When it comes to throwing around a virtual pigskin, there are a plethora of electronic options available today that simulate the game of football right down to the minute details. The grunting players look remarkably similar to their real-world counterparts, the stadiums are replicated to the very last detail, and the gameplay options allow the gamer to do virtually anything that can be done in a real game. Prior to these technological advances, however, electronic football games of the past couldn’t rely on realism as a selling point, but they made up for it with a healthy dose of sheer fun, and some of these games are still beloved to this day. Let’s take a look at the formative years of football games and the quirky gameplay that forever etched them into our collective memory.
The first electric football game was released in 1947 by Tudor Metal Products, a company that had been one of the first to stake its claim in the electric game business. Tudor used the vibrating model for their electric race car game as the technological basis for Electric Football and created an instant hit. When the motor beneath the playing board was activated, the decorated metallic field would vibrate, shivering players all over the field in a helter-skelter melee of part electricity, part magnetism, all fun. The football itself was really nothing more than a piece of foam or felt cut into football shape with a tiny slit in it for the Triple Threat Quarterback to grip it.
Fortunately, the novelty of electricity made up for the flawed simulation. It’s a tribute to the game’s popularity that people played it in droves despite the fact that the quarterback had the throwing coordination of someone desperately in need of opposable thumbs. The players themselves were somewhat brittle and the bases were easily damaged, causing all sorts of miniature fits and seizures on the field of play. Still, Tudor had made it possible to play an eleven on eleven game of football in April. Enough said.
In the 1950s, other companies tried to mimic Tudor’s sensation. Rivals like Gotham tried to one-up Tudor with various novelties and improvements. Three dimensional figures in dynamic poses quickly replaced the two-dimensional predecessor. Stadium upgrades came in the form of painted borders and cardboard bleachers full of spectators.
Tudor trumped them all, however, when it obtained exclusive licensing rights with the National Football League in the 1960s. Now Tudor Electric Football featured logos and uniforms from such football teams as the Baltimore Colts, the Kansas City Chiefs, and of course, the dynastic Green Bay Packers. Gotham and other competitors such as Coleco tried to keep up by modeling games after real-life stadiums like the Louisiana Superdome. Prongs attached to the bottoms of each plastic player gave greater control to players. The game resembled foosball in that a dial on the side could control player movement right or left as the electrical awesomeness moved them forward or backward.
Electric Football would enjoy consistent success through the 1970s, but like most electric games, meet its inevitable demise at the hands of the burgeoning video game era in the 1980s. The cult following dug in and formed the Electronic Football League in 1985, proving that Electronic Football would not go down without a fight. To make their cause easier, Miggle Toys (who now owned Tudor) revisited the classic in 1991 and have somehow managed to keep sales consistent ever since, even on an international scale.
Digital scoreboards, pocket scales, rules, regulations, and all manner of hobbyist eccentricity make Electronic Football as cool today as it ever was. It may not be the real thing, or even a grade A simulation, but it’s a lot of fun, and that’s all that’s necessary to keep these games alive for future generations to marvel, ridicule, or just stare blankly at, wondering where you insert the CD.
If you’ve logged some serious electric football hours in your day, we’d love to hear your memories in our comments section. Tell us which games you played and why you found them so appealing, as we look back at a pre-video sports game that has managed to respectfully hold its own over the years.