Color footage of the José Feliciano national anthem at Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. Color footage of the José Feliciano national anthem at Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. (Reiss Restorations.)

The last decade-plus has seen a lot of discussion around the U.S. national anthem and sports on a variety of fronts, but that discussion is not new. One of the most famous moments with The Star-Spangled Banner and sports came in 1968 with Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ heads-bowed Black Power salute during the anthem at the Summer Olympics that year. And later that year, another notable anthem moment showed up at the World Series, with prominent Puerto Rican musician José Feliciano delivering one of the first performances of The Star-Spangled Banner with a changed melody ahead of Game 5 of that series between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.

Feliciano’s performance has been frequently discussed since then. But the footage of that anthem performance, shown on then-World Series broadcaster NBC, has only been widely available in black and white. Until now. And that’s thanks to Elijah Reiss of North Brunswick, NJ business Reiss Restorations.

Reiss obtained color footage of this anthem performance after acquiring a collection of tapes thrown out in a dumpster behind NYC station Fox 5 (WNYW) in 1990. He then worked with New York Camera and Video in Southampton, Pennsylvania to clean up and transfer the footage from the 2-inch quadruplex tape here to a digital version. Here’s Reiss’ video with the restored color footage (and an introduction to it on how he got this clip and how it was restored), which also has significantly improved audio over the previous black-and-white versions that had been circulating:

And here’s a follow-up video contrasting this with the previous black-and-white version:

This came to AA’s attention via sports media figure Jon Alba, who cut and digitized the black and white footage for MLB Advanced Media as an intern there in 2013. Here’s his tweet on this:

That led to Reiss speaking with AA via email about this footage and why it mattered to him. He said this came from a fortuitous discovery from an antiques store owner.

“You can learn more about the process in the beginning of the initial video I posted about this collection,” Reiss said. “The owner of an antiques store on the Jersey Shore used to go to an auction house in NYC back in the day which was right next to FOX 5 studios (WNYW). One day around 1990, he was leaving the auction and noticed a few hundred encased broadcast reels next to and in the dumpster of Channel 5. He frantically loaded as many as he could into his van, even popping his tires on the way home. He couldn’t take it all, but got around 100 1-inch type C videotapes, and 35 or so 2-inch quadruplex tapes. He figured they could be historic and maybe someday someone would want them. ”

Reiss said those tapes then lingered in the antique store until recently when he heard about them and made a deal to acquire the whole collection.

“He put them in the basement of his store where they sat until recently when he decided to pull a few out to sell. Nobody bit until I came in and expressed interest. He then took me into the basement to show me the entire arsenal. We made a deal, and I’ve been digitizing, chemically treating, and restoring the one-inch reels ever since (about two months).”

However, the quadruplex tapes require further specialized equipment, so that led to Reiss working with the Pennsylvania store. And he said the discovery of that NBC footage was particularly surprising to him, considering that WNYW was an independent station then rather than an NBC affiliate (current NYC NBC affiliate WNBC was around then as WRCA-TV).

“I do not have the capability to do quadruplex tapes, so those are being handled (at a high cost) by a place in Pennsylvania. At the time I picked them up, I only knew (or figured) that there would be things related to TV shows and commercials predominantly from Channel 5 in NYC. But interestingly enough, the Feliciano footage is labeled as NBC’s. So Channel 5 must have been borrowing it… for over 20 years!”

As Reiss notes in the introduction to that first video, he’s not particularly interested in sports. But he said a friend who is tipped him off to the value of this particular footage.

“My friend Ben, who introduces the footage, knows everything about anything (he was on Jeopardy!), and we’re both very into pop culture,” Reiss said. “He’s brought up that National Anthem performance multiple times and was the first person to show me the existing B/W footage. Since I can’t view the quad tapes, I have to go off what is written on the reels, if anything is even written. I saw that one reel said “NATIONAL ANTHEM, 10-7-68″ and on a checkbox for B/W or COLOR was checked color.”

Reiss said that got him excited.

“I called him and Jon Alba up and showed them a picture of the label and we quickly all figured out that this was the very date of that performance. And when we realized if it was on there (most broadcast studio tapes were taped over again and again, so labels aren’t always accurate) in color, it could be an insane find.”

He said that while he is not very interested in sports, he is interested in Feliciano’s music.

“I also love José Feliciano and grew up with my Dad playing his version of “Light My Fire” often. I love the 60’s and as a high school social studies teacher, this whole thing, sports-related or not, was right up my alley.

Speaking of that teaching background, Reiss said the cultural context around this anthem performance is part of what appealed to him with this restoration.

“Given that I teach U.S. History, I have a good understanding of the cultural divide of 1968 America. The Vietnam War was at its height, and the American public was still very much split on the conflict and really anything counterculture. Hawks and doves were arguing daily, and Americans were being killed in the thousands for a war many of them did not believe in. Feliciano’s rendition is not as seemingly jarring as Jimi Hendrix’s at Woodstock the following year, but it is a deviation from the norm.”

Feliciano’s anthem performance was controversial at the time and even received backlash from Tigers’ Game 5 starting pitcher Mickey Lolich (who said it threw him off his rhythm). But Lolich bounced back to get a 5-3 win, his second of the Series, and was named World Series MVP after Detroit won in seven games. Reiss said it’s understandable why Feliciano’s anthem performance received criticism at the time, but he sees a lot of value in it.

“I think it is easy for us in 2024 to look back at the “hawks” of then who may have found the rendition offensive and call them ignorant, but that ignores the dramatic cultural shift that was still underway in 1968 between young and old, left and right, etc. Nobody had ever really changed the melody or tempo of that song before, and to enact that change in the presence of a nation watching took guts.

“I personally love it and find beauty in the way Feliciano interpreted it. But I can also see why so many at the time found it to be provocative. I think in the end, few remember the details of that World Series beyond Feliciano’s performance, which says a lot.”

Reiss said getting this footage restored was a giant hurdle because of those quadruplex tapes.

“The machines themselves are the size of a small room, and one needs to be a trained broadcast engineer to work and calibrate those machines. There are also very few left in existence that are working. Quad reels also weigh a ton and are not like your lightweight VHS tapes, so shipping was out of the question. I did some online research to see if there was anywhere within driving distance (I’m in Central NJ) that could process the reel and wound up finding New York Camera and Video in Southampton, Pennsylvania, which has an excellent transfer studio.”

He said that involved more than just a simple transfer, too.

“The reel needed to be cleaned of all dirt and mold and then baked in a special oven for an entire week to make the reel even playable (look up Sticky Shed Syndrome). After that, the reel was played on the machine and digitized to a raw file and an MP4 for playback purposes.”

But Reiss said it was a highly worthwhile endeavor, and he thinks this kind of preservation is more widely important.

“I have a Master of Information degree with a concentration in Archives and Preservation. So much of what society learns and remembers comes from our records, whether they be written, spoken, audio, or visual. Rather than learning solely from textbooks, archival materials such as these show us the primary source of the event or cultural moment. They are a lens into a bygone era.

“Videotape in particular is like a ticking time bomb. Such factors as mold, mildew, and demagnetization are destroying our audiovisual memories every second of every day. Unless someone comes along and restores them to a digital format, these moments will forever disappear. I love to bring the past into the present, and I think this footage speaks for itself in doing that.”

And he said the footage here spoke to him despite his lack of interest in sports.

“Despite being ‘sports illiterate,’ I had such a blast finding, seeing, and interpreting this footage. I hope MLB, the Smithsonian, or the Tigers take notice because I think it is such an upgrade from what was already out there, both visually and sound-wise.”

For those looking to digitally preserve lost media, family footage, or precious memories, Reiss Restorations can be contacted via email or at (732) 398-6363. You can also check them out on Facebook and YouTube.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.