Library plays essential role in identifying game footage

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

UNH Archives played a key role in helping a TikTok user determine that it was a UNH men's hockey game playing on the TV in the background of this scene from the 1984 movie Gremlins.

The image remains in focus for all of about three seconds, but a TikTok user who has gained a massive following for identifying sporting events in the background of movie and TV scenes determined that a UNH men's hockey game appears in the hit 1980s movie Gremlins – and he couldn’t have done it without help from UNH Archives.

Given that there’s a Gremlin swinging from a ceiling fan while his mates gleefully trash a bar in the scene featuring the game, nobody would be blamed for overlooking the quick clip entirely. But a TikTok user challenged @noproblemgambler – who has amassed more than 1 million followers for his creative sleuthing work – to identify the game, saying in his message “No chance you can find the hockey match that plays in Gremlins at about 1hr 13 min into the movie.”

Challenge accepted. @noproblemgambler did some impressive investigating and narrowed it down to just two possible contests between UNH and Northeastern – one in 1982 and one in 1983 – but couldn’t find a way to discern between them. Until he reached out to UNH and the university archives housed within the UNH Library.

Morgan Wilson, special collections and archives public services coordinator, fielded the request and sent him the official programs from the two games in question, and by learning which of the two featured an active Northeastern player wearing the No. 4, he was able to conclude that the game was a Feb. 16, 1983 showdown that resulted in an 8-1 romp in favor of the Wildcats.

"It's satisfying when we're able to provide someone with that final bit of information they need to complete their research. And in this specific case, we helped someone uncover a previously unknown piece of information about UNH – it's always exciting to help discover new knowledge."

"It was really exciting and gratifying," Wilson says. "It’s what we always strive to do in the archives – to help people find the information they need to answer their questions, whatever they might be. It’s satisfying when we’re able to provide someone with that final bit of information they need to complete their research. And in this specific case, we helped someone uncover a previously unknown piece of information about UNH – it’s always exciting to help discover new knowledge."

Narrowing the list of possibilities to just two games required some remarkable snooping by @noproblemgambler. The clip in question gets blurry very quickly and isn’t exactly in high definition – this was the 1980s after all. But based on the look of the footage he was able to assume the game happened somewhere between the mid-1970s and June of 1984, when Gremlins was released.

His hockey fandom was key, as he determined that because the rink looked small and relatively unadorned, it was likely a minor league or collegiate hockey venue. He then moved on to trying to match the few jerseys visible, and after extensive searching found that the team in blue-and-white was indeed UNH.

That’s when the real detective work began. He found video of a UNH game from that era online, and was able to match a series of doors beyond the playing surface at the end of the rink in that game to the doors visible in the movie clip, confirming the location as UNH’s old Snively Arena. He also got lucky, because the team UNH was playing in the game clip he found online was the same opponent in the movie – the Northeastern Huskies.

From there he used characteristics of the uniforms – a solid white stripe on the UNH pants narrowed the window to 1977-1984, and the lack of a No. 13 on the UNH roster in 1980-81 eliminated one more year – to get down to five games played at UNH between the teams. He was then able to use a nameplate style on the back of Northeastern’s jerseys to get down to three games before using the pads and helmet visible on the Northeastern goalie in the movie clip to identify the keeper and determine it had to be either the 1982 or 1983 contest.

But that’s as far as he got until he reached out to UNH. There’s little chance he would have been able to push the investigation across the finish line were it not for the game programs provided by the university archives.

"Honestly, I didn’t know until afterward what the request was for – we get a lot of sports-related questions in the archives, from both alumni and college sports fans, so I figured this was similar. But this is definitely a first for me," Wilson says of providing a key assist in a viral TikTok post. "I encourage folks to come to the archives for any research help they might need. Even if we don’t have the material you’re looking for, we’re usually able to point you in the right direction. No question is too small or strange – in fact, the stranger the better!"