October 03, 2009
Jim Sacco estimates that his son Josh has watched "Miracle," the film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic men's hockey team's legendary upset of the Soviets, nearly 150 times. Apparently, the movie has made quite an impression on the young fan.
Nicknamed "Rizzo" after the gold medal-winning team's captain Mike Eruzione, Josh sparked an Internet sensation this week when his hilarious, inspirational and eerily impeccable interpretation of actor Kurt Russell's locker room speech as Coach Herb Brooks went viral -- spreading everywhere from blogs to USA Today to the "Ellen" show.
No professional coaching. No fancy editing. No script, because Rizzo hasn't learned to read yet -- he was just 4 years old when his father filmed the speech earlier this year, making it all the more remarkable.
If you haven't seen this clip yet, you've not seen anything like it before:
"Tonight, we skate whiff'um! Tonight, we stay whiff'um! And we shut dem down because we CAN!"
Where did this instant classic YouTube clip come from? The story behind it is fascinating.
Where is this sudden sensation taking Josh Sacco? To perform the speech in an NHL locker room, for starters.
Jim and Josh Sacco, who turned 5 years old during the summer, live in Spring Hill, Tenn., just outside of Nashville. Jim grew up in Boston and is a die-hard Boston Bruins fan. He was 13 when Herb Brooks coached the U.S. men's ice hockey team to their historic upset of the Soviets and eventual gold medal victory over Finland at Lake Placid in 1980.
"We weren't supposed to win. It had a major impact on me, and it's had an even bigger impact on me now [as an adult]. I live it every day," said Sacco.
He's shared that impact with his son: Bringing him to Lake Placid to skate on the hallowed ice and sit on the bench where the late coach barked orders. They also bonded by watching "Miracle," the 2004 film that meticulously detailed the US Olympians' underdog triumph and featured Russell channeling Brooks in a memorable performance.
"We just started watching the movie. He plays hockey, and I love the movie. We'd get done watching it and he's just say 'play it again, play it again'. We must have watched it 150 times," said Sacco.
"So one day, he's upstairs shooting some 'pucks' in the bedroom -- a little net that he shoots tennis balls into -- and he starts calling out 'Hughes!' 'Ross!' 'Auge!'. I'm like, ‘Wait a minute, those are all the guys who initially made the cut at the beginning of the movie!'"
Sacco went back, checked and discovered that Josh had all 26 names from the sequence memorized -- in order. He started testing his son on other dialogue from the film, and found that Josh basically had "Miracle" committed to memory; not only the words, but the inflections.
"He loves Jack O'Callahan," said Sacco, "and you should hear his Boston accent. It's hilarious."
Eventually the two started trading lines on the "Great Moments Are Made" speech, which was made to the team before its game against Russia. When Sacco would flub a line, his then-four-year-old son would correct him.
Here's what Russell's speech sounded like in the film:
Sacco decided to document the speech on video, right down to the emphatic "screw'em!" Russell delivers near the end. He dressed Josh in an Easter suit that resembled the one Russell wore during the scene in "Miracle" to complete the effect.
"Besides," said Sacco, "he looks like a little man anyway."
Sacco filmed it for friends and family, and tossed it on YouTube rather than attempting to burn a dozen DVDs. Needless to say, more than friends and family have viewed the instant-classic viral video -- it's been featured on Sports Illustrated's Hot Clicks, on USA Today's site, on radio stations and, most famously, on the "Ellen" show.
Sacco said he's been contacted by the Minnesota Wild, the University of Minnesota and the Nashville Predators, who actually invited Josh to recreate the speech for a scoreboard video that's scheduled to debut at their home opener on Oct. 8. Instead of hockey players, Josh performed the speech to mascots.
After that ... well, 2010 is an Olympic year. The U.S. men's ice hockey team is once again facing very long odds against superpowers from Canada, Sweden and, yes, Russia.
Would Baby Brooks be willing to fire up the boys in a Vancouver locker room at the Winter Games?
"I know he would," said Sacco. "That would be hilarious if he did."