Kevin: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is being released this weekend, and while the comic book nerds are no doubt pitching a tent over the return of Star-Lord and that talking raccoon (as well as seeing what new empty threats Thanos has in store), the Tough Guy staff is far more excited about the fact that the sequel marks the appearance of both Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone in the same movie for the first time since 1989’s “Tango & Cash.” To mark that momentous occasion, this week we are taking a look at some notable highlights from both stars ahead of our “Tango & Cash” Roundtable on Friday. Today we celebrate one of Russell’s most memorable movie moments, as Team USA coach Herb Brooks in 2004’s “Miracle”:
Like many Kurt Russell projects, “Miracle” was a film that did fairly well at the box office on initial release but then became more popular over the years as people began discovering it on video and cable. It’s easy to see why, as the story of how the plucky amateur USA hockey team took down the seemingly undefeatable Soviets in the Olympics is inherently rousing and inspiring, and the action on the ice is exciting and easy to follow even for a non-hockey fan like myself. Also, while most climactic contests in a movie end with a last-second winning goal/knockout/touchdown etc., “Miracle” milks tension from the most nerve-racking situation for any sports fan: watching your team try to run out the clock with a lead against a superior opponent.
But the biggest reason “Miracle” has become a beloved sports film is due to Russell’s fiercely committed performance as Brooks, seemingly the only man who genuinely believed he had the secret formula for defeating the Soviets. Brooks was not a coach who cared about being liked by his players – knowing that giving them a common enemy in him would bring them closer together as a unit against the Soviets – and to that point Russell doesn’t care about constantly trying to show us that underneath his tough exterior he’s really a sensitive guy in touch with his player’s feelings.
He wants to win, and how knows that the joy of victory at the end will outweigh their hatred of how hard he had to push them to get there. But while he’s a man of few words for most of the film, when the team is in need of some serious inspiration ahead of its face-off against Team Russia, Russell comes through with one of the all-time classic sports movie speeches.
Now anyone who is a fan of sports movies knows that the climactic pre-game/halftime speech is what separates the men from the boys. Literally hours-long debates have broken out among guys at the bar over which one is the best in modern-day history. Is it Gene Hackman in “Hoosiers”? Billy Bob Thornton in “Friday Night Lights”? Matthew McConaughey in “We Are Marshall”? Keanu Reeves in “The Replacements”? (Nah just kidding, no one says that.)
Now while many people will go to bat for Al Pacino’s legendary “a game of inches speech” in “Any Given Sunday” (as seen at the end of our Roundtable on the film in February), the winner for me will always be Russell’s exhortation to his players that the Soviets would probably win 9 times out of 10 against his scrappy underdogs … “but not this game, not tonight.” (I also love the clipped way Russell always says the word “tonight”.)
By the time Russell says, “Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team of all time,” both we and the team totally believe him, and when he finally drops his stoic composure and says “Screw ‘em!,” I’d be ready to see Team USA kick the crap out of a bunch of 10-year-old Pee Wee hockey players, much less the Soviets. “Great moments are born from great opportunity” is how Russell’s character begins his speech, and in that same way the actor seized this opportunity to deliver one of the greatest sports movie moments of all time.