Near the bar at R. J. Bentley's, a College Park watering hole, is a golden winged statue, an Emmy, signifying that someone has done a darn good job cutting through the white noise on TV.

The statue belongs to Jimmy Roberts, an NBC reporter and a graduate of the University of Maryland, Class of 1979, who turns sporting events into televised essays.


Roberts is at his 13th Olympics -- his first was as a production flunky at the 1980 Lake Placid Games. He keeps coming back because "there's nothing like an Olympics. People make fun of me, but I dig this stuff. It's great sporting events and great moments ... It's really sincere."

In Vancouver, he'll provide features for an afternoon show hosted by Al "Miracles" Michaels and will host his own "Meet the Press" show on Universal.


Roberts gravitates to the athletes who compete in the shadows of Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller and Apolo Anton Ohno.

"For most Olympians, they are so impossibly thrilled to have accomplished this. They're so overwhelmed," he says.

And regular.He recalls in 1980, after Eric Heiden won all five speed skating gold medals on the outdoors oval, the athlete left Lake Placid briefly then flew back to help provide network coverage. It was Roberts' job to pick him up, a task he failed to carry out in a timely fashion.

"There he was, sleeping on an airport bench with a knapsack that had a button, 'Eat the Rich.'

I just don't see today's super star athlete doing something like that," he says, laughing.

Roberts came to Maryland from White Plains, N.Y., because "I was deluded into thinking I could play lacrosse. Buddy Beardmore had just won the national championship and sent me letters. I had a girlfriend who was attending American University and I said, 'I'm in for this.'

"I broke up with the girl and got cut from the team in the blink of an eye and then went on to have the best time of my life," he says.

After classmate John Brown III opened Bentley's in 1978 and Roberts got famous, the restaurateur asked the broadcaster for an Emmy for his establishment on U.S. 1.

Roberts gave him one of the more than a dozen he's earned.

The UM grad, whose sister lives in Balttimore, tries to get back in town for a Maryland basketball game every few years.

"I'm proud to be a Terp," he says. "I bleed red and white."

His most memorable Olympic moment came in 1994, when speed skater Dan Jansen, who lost his sister to cancer, finally won a gold medal after failing in heartbreaking fashion in 1988 and 1992. As he stood atop the podium and the National Anthem played, Jansen looked heavenward and said, "This is for you, Jane. I love you."


"I don't think there was a silver medal that night," Roberts says. "It was chillingly memorable and soulful."

The big stories at this Olympics will be Vonn ("she'll be an enormous story whatever she does"), "the drama that is Shani Davis goes on and of course something will happen at figure skating that will make everyone crazy."

And in a world that's turned to Twitter and Facebook, Roberts will chronicle those tales.

"The game has changed, but I'm blissfully unaware of it," says Roberts. "I think what I do will become obsolete, but I can't be concerned about that."

Recommended on Baltimore Sun