Gone But Not Forgotten, Sports File #1: Taping Games on VCR's

There was a time when "taping a game" wasn't just a phrase, but an actuality. From the 1970's to the early 2000's, the preferred method of saving television programs was to take a VHS cassette, insert it in a VCR and let technology do the rest -- and voila! You were then in possession of your favorite TV program or movie, available to watch whenever you wanted. But with the turn of the century came the advent of the DVR, and with it the rise in popularity of the DVD player. By 2006, the DVD format had thoroughly outdistanced the VCR, and nowadays you'll be hard-pressed to find a single blank VHS tape at any technology retail store.

The VCR is indeed a dead format, but it's legacy lives on in the collections of many die-hard sports fans. If you're over the age of 25, and you consider yourself a connoisseur of sports games, there's a good chance there's a box of VHS tapes buried deep within your attic (or maybe in your closet) that contain hours and hours of basketball, football, baseball and hockey goodness. Sure, some have undergone the tedious process of converting their tapes to DVD or Blu-ray, while some may have just thrown them out after realizing what a pain they'd be to transport to a new house. But to many fans, VHS tapes are priceless, invaluable pieces of their fandom that will take up closet space for the rest of their lives, even if they go the next 10 years without touching their VCR even once. On the internet, there is a surprisingly large niche of people who trade VHS's to other sports game collectors, who -- like them -- are more interested in rediscovering old athletes than they are in profiting from it.

The reason tape trading is alive and well is that most of the subject matter is indeed irreplaceable. People may have taped an episode of Seinfeld or Wheel of Fortune in the 90's, back when there was no Internet and when it wasn't possible to just order a season or record it to your DVR. Few people if any manually tape shows today, since there's a million ways to access them that are infinitely more convenient. But sports was and continues to be different; once a sports game is done, there's a 99.9% chance you'll never see it again. Sure, they'll replay the 2007 Fiesta Bowl on ESPN Classic, and you'd probably be able to buy most of the World Series or NBA Finals games online. But what about the rest? What about that great regular season game from 2006, where the Dallas Mavericks came back from a 24-point third quarter deficit and beat the Toronto Raptors, in overtime, on a Dirk Nowitzki game-winner? There was nothing historic or record-breaking about the game; it wasn't even a particularly glamorous matchup. It was just a great game, and unless you have it on your possession, or know someone who does, odds are you'll never see it again.

To those who do go back and watch the old games, the tapes are treasured for being time capsules as much as they are for holding their favorite matchups. Advertisements, a nuisance in everyday life, were unavoidable when it came to recording a game on VHS (unless you manually pressed the stop button at every commercial break, which few people did since it was too much trouble and because you could just fast forward through them all anyway). Ten or twenty years later, however, the commercials are zeitgeists of the era in which the game took place. An NFL game from the 1970's might have the Mean Joe Greene coke ad; an NBA game from the 1990's might have the Budweiser frogs, or an ad for Friends, or maybe some news break about the O.J. Simpson case, or the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When you go back and watch a game, you're essentially watching three or four hours of what it was like back in the day.

Of course if nostalgia isn't your thing, then there's not much practicality in continuing to use a VCR -- other than the fact that it's the last analog video recorder. Because the visuals got grainier and grainier with each time you inserted a tape, watching a blurry, 4x3 representation of a great game isn't going to impress on an HDTV, especially if you stretch out the video to fit the screen, and even more especially if you had the misfortune of recording that game on EP mode instead of SP. Nowadays, it's much easier to either save a game to a DVR or burn it to a CD or DVD. But just because it's a bit of a chore doesn't mean it isn't worth it for the people who want to see Joe Montana line it up from scrimmage, just as they would've in 1990.

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