Witnessing a Miracle

Posted at 9:07 AM, Feb 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-23 21:55:30-05

RICHMOND - The official seating capacity for the Olympic Arena in Lake Placid, NY is 7,700.

It was sold out for the Miracle on Ice 35 years ago, and with players, support staff, and security, there may be close to 10-thousand people who were actually in the building that day.

Over the course of time, the number of those who "claim" to have been there might have doubled, but Bob Black can honestly say he was one of them.

"We decided, as entrepreneurial college student might, if we're that close to the Winter Olympics, we should find a way to get there" said Black who was attending Syracuse University at the time.

In today's world with the huge spotlight on the Games every two years, a group of college students might not be so fortunate to be given passes to one of the world's biggest sporting events. But the parents of a fellow student lived 90 minutes away, so Black's group did not need housing in the tiny little hamlet hosting the games.

"They didn't build enough accommodations for everyone, so if you did not need lodging you stood a much better chance of getting credentials" Black recalled. "For two weeks, my buddy's parents house became a hotel for 8 college students who took turns going to the Olympics."

Black saw several events that year, including being able to walk up right next to the bobsled run during that competition. He also saw the USA/Sweden game which was pivotal for the American team to make it to the medal round where they would face a Soviet team that had embarrassed them in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden just before the Games began.

Soviet forces had invaded Afghanistan prior to the games, causing a geo-political outrage that threatened to keep their athletes from even attending. Then President Jimmy Carter later that year ordered that Team USA boycott that year's Summer Games in Moscow.  Black does not recall any significant backlash against Soviet athletes during the Lake Placid Games.

"They were certainly the enemy, but I think they were the enemy in a sporting context" Black said. "To us, they were just another team to beat en route to a gold medal".

As a  junior at Syracuse, he pulled a little rank in his role as sports director of the campus radio station to secure one of two passes given to their group for the game.

"I can remember standing on a catwalk at the top of the Olympic Ice Center for the whole game" Black said. "I recorded my voicer at the end of the game, somewhat illegally because ABC had the broadcast rights to the game. I rushed out to the media center to file what I had recorded.

"I remember going into the Olympic Village and everyone was jumping around chanting 'USA, USA!!!'. I stopped for a minute or two to do that, while clutching my tape recorder with, what I thought, was a pretty decent piece that I wanted to get on the air."

In the days before the Internet, Twitter, and cell phones, Black had to hook up his tape recorder to a standard phone to send his call of the end of the game back to his station in Syracuse. Across the table from him, working as a recent college graduate for United Press International, was a young reporter named Keith Olberman.

Because the game was tape-delayed, he says there's a chance his recording made air before the rest of the nation saw the outcome on TV.

"I think we understood the significance of the win" Black said. "There was a great deal of patriotism at that moment. Flags waving, chanting, signing 'God Bless America', I get chills still thinking about it."

Black joked that it was sad that a professional career peak came when he was still a junior in college.

"Most people are in awe that we were in the building. Obviously, we've had some great events here at the University of Richmond, but in that discussion, first and foremost is being in the Olympic Center that day in Lake Placid."