Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I’m not old enough to land deep within the “boomer” parameters, but close enough to catch the tail end of some of the childhood remembrances. Like many pre-teen boys, I was a sports fanatic. Football, basketball, and baseball. When it was too dark or cold or rainy to go outside to play the sport of the season, I would turn to sports board games. There were a few that were popular at the time and, at my pleading, my parents were good enough to buy them for me. Video games like Madden Football didn’t exist in those days. Television was for watching TV, the phone was for phone calls, and there were no household computers around. Imagination required. All of these games are designed for two people to play as opponents, but on the occasions when a friend either wasn’t available or was unwelcomed by my parents (odd hours, school night, etc…), I’d play the games by myself.
I’ve included YouTube links and photos because it’s difficult to describe these games with words. I tried my best to do so anyway.

This game is probably the most recognizable and I was surprised to find that it’s still available today. In fact, I’d guess that much of the current generation of sports fans has at least heard of this game and would recognize the “player” pieces.
The game required an electric outlet that would generate a light vibration on a metallic playing field at the command of a hand held switch. Small (very small) plastic football players were mounted on a 
small stand that would react to the vibrations with forward motion, although not always in a straight path. The stands had little sensors on the bottom that supposedly could be adjusted to make the players go straight or turn a certain way, but after a few attempts with poor results, I didn’t invest much time into figuring out how to make that work. The football players came pre-painted to represent teams in the NFL, and the purchase of the game came with two teams - you could send away for more teams. I had the Packers and the Cardinals. My uncle, who is only five years older than me, eventually gave me his two teams - the Colts and the Bears - when he outgrew the game. Some versions of the game came with generic player pieces that were a bit larger and weren’t painted, but that version was scoffed at by those of us who had the real deal. The football was a little wad of something that felt like cotton and could be tucked in the “running back’s” arm. He never fumbled. The players didn’t move fast and hard enough to simulate a jarring tackle - the play ended when a defender’s stand touched the ball carrier’s stand. And I couldn’t get the football to work well at all with the odd player that was designed only for passing and kicking. So for me, this game was pretty much limited to the ground attack. The players came posed in different positions to look like linemen (in a blocking position), running backs etc...  So one kid lined up his offense by setting a running back with the ball tucked in his arm behind lineman and other blockers, while the other kid set up his defense. Then the switch would be turned on and the play would go until the runner either ran out of bounds, started going the wrong way, or was touched by a defender.
The game was cool in that you could visualize a football game happening on an actual field. But the downsides were many. Two sets of kids hands trying set up those little pieces for a play got crowded, and the actual play would take about half as long as the set up time, maybe less. More often than not the play would be a scrum resulting in only a few yards one way or the other, and if the running back did happen to break free he would often start going the wrong direction or toward the sidelines while the defenders would sometimes lock arms with each other and perform a circular kind of square-dance. I don’t remember ever finishing a full game with another kid before we got bored and decided to do something else. The most fun I had with this game was by myself, setting up kickoff returns. I had this one player on the Cardinals team – Willis Crenshaw (you could stick numbers on the players to represent the NFL team’s current roster) - who I swear had eyes for the end zone. Other players like Johnny Roland couldn’t run a straight line from end zone to end zone without eventually swerving out of bounds. Ah, but Willis, ..Willis was alive. I’d set Willis two yards deep in the end zone behind blockers set up in kickoff return formation, line up the defenders straight across the opposing 40 yard line and turn on the switch. Willis would not only run towards the end zone, but would zig and zag his way through defenders. And just when it would look like he was gonna run out of bounds like any ol’ other player would do, he’d cut it up-field and tightrope the sidelines! I was so enthralled with Willis’ talents that I’d set up kickoff after kickoff.
Eventually the electric switch shorted out and wouldn’t work, but I discovered the same effect could be achieved by lightly tapping my fingers on the metallic playing field.

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