Ahh … the good ol’ days when electric football games were simple

Originally published in the The Star, Cleveland County, North Carolina

Thursday, Dec 10 2009, 9:00 pm

Alan Ford

Let me say up front that I’ve never played a football video game whether it be John Madden or any other popular brand.

Even if I wanted to, I don’t think my reflexes, eyesight or the threat of carpal tunnel injury would allow me. All that game technology has passed me by and that’s probably a good thing. I don’t know how I could fit that into my regular schedule — you know, the two-hour lunches at Ken & Mary’s, Facebook time and checking out all the college basketball on cable these days.

Others have written on this subject before but I too am from the generation when football simulation games were much more primitive. I’m not one who could tell you if the ones I owned in my youth were made by Hasbro, Parker Brothers or any other game manufacturer. All I knew was it was fun.

I, and many others in the 1960s, broke into the genre with those buzzing electric gridiron boards that made 11 individual players for each team head into different directions. It’s almost comical, given the sophistication that makes current pro stars seemingly come to life on a video screen, that something that simple was so entertainment.

My older brother (Randy) and I would play for hours and in that time probably get only a quarter of a game done. That’s because you had to set all the players back in place at the line of scrimmage each play, quite a timely chore.

You also had to scream “pass” when you were going to throw it and turn off the power for a second. If the little plastic figure (barely three inches tall) whose arm you adjusted to fling the little piece of cotton that was called a football actually hit the target downfield, it was close to a miracle. Don’t know if I ever completed more than one or two in years of trying.

Even worse was the act of kicking a field goal or extra point. The plastic kicker worked fine. The only problem was the goal posts that were only four-or-five inches high. The kicking specialist, when you let the leg fly forward, would send the ball a couple of feet in the air. Whether it was called good or not, it usually started an argument that often turned into a wrestling match that brought the game to an end when my mom intervened as the ultimate league commissioner (complete with punishment).

Later on we moved up to something called “photo-electric” football. It consisted of a light bulb in a box. The offense and defense would place select play sheets — you had a choice of blitzing, playing prevent or stacking for the run on defense while the offense could throw short passes, run up the middle or fling it long. With the bulb turned on, you would slide out a cardboard cover and it would reveal how the play you ran worked against a certain defensive set.

Those years’ people thought I was studying at Chapel Hill led to my introduction to a college football game marketed by Sports Illustrated. It was basically a dice game but, rooming with a fellow college fan at the time, it would be the night before an exam and he’d suddenly go “Who do you want?”

I’d often answer “Notre Dame 1966” with the Terry Hanratty-Jim Seymour passing combination. He’s usually go for the Texas Longhorns from 1969 with James “Slick” Street at quarterback and fullback Steve Wooster in the wishbone. That led to some epic battles in our dorm room, usually about 45-50 minutes in length, before returning to our studies.

Since I’m not a game connoisseur, I have no frame of reference about current games. I do know that in the 1960s and 70s, what was out there was fun and created lasting memories.


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