If You’re Hearing that Metal Buzz, it Must be Time for Electric Football
A 1970s version of Electric Football, from the peak of its popularity. I believe the “Total Team Control” claim must be some kind of joke. Go Rams!
As a games journalist, I am beholden to be completely honest with my readers. And I will be completely frank: I know next to nothing about professional or collegiate football. Does Joe Namath still play? Who is in the Super Bowl this year? I have no idea.
But I do know games, and when we’re talking football in terms of tabletop games, there are a couple of well-known examples, but as that incessant buzzing you may be hearing in the back of your mind testifies, there is no better way to experience the excitement of the pigiron griddle or whatever it is on your tabletop than electric football. And with the Super Bowl coming up (it is coming up, isn’t it?), it’s a great time to remember this classic game.
Electric football was born in 1947, designed by Brooklyn toymaker Norman Sas, who passed away just last year at the age of 87. Sas bought a company called Tudor Metal Products that had designed a motor that would shake a surface and cause figures to move on it. It was applied to racing games, but Sas made a football game out of it. Early editions had generic figures, but by 1967 the National Football League brand was applied and real teams were depicted. Tudor Games, as Sas renamed the company, was eventually purchased by a company called Miggle, which continues to maintain Tudor Games online, offering new collegiate teams, as well as new playing fields and even electric baseball and soccer games. You can even buy cheerleaders and referees for added realism.
Electric Football inventor Norman Sas (far right) with NFL officials, circa 1971. One of these men may or may not be Joe Namath. [Actually, former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle is second from the left – Editor]
A very early Tudor Electric Football game from the late 1940s or early 1950s.
It’s kind of a silly concept, if you’re not familiar with it. The playing surface is a big sheet of metal marked up like a football field. The pieces are miniature football players, almost always painted in real team colors and with numbers corresponding to real world players like . . . um, Joe Namath. There’s a tiny foam football that you absolutely positively will lose, along with a punch-out sheet with some extras. The kicker and quarterback is usually this weird piece called a “Triple Threat Quarterback” with a leg that you have to flick to kick the ball and an arm that you pull back to toss that little foam football. Needless to say, this is not a game about pinpoint accuracy.
Gameplay isn’t something you do; it’s really something you watch. I guess that’s kind of like football at a strange thematic level. You line up the players, adjusting these dials on the bottom to kind of control which direction they go. One player flicks a switch, and the entire board vibrates. The players scurry along, possibly running in the direction you’ve selected with those dials. More often than not, the figures wind up spinning in circles, helplessly smashing themselves repeatedly into the sidelines or going toward the wrong goal.
Some of the newer figures produced by the same company. I think one of them is Joe Namath.
Examples of two Triple Threat Quarterbacks, who also appear to be equipped for Jai Alai and hockey.
Joe Namath runs for a field goal in this exciting scene. Note the dial base and foam football. The foam football was likely lost shortly after this photograph was taken.
Electric football, for all of its kitsch appeal and novelty, is really kind of terrible. But it’s undeniably charming and it’s a classic toy that almost every American boy born before the 1990s has probably received from Santa Claus at some point. For my part, I still recall getting mine sometime in the early 1980s. It came in a gigantic, flat box bigger than me. One of the two teams I got in mine was the Los Angeles Rams but I remember wishing that I had the Jets. Just because they were called the Jets—I had no idea if they were any good in real life or not. By the 1990s, electric football was more or less made obsolete by various types of video game football.
Yet, its popularity persists. Enthusiasts collect teams and players, and premium prices are paid for rare or desirable figures. Fans can tell you the difference between “hogleg” and “chicken leg” figures, and can indicate which figures were made in Hong Kong, Haiti or China. Who knew that Haiti once was the center of Electric Football manufacturing? There is a Miniature Football Coaches Association, probably concerned chiefly with issues such as proper dial turning and how to prevent giant clumps of figures. There is at least one annual convention of Electric Football fans and there are local and national leagues of players, including various tournaments. I can’t imagine the stress of being in the final round of a tournament and watching your ball man run backwards by accident.
A more recent Electric Football game with generic, non-NFL players.
Vintage teams can sell for over $100, and it’s not uncommon to find random lots of figures up for auction or piled into cigar boxes or baggies at thrift stores and yard sales. It seems as though the hobby is very much alive and well, with most enthusiasts these days buying unpainted figures and actually painting their teams and customizing them with add-ons like “Pro Line” bases, which may or may not give an added degree of control once the board starts buzzing.
When I sat down to do a little research for this article, I figured it would be totally a nostalgia piece. I had no idea that folks were still playing and enjoying this game, let alone collecting it and paying collector prices for desirable pieces. I can’t help but wonder how much my old Rams are worth these days.
Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming Websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.
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