Electric Football

Electric Football Super Bowl IV

Electric Football Super Bowl IV

With yet another Super Bowl approaching, I would like to pause to remember Super Bowl IV. In early 1970, the Kansas City Chiefs, representatives of the upstart American Football League upset the Minnesota Vikings, representatives of the National Football League, 23-7 in New Orleans.

Many of us still remember the cast of characters from that game as some are now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Vikings defensive line was nicknamed the “Purple People Eaters” and anchored by Carl Eller and Alan Page. The Chiefs were under the leadership of quarterback, Len Dawson, dubbed the “Ugly Duckling.” Bud Grant coached the Vikings and Hank Stram coached the Chiefs. During the Super Bowl, Coach Stram was miked for sound. This was the first time viewers had a chance to really see and hear what was happening on the sidelines.

On East Broadway in North Baltimore, Super Bowl IV must have made a big impact because later that fall when the JCPenney Christmas catalog arrived at our house, my brother, Gary, wanted an electric football game. He had the opportunity to choose any two teams in the NFL but he picked the combatants from Super Bowl IV. He must have been on Santa’s “nice” list that year because Santa brought exactly what Gary wanted.

From a parent’s perspective, electric football had to be one of the most annoying games invented. Due to its maddening sound, we mostly played it upstairs in a bedroom. The playing field was made of metal, the players were tiny plastic figures painted like the Chiefs and Vikings, and the football was a piece of felt. Between each snap, each player rearranged his team. Once the football teams were lined up, we flipped the switch and the metal field vibrated LOUDLY and the jiggling moved the players around the field. When the ball carrier was tackled (touched by a defender), we turned the game off and lined up for the next play.

In hindsight, the electric football game was annoying from a kid’s perspective too. As we watched Saturday morning cartoons, there were many television commercials promoting electric football. These advertisements touted the quarterback as a triple threat that could run, kick, or pass, but, in reality, he was never much good at passing. Mostly he just served as the ball carrier, but on rare occasions, the quarterback could kick the little ball of felt through the uprights. Also, the television commercials led us to believe that we would be creating elaborate plays, but the only successful strategy was putting all of one’s players in a big clump. Even though the electric football game didn’t quite live up to its billing, we still enjoyed it and played it often.

Soon, the JCPenney Christmas catalog arrived for 1972 and my brother selected another football game for a gift: Mattel Talking Football. This game involved 13 plastic disks. The player on offense chose a disk and secretly placed it in the game while the player on defense did the same. Based on the selections, an announcer broadcasted the resulting play. “Sweep left. The defensive end gets to him eight yards back!” “Fullback drives through a big hole up the middle. Drug down after a gain of seven yards!” But, even the best plays could be nullified when the announcer shouted “fumble” or “penalty.”

When the situation seemed especially desperate, the offensive player could choose a disk called “trick plays.” The best outcome would be a flea flicker resulting in a touchdown, but more often than not it might end in an interception.

Mattel Talking Football convinced us that we were football strategists. We played that game so much that we had all of the announcer’s words memorized. When I grew up and married my husband, I learned that he had similar happy recollections of playing Mattel Talking Football with his brother.

It’s funny how I can barely remember the nearly forty Super Bowls since Super Bowl IV and I only remember that 1970 Super Bowl because of an electric football game, but here’s hoping that Super Bowl XLVIII will be one for the ages. And if it isn’t a good game, here’s to a great party with good friends and yummy food.


Hail Hail the Gang’s all Here!

As the high school basketball season begins to wind down, my mind returns to the most exciting sporting events of any NBHS school year during the late 1970s: the boys’ basketball tournaments. Just when it seemed like winter would never end, the tournament draw was announced and excitement began to build.

Soon the game day arrived and the hallways of the high school buzzed with planning conversations. “Did you buy your tickets?” “Can you give me a ride?” “How late are you allowed to stay out after the game?” On tournament days, the school day ended with a pep rally involving the basketball team, cheerleaders, and pep band. We hurried home from school amped up for the game.

By early evening, it seemed as if most of North Baltimore arrived at the appointed tournament site, usually Findlay High School, clad in orange and black and ready to cheer on the Tigers. Younger students rode with their parents. Older students were proud to be able to drive unsupervised to the game and arrived by the carload.

As tip-off approached, the NB section at the game was packed shoulder to shoulder. When the Tigers finally took the court under the leadership of head coach Jim Dennis, wearing his signature crew cut, the NB fans rose as one. That was the moment when we cheered the loudest and when we felt the most NB Tiger pride. It seems as if the loud cheering lasted from the opening tip-off to the final buzzer. I must have done my part because I can clearly remember losing my voice cheering at the tournament games.

Soon the game was over. If we won, the excitement intensified as we began to plan for another game in only a couple days. If we lost, we felt sad as we loaded into the car to grab a pizza in Findlay on the way home. Eating in a Findlay restaurant with one’s friends was still a rare treat in that era. If there was still enough parental curfew time available, the car might make a couple rounds of the circuit in Findlay before heading home to North Baltimore. And if there was still a little curfew time available, the car might make a few swings up and down Main Street in NB to see what was happening.

In hindsight, the exhilaration that I still recall from the tournament games wasn’t about winning or losing the game. The basketball tournaments of my memories were special because many North Baltimore residents, both young and old, were unified in cheering on the Tigers.

Since then, I’ve been to many basketball games. And I would happily trade in the NCAA Final Four and NBA games just to relive one of the NB Tiger tournament games of the late 1970s.

Snowed In: 2014 Style

Winter 2014

Winter 2014

Last week, prior to the polar vortex, I wrote a column recalling my family’s experiences of being housebound during the major snowstorms of 1977 and 1978. Little did I know that within 48 hours of finishing that article, I would find myself snowed in again. Luckily, this time we were snowed in 2014 style.

Being stuck indoors isn’t much fun regardless of the era, but I would contend that the 2014 version is far easier than 1978. Instead of three television stations showing soap operas, this time we were blessed not only with cable television but also Netflix. How exciting to have the inclement weather enforce a television viewing marathon upon us! The only problem was deciding which program to watch. We focused most of our viewing on HouseHunters International.

Since the polar vortex happened in early January, many of us hadn’t even had time to fully break our New Year’s resolutions yet. Since mine was to exercise every day, I was able to jump on our elliptical without interrupting my television viewing marathon. In 1978, few of us had any way to exercise at home during the blizzard, let alone exercise without ceasing our television viewing.

No matter how tempting a day of watching mindless television sounds, it still gets boring pretty quickly. Then it is time to break out the books and read a bit. In 1978, I remember re-reading books that we had in our house to pass time. In 2014, a new book is only seconds away courtesy of e-readers. With just a few clicks, my Kindle had the newest bestseller awaiting me.

For me, the best part of the polar vortex 2014 was the ability to correspond with my friends via text or Facebook. During the snowstorms of my teenage years, not being able to chat with my friends was the worst part of being homebound. This time the conversations went on for hours. Lots of good laughs were shared as no one was too busy to chat.

Oddly, the access to technology helped us find two low-tech ways to enjoy the weather. Even though I am 53 years old, and have lived through a few snowstorms, these were snowy day activities that I had never experienced. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

As the temperatures reached -9 degrees, one of my friends posted a video of his kids conducting a science experiment. Intrigued by the video, I encouraged my husband and son to boil a cup of water and throw it out the back door. It exploded into a fine powdery snow in the air. The first time it happened, I laughed harder than I had laughed in a long, long time. We repeated the experiment several times throughout the day and I laughed uncontrollably every time.

Next, I began to see Facebook posts about Snow Ice Cream. What a fun snowy day activity to make homemade ice cream from freshly fallen snow, sugar, vanilla and milk. All you need is ten minutes and some excited kids to enjoy this activity! Word to the wise: if you have a pet, choose your snow carefully though.

But, the very best thing about being snowed in 2014 is access to the internet, specifically travel sites for warm weather getaways. I spent several hours researching a late winter trip on TripAdvisor. And before the Level 3 snow advisory was lifted, I had succumbed and booked a trip that involves sun, sand, and cocktails with little umbrellas in them. Even though our house was cool, my soul was warm dreaming about a tropical getaway.

So, here’s to hoping we don’t have any more major snowstorms this winter, but just in case stay prepared with coats, hats, mittens, boots, shovels, and alternative heating sources. And more importantly, keep your laptop charged and Netflix account current!

Be warm.