August 15, 2003 at 11:20 a.m.
Monday, the hockey world stopped when legendary head coach Herb Brooks was killed in a car accident. When the earth starts spinning again is anybody’s guess.
To some sports fans, his name carries the same weight as Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth. The fact that he called Minnesota his home made him extra special. In 1980, Brooks made his way into the living rooms of homes around the country after he led the 1980 U.S. Olympic team to gold, highlighted by a victory over the Soviet Union dubbed “The Miracle on Ice.”
As his team celebrated the greatest victory in the history of United States hockey, Brooks walked calmly to the locker room, saying later that the celebration was for the players, they did all of the work. Think about this, in a time where our professional athletes now fight for the gold, Brooks accomplished the unthinkable with college players. Thirteen of whom were from Minnesota.
Still, his career went much deeper than 1980. After playing at the University of Minnesota, Brooks took over the program and led the Gophers to three NCAA titles in the 1970’s. The Minnesota native had built a dynasty for his home state to enjoy.
After the 80 Olympics, Brooks made his way around the NHL, coaching for seven seasons, including one year with the Minnesota North Stars.
For me, who was just two years old when the “Miracle on Ice” became a miracle, Brooks became a legend because of what he did for this state. No matter where he went or for how long, he always had Minnesota on his mind. His interest was in the growth of hockey in Minnesota and nothing else.
In 1986, looking to add another option for Minnesota kids to play college hockey, Brooks engineered for St. Cloud State University to make the jump from Division Three to Division One. Now, since joining the D-I ranks in the ‘87, SCSU has made a steady climb towards the top, including making the NCAA tournament the last four years. All thanks to Herb Brooks, all for Minnesota hockey.
When I was a broadcaster for the St. Cloud State hockey team, I was fortunate to come in contact with the man known as “Herbie”. I remember watching him climb the stairs at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, and the game would stop. Sure, the players continued to go through the motions but they knew “he” was in the building. Dads would point him out to their sons, mothers to their daughters, media members would whisper his name under their breath. Just his name stood people at attention. That type of respect followed him throughout his career to every hockey rink in the land of 10,000 lakes.
Believe it or not, I actually talked with the man several times. However, every single time we talked, his mere presence was so overwhelming that I can honestly say I don’t remember one ounce of our conversations. Now I wish I could.
Most likely, we’ve all be asked the question, where were you when?.... I remember my mom telling me that she was driving down the road when she heard that Elvis Presley had died. My dad was working on the farm when JFK was shot. Up until now, I have never had a moment where my life stood still, if only for a moment.
On Monday, August 11, 2003, I was at home getting a bite to eat when I learned Herb Brooks was killed. Now I can relate.
Some might think that comparing Brooks to Elvis or JFK might be a little bit of stretch, but I’ll bet that thousands of hockey fans throughout Minnesota would disagree.