The generation that grew up on video games may find this hard to believe, but there was once a time when football fans could entertain themselves for hours by playing a low-tech game featuring inch-tall plastic players moving around chaotically on a vibrating metal football field. The game was Electric Football, and it grew so popular that more than 40 million copies of the game have been sold.
Electric Football was the brainchild of Norman Sas, who, according to the Hackensack Record, died on June 28 at the age of 87. Sas invented Electric Football in 1948, but it was in 1967, when he signed a deal with the NFL to put team colors and player names on his tiny plastic players, that the game really took off.
For the first decade or so of its partnership with the NFL, Electric Football was stunningly popular: Young football fans couldn’t get enough of strategizing with their 11 plastic players, putting them in just the right formation so that the ball carrier would vibrate his way into the end zone. Of course, the game’s motions were so unpredictable that the ball carrier was liable to go backward for a safety, but no matter: The game was pure fun.
Eventually, however, video games made Electric Football seem as obsolete as the horse and buggy.
“For the first 10 years, we generated more money for NFL Properties than anyone else,” Sas told the Washington Post in 1998. “Then the games came out, and that was the beginning of the end.”
In a 1980 article about Electric Football, Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated wrote, “I’ll take the oldtime Electric Football over some newfangled computer game every time.” Not enough people felt that way for Electric Football to remain the commercial success that it was in the 1960s and 1970s, but for millions of kids who grew up pretending to be Chuck Noll or Tom Landry as they placed plastic players on a vibrating metal gridiron, Electric Football provided endless hours of enjoyment. All thanks to Norman Sas.