For hockey fans, it’s like a Christmas present received a month early: Andrew Sherburne and Tommy Haines, makers of the 2008 documentary ‘Pond Hockey,’ have reapplied their filmmaking skills and love of hockey to another puck project, ‘Forgotten Miracle.’ It tells the tale of the first true American Miracle on Ice — the 1960 U.S. Olympians who won gold at Squaw Valley, and a team that may well have been the best ever American squad assembled for the Olympics. If you watched Disney’s ‘Miracle,’ you’ll recall that Herb Brooks was the last player cut from the 1960 team, and that his agony about that moment defined his drive to lead an American Olympic team as a coach.
I had a chance to pose some questions to Sherburne this week about his new film, which is available on DVD for purchase now, just in time for the holiday shopping season.
OFB: What was the inspiration for pursuing this project, and did the success of ‘Pond Hockey’ play a role?
Sherburne: While interviewing John Mayasich for ‘Pond Hockey’ we learned bits of the 1960 story. Fast forward a few years, and with the 50th anniversary [of the 1960 team] coming up, we dug into it more and realized what a fascinating piece of hockey history it was. And yes, absolutely, the response to Pond Hockey proved that there were plenty of rink rats hungry for more hockey movies.
OFB: How many of the ’60 guys did you actually get to interview? What surprised you most or stuck with you most about what they had to say?
Sherburne: We interviewed 11 of the surviving 16 members of the team (the original squad was a lean 17 players, one coach, one general manager and one trainer). Two things really stuck in my head after talking with these guys. One, their humility. I think hockey players in general are more humble than many athletes, but these guys were gold medalists . . . they had a right to be a little arrogant. Instead they were gracious, humble guys who were proud of the opportunity they had to play for an Olympic medal. Two, there was so little fanfare for this team. Sure, there were a few hometown parades, but John Mayasich accepted his gold medal on a Sunday and was back at work Monday morning selling TV ads. He kept his gold medal under the front seat of his car. Jack Kirrane had to take a leave of absense from his regular job as a firefighter. When he came back as an Olympic champion what thanks did he get? He was passed over for a promotion because of a break in service. There were no White House visits, no Wheaties boxes and no speaking tours for these players.
OFB: If you had to distill the special quality of our ’60 team into a single sentence, what would that be?
Sherburne: This team had two things going for them: one, they were good enough to win the gold medal and two, nobody knew they were good enough to win the gold medal.
OFB: When you spoke with the ’60 guys, to the extent that you asked them, what were their thoughts on the ’80 Miracle team and the coverage they’ve enjoyed and the niche they’ve earned relative to ’60? I mean, did you two sense any resentment or anything that could be characterized like that?
Sherburne: There’s certainly a big difference in the recognition the two teams have gotten over the years and these guys are aware of it, but there’s no sense of bitterness. If anything, they just marvel at the hype surrounding any modern athletic achievement. These guys were playing to win no doubt, but back then sports were sports. That generation grew up in the shadow of World War II, so heroics had a different meaning back then. And those guys will tell you, nobody was cheering harder in 1980 than the members of the 1960 team.
OFB: It’s been said that ’80 could never happen again. (I believe this.) Could ’60, do you think?
Sherburne: It’s been 50 years and it hasn’t yet. As you mention, even ’80 wasn’t the same as ’60. The Olympics are simply different now. That said, will the United States ever be favored to win gold in ice hockey? So winning the Olympics again…it might take another miracle.
A good many OFB readers joined us at the Avalon Theater last year for a screening of ‘Pond Hockey,’ but with this film Sherburne and Haines entered into an agreement with the United States Olympic Committee that doesn’t allow for commercial screenings. That doesn’t mean, however, that they can’t come to D.C. and host a free screening of the film, and given the evening we had together a year ago, they are thinking about that. But why wait? The new DVD can be in your hockey home this holiday season. Here’s the trailer for ‘Forgotten Miracle’: