By Michael LeCompte
In 1947 Norman Sas, the owner of Tudor Metal Products and Games, designed a football field to fit over the electric motor from one of his company’s car racing games and electric football-one of the most beloved sports board games of all time was born.
The game consisted of a metal field, plastic players, and a small electric motor. It was simple yet modern, just like the game of football itself, and it hit the toy market just as the NFL was coming into its own as a league. In 1967, the year of the first Super Bowl, Tudor games signed an exclusive licensing agreement with the NFL. The popularity of electric football skyrocketed as young fans could now control the very players they watched on TV every Sunday.
To this day former NFL coach Mike Holmgren insists that an electric football game from his childhood is the greatest Christmas gift he has ever received. Thousands of kids across America doubtlessly shared that sentiment until they turned their electric football sets on and actually tried to play a game. As the field vibrated and shook it was seemingly impossible to make one’s players do anything other than fall over or spin.
Electric football games continued to sell well and to presumably be enjoyed throughout the 1970’s. By the 1980’s, though, video games began to dominate the electronic gaming industry and the original was largely forgotten, relegated to the fields of memory and the basements of nostalgia, played by a select Dungeons and Dragons-like cadre of electric football wizards.
Now, though, thanks largely to our sports obsessed culture and fueled by the internet, electric football is back. The game might not be better than ever, but it is certainly bigger than before.
Much like fantasy sports there are now electric football leagues across the country. Players are referred to as coaches since they control an entire team, rather than any one player on the field. Coaches give their teams custom paint jobs and accessories (such as added weight to the base of linemen to improve blocking ability) and tournaments are held annually.
The Miniature Football Coaches Association (MFCA) is the governing body of competitive electric football and oversees tournaments and the World Championships (July, 29-31, 2016 in Richmond, VA). Rings are awarded at the electric football championships and the sport does have its legends and superstars.
Adrian Baxter, a 43 year old accountant from Maryland is known as “The Walter Payton of Electric Football.” The nickname might not make much sense, but there is no denying the sweetness of his stats (25 tournament wins to date).
The MFCA recently named Baxter “The Greatest Coach Ever,” which presumably puts him alongside the likes of Lombardi, or at least Belichick. ESPN has aired some electric football tournaments and a reality show chronicling some of the prominent coaches from around the country is supposedly in the works.
When speaking of his love of electric football Baxter says that, “it’s something that found my heart at a young age and I don’t want to let it go.”
Electric football is BBZZZING, vibrating, and shaking its way out of basement rec rooms and into the mainstream of sports and entertainment. Electric football sets are still being produced, although not under an NFL licensing agreement, and can be found at most major toy stores for $30-$120.
So often in life things from the past are not really as great as we remember them, but perhaps in the case of electric football they are actually better. How else could a board game become a sport?