remember the unmitigated joy and pride and patriotism that swept over the nation, and I can still hear broadcaster Al Michaels asking the question, "Do you believe in miracles?" I can't remember if or how I answered it, but I know it was and is a lasting memory.

Herb Brooks died in a single-car accident Monday at the age of 66. Like most deaths, initially it came as a shock, but his passing is noteworthy.

I've heard and read a bunch of comments about him in the brief period since his death, and it's obvious that people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds know how significant he was, even though the most historic event in which he was involved was a sports event.

Brooks would tell his young players, "You're meant to be here; this moment is yours."

"Without Herb Brooks coaching the team, they would have had no chance," Michaels told ESPN Monday night. "He knew how to push the buttons, he knew how to get the team to band together, he brought out the best in everybody."

I am reminded that a boycott of the Summer Games in Moscow loomed because of the recent Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and American hostages were held in captivity in Iran. These are the headlines of historical importance surrounding the accomplishment.

Brooks was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, led the U.S. team to a silver medal in 2002, led the University of Minnesota to three NCAA titles, coached four different teams in the NHL, and is a shining example of how events in sports affect the world.

There already has been a made-for-television movie about the 1980 team, and a motion picture is in the works. I hope people saw or see it because it's a history lesson that will be well worth it. It proves that, sometimes, it isn't just about the game.

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