Sports: An electrifying performance
By Ed Morrone
For the Times
The Super Bowl was played in Philadelphia last Saturday.
No, not that Super Bowl, Eagles fans – lucky (or unlucky) for you, we’re all still waiting on that one. Rather, what took place inside the John Perzel Community Center in Mayfair was the Super Bowl of electric football.
Yes, that’s right, electric football, the same tabletop game that served as a popular toy for youths before the dawn of John Madden video games and fantasy football.
But there’s just one catch: there were no children to be found on Saturday. In fact, all of the participants and spectators were grown men, and make no mistake about it . . . these men are very serious about their hobby.
Saturday represented Super Bowl XII of the Northeast Electric Football League (NEFL), which consists of 32 members, or the number of teams in the National Football League. Each NEFL member is paired with a professional franchise that serves as that player’s team over the course of an electric-football season. The NEFL also follows the NFL schedule of 16 regular-season games followed by three rounds of postseason playoffs.
When there are just two teams remaining, as was the case on Saturday, the Super Bowl is played until the league champion is crowned.
The NEFL has expanded in the last three years by opening the league to coaches from New York and Maryland, in addition to Philly and New Jersey.
THE MISSION: WIN THE BIG ONE
“Getting to the Super Bowl is something I shoot for every year,” said Al Harvey, who coached the victorious Dallas Cowboys to a tight 20-14 win over Adrian Baxter’s Miami Dolphins on Saturday. “I love the game because the rule set of electric football is very much like a real football game. It’s a thinking man’s game with a lot of strategy and coaching involved.”
Electric football dates back to the 1940s, with its popularity reflecting the NFL’s own leap in popularity during the 1960s. However, organized electric-football leagues in this area didn’t surface until the 1990s, when Myron Evans (who was in attendance for the NEFL’s Super Bowl) created the Philadelphia Electric Football League (PEFL). The NEFL was an offshoot of this league and is overseen by Commissioner Corey Johnson, a 41-year-old Northeast construction worker.
Unlike actual football, the electric version prides itself on the fact that anyone, male or female, with an interest in the sport can get involved and excel. There is no set hierarchy, as the same rules apply to everyone. For example, Johnson, who has been playing in the league for 10 years, is the all-time wins leader but has never won the title. In fact, his San Francisco 49ers fell to Harvey’s Cowboys in the NFC title game.
In this electric version, miniature plastic players are arranged in set formations on the metal green field, which measures 2 feet by 3 feet. An electrical switch is pressed and the vibrating board puts the players in movement up and down the field toward the end zone. The quarterbacks can even pass – they flick the small foam football in the direction of open receivers.
Those involved praise the game for its realism and attention to detail, from real football plays to uniform design.
If it seems like it’s a lot to take in for an outsider, that’s because it is. But what the men who comprise the NEFL really want you to know is that their hobby is more than a game – it’s a way of promoting camaraderie among members and resurrecting childhood nostalgia.
“A natural consequence of life is getting older,” said Ed Scott, 52, who coaches the NEFL’s Minnesota Vikings and served as the emcee of Saturday’s Super Bowl. “People you were friends with in your twenties get married and settle down, and as a result you start to look for new interests. This game has led to new friendships, and it really keeps us all close with one another.”
IT’S A DEVOTED CLUB
Electric football is a small, exclusive club, with probably a few hundred active enthusiasts around the country. But those involved are devoted to their game, as leagues have sprung up all around the country, from New York City (Big Apple Miniature) to California (EFL Los Angeles). Johnson himself is referred to as “National” for his willingness to travel to attend events nationwide. He estimates he’s been to at least 20 cities, from New York all the way to Honolulu.
“It might seem like we’re geeks to most people,” Scott said with a chuckle. “But we prefer to call ourselves hobbyists. Say what you will, it’s a competitive hobby to have, and our love for the game has kept it going over the years. The interest in electric football has only enhanced because of the enthusiasm of people like Corey, who defines someone that has taken the game and put it on the map nationally. These guys love to keep it alive.”
And it may seem like the Internet – as well as technological advances in such things as video game consoles, MP3 players, cell phones and computers – could render an archaic game like electric football obsolete.
However, technology can prove to be a two-way street in this case, because the Internet also can serve as a powerful marketing tool for the hobby. Not only can computers keep established members in regular contact, but it can serve as a teaching forum for new players.
NEFL participant George Diamond, of Harrisburg, has posted several videos on YouTube to explain the game to others. If that’s not enough, Saturday’s Super Bowl was simulcast on the Internet for EFL diehards to watch all over the country.
Throughout the contest, two members checked in online from vacation spots, one in Virginia Beach and the other from a cruise in Bermuda. One would be hard-pressed to find a hobby that brings people from all walks of life together – gender, profession, race and religion are non-factors. As Scott remarked, “there is no discrimination.”
Of course, there are challenges in keeping electric football alive. Most of its participants are older men in their late thirties, forties and fifties, meaning the younger generation has yet to fully catch on. Scott noted that the effort is there, as EFL enthusiasts have taken to churches and community centers to get younger people excited about the hobby.
The NEFL has also started The Deuce, a league of about a dozen youngsters. It remains to be seen, however, if the younger generation will carry it into the future.
Call Scott an optimist, but he doesn’t see his beloved pastime going anywhere anytime soon.
“I believe the younger people will take the hobby to the next level,” he said. “Technology is always advancing, and there’s always someone out there who will take the advancements and apply it to our game. We’ve left our footprint, and I feel comfortable passing it on to the next generation. It’s also nice to know that I could stop playing tomorrow and live on the memories.”
To learn more about the NEFL, visit www.leaguelineup.com/phillyNEFL
To learn more about electric football, visit www.miniaturefootball.org
Reporter Ed Morrone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org