With the Superbowl coming up this weekend, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at a time before video game systems emulated the fun of football inside the home. A time when you really had to work to set up your plays, and then hope that everything worked perfectly, and the little football players actually went where you wanted them to. So here’s a look back at what “playing football” was like before things like Coleco Football, Tecmo Bowl, and Madden football games came along…..
Ever since enterprising toymakers hit on the gimmick of combining electricity and sports, many a fan has whiled his rainy-day hours away over miniaturized electric versions of his favorite outdoor games. Few U.S. sports are as popular as American football, so it came as no surprise when electric football became the king of this toy trend. These games have been popular for over five decades and continue to enjoy a fervent following today.
Tudor Metal Products introduced the first Electric Football game in 1949. It consisted of a metallic board decorated to resemble a football field, plus 22 two-dimensional metal figures to place atop the field. Beneath the playing field was a motor, which caused the board to vibrate at the flip of a switch. These vibrations moved the players about the field (often in conflicting directions) as one of the players used a quarterback figure with a moving arm to launch a miniature football into play. After that, chaos ensued as a combination of magnetism and luck helped the football figures move the ball to and fro.
Okay, so it wasn’t a perfect simulation of football. There was limited control over the players, the quarterback had as much accuracy and control in his throws as an infant, and the player figures would wobble around in circles if their bases became the slightest bit damaged. Just the same, the game won kids over in a big way because it allowed them to control an entire football team, and hey, it was a way to play football in the convenience of your own home! Soon enough, houses all over America were filled with unique buzzing noise that came from Tudor’s electric football games.
Tudor’s success with electric football led to rival models by companies like Gotham during the 1950’s. Competition spurred the toymakers to dream up improvements that reshaped and smoothed out the playing style of electric football. The old two-dimensional player figures were replaced with three-dimensional models made of colorful plastic. Poses were added to the figures for extra variety and visual appeal. The field was also improved, with painted-cardboard borders added to simulate stadium bleachers and crowds.
In the 1960’s, electric football reached even greater heights as Tudor Metal Products signed a licensing deal with the National Football League, allowing the company to use real team logos and players’ uniforms. Each year, the company made new games featuring figures that represented the teams playing in the latest Super Bowl. Meanwhile, competitors like Gotham and Coleco added their own twists, creating games modeled on specific stadiums like the Super Dome and adding prongs to bases of the figures, which allowed players to determine the direction the figures moved.
Electric football continued to enjoy consistent success throughout the 1970’s, but like the rest of the toy world, the game ran into problems when electronic games (like Mattel Electronics Football), and later video games became the in-thing of the 1980’s. Sales of electric football declined, but thanks to a loyal cult of supporters, the game never went away. In 1985, a group of these enthusiasts formed the Electric Football League. In 1991, a company called Miggle Toys revived the classic Tudor games and have enjoyed consistent sales ever since with fans new and old.
Today, electric football enjoys a new era of popularity. Recent games have added such nice touches as digital score boards, and hardcore enthusiasts use special pocket scales to make sure their playing figures are a precise regulation weight. Some enthusiasts even shell out hundreds of dollars for custom games designed to resemble the NFL stadium of their choice. Only a select few multi-millionaires can own a real professional NFL team, but thanks to electric football, the rest of us can always pretend.
(This article originally appeared on the now defunct site Yesterdayland in the early 2000’s.)