Philadelphia Inquirer – Relaunching Electric Football

012914_electric-football_600See the full article and photos here: Relaunching Electric Football

Tim McManus, Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2014, 1:09 AM

Long before Corey Johnson had the nickname “National,” before anyone called him “the commissioner” or the “Godfather,” he was a boy in Logan with a stack of white pages and a razor blade.

Johnson would pore through the pages of the phone book until he found the name he was looking for: Carmichael, Campbell, Harris. He’d slice it from the pages, careful not to let the edges curl up, and paste it to the back of a miniature football player with his mother’s nail glue.

In the 1970s, this qualified as electric football innovation of the highest order.

“I used to think my Earl Campbell was real,” Johnson said. “He’d see the hole and we’d be like, ‘How did he see that?’ He’s alive!”

Johnson glad-handed his way Saturday through the hotel ballroom that hosted TudorCon14, the Electric Football World Championships and Convention. It wasn’t just the 86 cheesesteaks he had arranged for delivery from D’Alessandro’s that made him popular.

Johnson is one of the main reasons that Doug Strohm, the new owner of Tudor Games, chose Philadelphia as the venue for the event that he hopes relaunches the classic game to a new generation.

Hundreds turned out for the three-day event at the Embassy Suites Airport Hotel. The double-elimination tournament, which wrapped up Sunday, had entries for 70 players.

Many of the mostly middle-aged men wandering the halls in football jerseys were a part of the 32-team league Johnson organizes in the Northeast, where he moved several years ago. Starting the week after the real Super Bowl, the men meet at Daly’s Irish Pub just off Harbison Avenue for 16 straight weekends until they crown their own champion.

The league, which includes players from as far away as Maryland, claims roots going back 19 years and has a waiting list to join. They play for a crystal trophy and bragging rights.

Johnson has traveled to conventions all over the country – hence his “National” moniker – but perhaps surprisingly, the competitive aspect has never been what’s driven Johnson toward the game.

As a kid – Johnson won’t give his age except to say he’s a baby boomer – he experimented with putting pennies or clay on the bases of players to make them run straighter, but gave it up quickly. Instead, he held a training camp for his players. The ones that didn’t run to his liking were relegated to a shoe box.

Johnson was more interested in using tape to create wristbands, or sprinkling baby powder over the board to create a snow game.

“It made a mess after we were done, but it was cool,” Johnson said.

The game play never drove Media’s Earl Shores, either. He found his first board – featuring the Browns and the Giants – under his tree in 1968 as an 8-year-old.

Last fall, he published a book he spent 12 years working on: The Unforgettable Buzz: The History of Electric Football and Tudor.

Back in the ’60s, the NFL was scarce on TV and apparel hard to come by. He was captivated by the chance to have the league in miniature on his kitchen table. Shores spent hours going through the catalog looking for teams to order.

“You’d have the order form, and you’d check a team and you would erase it and check someone else because you couldn’t make up your mind,” Shores said. “It was a buck-fifty to send to Brooklyn and get your team, trying to scrape your pennies together.”

Strohm, the president and CEO of Tudor Games, wants to bring that experience back.

He grew up in rural Ohio with four sisters, developing his own games to keep him busy. He cashed in on a successful career in the software and marketing business to buy the Tudor brand two years ago.

Strohm’s innovations include the first remote control, invisible bases that allow for more precise game play, and an iPad app that serves as a playbook and scoreboard.

He plans to have the new boards available in retail stores by the fall, and is working on regaining the NFL license. As a historian, Shores is on board.

“It has to evolve to stay vital,” Shores said. “And he’s got the right idea.”

tmcmanus@philly.com

@ByTimMcManus

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