Sports networks’ classic games are great, but check out YouTube’s treasure trove

I had a vice growing up. An expensive one. Whenever I walked into a store, I made sure to pass through the electronics department to check on the inventory. If it was an electronics store, I’d stock up. It reached a point that my parents had to ask, “Just how many do you need?”

Of what, you ask?

VHS tapes.

For those unfamiliar with the ways of late 1900s analog video recording, video home system cassettes recorded TV shows through a VCR, or video cassette recorder. Recording was tricky for some. If people weren’t available to hit the record button, they had to set the timer manually.

It could be unwieldy. Think Daniel Stern’s character, Phil, in the 1991 movie “City Slickers,” who couldn’t grasp the process, despite the efforts of Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch, as they herded cattle.

“He doesn’t get it. He’ll never get it,” yelled Ed, played by Bruno Kirby. “It’s been four hours. The cows can tape something by now.”

I had it down pretty good, and I put the skill to work.

Recording sports.

Some I recorded because it was a big game. Others I recorded because I was there. I did that for a couple reasons. 1. If something wild and crazy happened, I wanted to be able to watch it again. 2. As a sports-media nerd, I wanted to hear how the announcers called the action.

All those games required tapes. But I did reach a point where enough was enough, and I began taping over games with others. I’m still kicking myself for erasing a Mets-Cubs game in August 1984. You would have seen a 10-year-old me when the dugout camera showed a left-handed batter.

But I still have a nice collection, and five years ago, I decided to share it with the world on YouTube. I saw countless others doing the same and figured fans would get a charge out of it. At no charge, of course.

These days, we’re only watching old games. With the sports world on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, sports networks are dipping into their archives to satisfy fans’ hunger for games. Not everyone is interested in reruns, but there’s an audience for it.

NBC Sports Chicago is showing Bulls games from their 1996 NBA title run and Blackhawks games from their 2010 Stanley Cup run. On Thursday, the network began airing a lineup of 70 White Sox games from the 2005 World Series run. Marquee Sports Network has aired classic Cubs games and is showing all the postseason victories from the 2016 World Series run.

The national networks are into it, too. After concluding “Hockey Week in America” on Sunday, featuring classic NHL games of recent vintage, NBC Sports Network will begin “Football Week in America” on Monday, showing memorable “Sunday Night Football” games since its inception in 2006. CBS Sports Network is airing old NCAA Tournament games, and all the league-run channels are airing classics, too.

But if you’re looking for some under-the-radar Chicago classics, look me up on YouTube.

My first post was a rare televised Hawks game from Chicago Stadium that aired in January 1989. (I taped Hawks home games because they were seen as rarely as Hawks Cups at the time.) Even rarer was the opponent: Dynamo Riga, of the Soviet Union, which was touring the U.S. as part of the “Super Power Face-Off” series. Pat Foley and Dale Tallon called it for SportsChannel America on SportsVision.

Next up was the Cubs’ 1989 home opener against the Phillies, a thriller that was the start of a division-title run. Later, I posted the clincher against the Expos in Montreal. Both broadcasts, of course, were on WGN with Harry Caray and Steve Stone on the call.

Sometimes the best recordings were the least expected. On a Monday afternoon in August 1993, I went to a Pirates-Cubs game at Wrigley Field with friends. So I set my VCR. I couldn’t have known it at the time, but I had recorded YouTube gold.

The game included plunkings, ejections, a benches-clearing brawl, a Jim Leyland tirade and a 12-10 Cubs win. The video with the sixth inning, when the brawl occurred, is my second-most popular with 859,000-plus views. (No. 1 is a 4½-minute highlight I edited of Sammy Sosa home runs in Games 1 and 2 of the 2003 playoff series against the Marlins — 1.2 million!)

I have the third period of a big Blackhawks comeback against the Red Wings at the United Center in January 1996 on Fox (minus the glowing puck). Foley and Mickey Redmond called it. The Hawks trailed 4-0, led 5-4 on Tony Amonte’s highlight-reel goal and ended up tying 5-5. Yes, it ended in a tie.

There’s a Notre Dame-DePaul basketball game from 1992 at the Rosemont Horizon, the 1991 NHL All-Star Game at the Stadium, Wrigley’s first seventh-inning stretch without Caray in 1998 and Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa screaming at each other in 2003.

Shockingly, I have 6,870-plus subscribers. That might not seem like much to you, but it’s staggering to me to see the response, whether it be views or comments.

I don’t need a government-mandated stay-at-home order or a postponed sports calendar to peruse classic games on YouTube. It’s a treasure trove of them, like a Netflix for sports. I still have some VHS tapes to go through. Maybe I can contribute some more.