It’s back. I’m referencing a recent list of “Most Popular Toys” which to my surprise and delight included electric football, perhaps the greatest game ever even though it has, let me double-check - yep, it has almost zero in common with actual football.
For the uninitiated - and never having played electric football is sort of like never having watched a sunrise - electric football is contested on a tiny, tinny board made to look like a football field. Electrical vibrations cause the ball carriers and defenders to move up and down the field. It’s somewhat less realistic than a 1950s Japanese-made “King Kong” movie.
Like a lot of middle aged men I grew up whiling away hundreds of hours playing electric football. I must have been about four when I got my first taste. It’s the only thing I still have in common with my four-year-old self, unless, of course, I decide to follow my dream of pursuing a career as a firefighter-garbage man-major league baseball player. Which could happen any day now.
At age four my fallback career choice was - and I’m not making this up, as my mom used to tell anybody who would listen when I was well into my twenties - “hobo.” Which isn’t that different from journalism when you get right down to it.
In electric football the running game is remotely plausible. The vibrations move the ball carrier until he is stopped by an opponent who runs into him. Sometimes the ball carrier gets turned around in the opposite direction and runs 90 yards the wrong way to score a touchdown for the opponent, which hardly even happens in regular football not counting the junior colleges. But the passing game! The electric football version of the passing game involves taking the almost microscopic little cloth “football” which is basically just a piece of lint or possibly an eye booger, and placing it in the “arm” of your quarterback and then manually setting the arm to pass mode and “passing” the ball down field to your receiver who has about as much chance of catching the ball as you do of grabbing a plummeting Chinese space lab.
Electric football has always strained credulity but that’s part of its charm. It’s campy, low tech fun.
How low tech? It makes Pong look like the International Space Station.
Then there’s the kicking game which is similar to the passing game. The little eye booger is placed next to the foot of the kicker who boots it. It usually travels half an inch or a quarter mile with no middle ground. The joy is you never knew whether it was going a half inch or a quarter mile.
There’s so real skill set required to play electric football other than not minding looking like an idiot. You also have to decide when to go for two. And you gotta determine whether you want to go for it on fourth down.
In junior high I was once playing my buddy Larry for the “championship” when I decided to go for it on fourth and about two on the 50-yard-line in a tie game with about a minute left on the clock. My ball carrier got turned around in the wrong direction and ran 50 yards to score a touchdown, giving Larry the title. This was the most frustrating loss of all time up until the Atlanta Falcons defeat by the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51.
That wasn’t even my worst defeat. My worst loss occurred on another occasion when I tried a go-ahead field goal vs. Larry and the eye booger ball landed on the basement floor where it was promptly devoured by our family cat, also named Larry. After much discussion it was determined the kick was no good and sans ball the game was called with Larry’s two point lead holding up for the win. (The option of waiting for Larry the cat to pass the ball was strongly considered but rejected by the league commissioner, Larry the human.)
Frustrating losses aside I was very surprised to see that kids of today still cherish electric football enough to place it on a list of favorite games. Then I learned that it’s not children buying electric football games today it’s their dads! It turns out that young people today actually like electric football slightly less than they enjoy getting an inoculation (which can cause your head to fall off later in life, if you hadn’t heard) or being seen in a pair of jeans with fewer than 14 holes.
It’s men in their forties, fifties and sixties that are scooping up electric football games and driving them onto the popular toy list.
How outstanding is an activity that lures middle aged men back to it 20, 30, 40 years into adulthood? You don’t see many men in their 50s waiting in line to buy Twister.
I’m not altogether sure that making the most popular toy list is a compliment considering the list includes games called “Monopoly: Cheaters Edition” (the fact this is popular is a sad indictment of society) and Hasbro’s “Don’t Step In It” which is described as “an attempt to capitalize on the poop craze.” Remember when young Americans used to spend their spare time reading the classics? Well, no longer. Now they’re into shit. It’s just too bad there’s not a “saving for retirement craze” or a “taking responsibility for your own actions craze.”
So while the entitled kiddies of today are in their bedrooms (somewhat larger than their parents’ bedroom) mesmerized by poop and playing Cheaters Monopoly, Dad is down in the basement with his little electric football field wondering if toting the game to his 25th high school reunion will impress all the girls who wouldn’t go out with him in the 11th grade. (Answer: probably not.)
The other thing you need to know about electric football is that it’s hopelessly addictive. If you play the game a few times odds are good you will be hooked for life. The fact that electric football is enjoying a renaissance is proof of its addictiveness. The middle aged guys playing today have fallen off the wagon.
I’m guessing the resurgence is also partly some sort of a revolt against our high tech world. The driverless cars, voice-activated toasters and self-peeling bananas™.
Electric football is beautiful in its simplicity. In a complex world gone mad we need this game.
You can keep your Madden NFL and your fantasy football, your Mortal Kombat, your Pokemon Rocks and especially your Monopoly: Cheaters Edition. I’m going back to basics and kickin’ it (into the laundry room) old school. I’m going to stick with my peers, my addicted brethren with their mid-life crises and go out and find myself an electric football game.
If this works out I’m thinking next I’ll get a Slinky.