Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Why Yes, He Does Have a Copy of the Tulsa Roughnecks v. the Edmonton Drillers

If you head east on Academy Drive in Austin, Texas you pass what used to be the Austin Opera House. The only clue the place used to be a live music venue is the oversized parking lot. And looking at the nondescript office buildings, you'd never guess they occupy the same space where Stevie Ray Vaughan recorded parts of Live Alive, the world premier of the cult classic Ninja Bachelor Party took place, and Spamarama spent a couple of its formative and awkwardly less successful years.

Similarly, just a couple of blocks up the street sits a modern looking house that no passerby would think for a second holds one of the most peculiar soccer libraries on the planet. It's the home of Dave Wasser, and inside is what has to be world's most extensive collection of NASL game tapes.

The North American Soccer League is the "failed" American soccer past from which MLS are trying to avoid being doomed to repeat. Running from 1968 until it closed up shop in 1984, the league really did put soccer on the map in this country, if only for a couple of years when Pele arrived in New York to play for the Cosmos. But overexpansion, low attendance, etc... most every soccer fan in this country knows the story, if not, go check out this movie.

"I grew up in New York and used to love watching the Cosmos games when I was a kid," says Wasser. "Then about 15 years ago, I thought, 'You know, I'd love to get my hands on copies of those games, they have to be around some place.''"

Place? No. Places? Yes. "Over the years I have contacted over a thousand people associated with the NASL—players, coaches, referees, team executives, even the announcers on the local NASL broadcasts. For every 10 or 15 people I contacted, one of them would have a stash of old tapes. That's how I started collecting."

When the league offices shut down in 1985, someone from the office called around to various players and coaches saying, "We've got these tapes of the games you were in, do you want them." The problem was that they were on 3/4" tape. Your standard home VCR is 1/2" tape. People had footage of themselves they had literally never seen because they didn't have the equipment. So, a decade later, as Wasser is following the league tracks, he's telling people, "I can play those tapes, do you want me to copy them for you?"

In 1997 Wasser put up his website (www.davebrett.com). At the time he had about 50 NASL games on tape. Since then, the collection has grown to over 300 NASL matches, and the entire library is several hundred beyond that. There is a complete list on the site, but it is by no means exhaustive. Are there tapes anywhere of the San Antonio Thunder? What about the Miami Gatos?

"There are some classic games that I have never found. The 1978 Minnesota-New York playoff series is at the top of my 'Want List,'" says Wasser, who is also the head of the NASL Alumni Association. Additionally, some known collections stay out of reach. Elliot Hoffman, the former owner as well as gatekeeper and keymaster of the Philadelphia Fury, hasn't been willing to make copies of his tapes "for any reason" in Wasser's experience.

Wasser also has the world's most exhaustive archive of the US Men's National Team—an additional 250 matches worth of shelf space. How complete is it? When people call US Soccer looking for tape, they tell them to call Wasser. In fact when US Soccer is looking for tape, they do the same.

He says: "A lot of people don't realize that the first broadcast of a US National Team game in this country wasn't until 1984—the last year of the NASL—and it was on NBC." Wasser has a couple of games that pre-date that (foreign matches with the language call to boot). "I wish some games had been broadcast in the 1970s. I know many of the guys who played for the US National Team in the 1970s. They would love to see tapes of games they played in."

As the work of just one guy with a strangely undying love for a league long since dead, the library is, in a word (okay, three), pretty fucking cool. All of the tapes are available for trade or for order. There is contact information for ordering on his homepage if you've nothing to trade but still have to have the '79 overtime thriller between Rochester Lancers and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

7 comments:

Keith said...

"He says: "A lot of people don't realize that the first broadcast of a US National Team game in this country wasn't until 1984—the last year of the NASL—and it was on NBC." Wasser has a couple of games that pre-date that (foreign matches with the language call to boot). "I wish some games had been broadcast in the 1970s. I know many of the guys who played for the US National Team in the 1970s. They would love to see tapes of games they played in."

- That paragraph just answered the lazy MSM question "Why don't more people in the US watch soccer?"

The Fan's Attic said...

Awesome.

The NY Kid said...

Yes, but does he have video of every instance of Bugs Bunny giving me the shaft at Cosmos games by not throwing me a giant carrot?

Oh, he does? Carry on then.

Brian said...

Great article. As a former MN Kicks fan, I've been eyeing Dave's collection for years and have friends who have gotten tapes from Dave. Good stuff!

Goat said...

Brian (or anyone else), can you give a sense of what the play was like in these NASL games? I've only seen highlights so I can't really tell but I'm interested in how it compared to the rest of the world at the time. I get the sense that the game has changed quite a bit throughout the world (more speed, technical skill, etc.) in the last 20 or so years but that at its height, the NASL was comparable to some of the better leagues.

Canucklehead said...

I've ordered off this guy. Price of tape to DVD is way expensive--$20 per. Quality is very poor esp. compared to a bunch I bought for $5 ea. off a guy in NJ and another guy in Vancouver.

Honestly, I was supremely disappointed in the quality of the conversion and it can't just be the age of the tapes as the others I got off other sellers were far superior.

Dave Brett Wasser said...

Actually, canucklehead, the guys in NJ and Vancouver got their tapes from me.

You are just whining because you don't like paying $20 for a game. Get over it.