Delays Not Just For Super Bowl
It was a Big game, with a big TV audience, and a big delay. Super Bowl XLVII, New Orleans Superdome right?
True. But as I watched the scene unfold yesterday and saw the CBS Sports team scramble to deal with a VERY unexpected occurrence, my mind flashed back to another championship game played in font of a big (not Super Bowl big, but still big) TV audience 21 years ago.
It was the 1992 South Dakota boys AA basketball championship game at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Arena in Rapid City, and I was the guy about to do the scrambling that night. I was courtside that night broadcasting on statewide TV, helping to call the action with a sportscaster from Rapid City.
The match-up that night was an intriguing one: Watertown, a team that hadn't won a state championship in boys basketball since 1959 - the favorite - with talented Jason Sutherland leading the way before he took his talents to the University of Missouri; and O'Gorman, the Sioux Falls Catholic high school, that was known as a 'football' school back then, having just won their fifth gridiron title in eight championship appearances in the previous 21 years. This was the first basketball championship appearance for the Knights.
The lack of big game experience for both schools was obvious in the first half, as the two teams combined for one of the sloppiest 16 minutes of basketball I have ever seen. Needless to say, we were looking forward to the second half, because, in all honesty, we knew it couldn't have been as bad as the first. The teams had just finished warming up after intermission when in a split second the night became memorable for far more than a basketball game.
As the teams returned to their benches for one final word from their coaches, I spotted the tournament director hurriedly walking across the floor to talk with the officials at the scorer's table. While my partner setup the third quarter for our TV audience, I peeled back the left ear of my headset to hear the words that would change everything:
We've had a bomb threat
My first reaction was actually not shock, but rather annoyance. Earlier that week the State of South Dakota had been experiencing a series of bomb threats, from the Empire Mall and Augustana College in Sioux Falls to the Rushmore Mall and now Rushmore Plaza in Rapid City. I knew I was just another hoax, but I knew they would have to take the threat seriously.
It was determined that before the game could continue the entire arena would have to be searched, and that meant one thing: everybody had to leave - players, fans, media members - everybody out, not just of the arena, but the entire Civic Center. That meant everyone was heading to the parking lot on a mid-March night in South Dakota.
Well almost everyone.
As we described the situation to the people watching on statewide TV, our camera focused on a very orderly evacuation of the building, even shots of the two teams, dressed only in their sweats boarding their school buses to wait out the delay. As fewer and fewer people remained in the arena and the police and bomb squad began to arrive, I knew it was only a matter of time before we'd be joining everyone outside. But that order never came.
We continued to broadcast live with one official after another walking right by our position courtside, and no one said a word to us. So we stayed. This was now becoming surreal, as this building which just moments earlier held 6,000 people was now essentially empty, and the search began for this bomb I knew (at least I hoped I knew) didn't exist. All the while we were broadcasting live to fans all over South Dakota.
The two moments that stand out most about the next 30 minutes or so was one of the police officers finding a rather innocent looking bag left behind in what had been one of the student sections, which elicited an excited "I think they've found something. Jeff" from my partner (exactly the kind of thing I wanted to make sure we DIDN'T say), and the realization that if there really was a bomb, I could very well be televising my own demise. At least the ratings would be good...
Obviously there was no bomb. Eventually, they did let everyone back in, Watertown did go on to win the game by 17, and the second half, thank goodness, was better than the first.