Ever wonder why the sports reruns you see on ESPN Classic rarely predate the early 1970s? According to Ron Simon, a curator for the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City, the networks didn't begin preserving their sports broadcasts until then. "With a limited amount of storage space and no market for replays, the networks placed a premium on saving their own original prime-time programming," says Simon.
That means there's no archival record of many of sport's most historic TV broadcasts. Super Bowl I? Both CBS and NBC aired the game in 1967 but recorded over their tapes. Willie Mays's over-the-shoulder catch in the '54 World Series? Any copies made were most likely tossed into a Dumpster years ago.
Collectors and historians alike covet the missing broadcasts for the opportunity not only to watch Jackie Robinson and Bart Starr playing complete games but also to observe how television in its infancy covered great sports moments. According to Simon, the broadcasts the Museum of TV and Radio would most like to have include (in chronological order): the 1951 National League playoff game between the Giants and the Dodgers in which Bobby Thomson hit his Shot Heard 'Round the World; Don Larsen's perfect game in the '56 World Series; the Colts-Giants '58 overtime NFL Championship game; Game 7 of the '60 World Series, won by the Pirates on Bill Mazeroski's homer; and Super Bowls 1 and 11.
How likely is it that one of these broadcasts will turn up? "We're always hoping," says Simon. "There's the possibility of an unmarked can in a studio somewhere." Or of a hidden treasure trove turning up. "A number of people believe there's a stash of baseball games in Fidel Castro's closet," says Simon. "Historians will probably have to wait until he dies to find out."