Good Vibrations

By on March 1, 2009
RoadKing Mag

Electric football, that classic sports simulation game from a generation ago, is making a comeback. Originally relegated to attics and basements after their “coaches” grew up, those same coaches are bringing the game back, participating in national electric football tournaments, and even craft-painting those tiny running backs and wide receivers to look like current NFL and college football squads.

“Electric football has seen a renaissance of attention today,” says Ira Silverman, whose Silverman Media & Marketing Group promotes the game for Miggle Toys, the company that currently manufactures electric football boards and games. “I think that the people who played the game as kids in the 1960s and 1970s and those playing today like the ability to actually control each and every one of your 11 players who are on the field, and I think they like the idea of playing against — and hopefully beating — another human being, rather than defeating an electronic team on a video game.”

Electric football actually began in 1947, when Tudor Metal Products created a football game as part of its line of tabletop vibration games. And while electric baseball and electric horse racing had their fans, it was Tudor’s electric football “No. 500” boards that became a tremendous hit. By the 1960s, the NFL awarded licenses to Tudor, and kids could play electric football with miniature Cowboys, Colts and Giants.

By the mid-1970s, companies like Tudor, Gotham, Coleco and Munro manufactured detailed electric football boards, some with wraparound bleachers and manual scoreboards. Football players Joe Namath and Roman Gabriel had their own specially designed electric football games. But by the early 1980s, the electric football craze died out, as electronic games for Atari and Sega took over the football simulation market.

Then came Michael Landsman, the head of Illinois-based Miggle Toys. He purchased the dormant Tudor product line in 1992 and immediately secured an NFL license to produce a Super Bowl electric football game. “I had such wonderful memories of what a great and exciting game electric football was,” says Landsman. “When I found out Tudor Games was up for sale, I jumped at the opportunity. Today, so many electric football coaches — who once felt for years they were the only ones playing the game — now realize they are not alone in their love and loyalty for the game.”

That loyalty has spread to the Internet, as electric football enthusiasts promote their teams and leagues, organize tournaments and offer tips on everything from how to correctly paint black tiger stripes on a Cincinnati Bengals figurine, to how to tweak the tiny plastic base so that your linebacker stops running around in circles. Many of these leagues are organized and operate either through Miggle Toys’ own website, www.miggle.com, or through the Miniature Football Coaches Association, which is devoted to promoting the sport through its website, www.miniaturefootball.org.

“We started our league in 2003,” says John Wharton, commissioner of the Connecticut New York Electric Football League, who holds tournaments in his suburban New Haven home. “I’m an avid football player, and electric football gives me a chance to actually be a coach. People may call us ‘couch potatoes’ or ‘armchair quarterbacks,’ but we look at the real teams’ plays on the TV and we say to ourselves, ‘We can change that play. We can see something different.’”

And if you don’t like the team you originally bought, you can always change it. Many hobbyists and craftsmen will repaint your old dusty figures into new uniforms. You don’t even have to paint a team to look like an NFL squad — Christopher Markham, of Grand Rapids, Mich., painted his first team to look like the Tampa Bay Bandits of the old United States Football League. “Some people like to use acrylic paints,” says Markham of his painting techniques. “I also apply decals to my figures. I recreate the graphics on my computer with Adobe Illustrator, so that I can create tight graphics with vector images that reproduce well in miniature.”  

In 1995, Miggle Toys hosted its first Electric Football convention at a Chicago steakhouse, expecting to have 20 people show up. Instead, hundreds of football coaches brought their teams for a weekend of competition and camaraderie.  Today, the event has grown into the Electric Football World Championships, often held at the same time the NFL hosts their own Super Bowl. Coaches gather in hotel ballrooms and conference centers, where dozens of gridirons are spread throughout for a weekend of electric football action.  Coaches of all ages compete for the coveted Miggle Trophy and a championship ring with the same amount of dedication and preparation that Joe Paterno or Bill Parcells might put into their own championship bowl appearances.

If you do win at electric football, one word of advice: Don’t pour Gatorade on your winning team. It can stain the electric football grid and make it sticky.

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