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.

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