Good vibrations will never die when it comes to Electric Football experience … and experiments

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New York Times, courtesy of Earl Shores and Roddy Garcia
Norman Sas, far right, receives the “Symbol of Excellence” from Sears for the second year in a row, in 1971, in a presentation that included NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, second from left.

Norman Sas, the inventor of the Tudor Electric Football table-top game, died the other day. He was 87.

His legacy will reverberate forever.

According to his obituary, Sas was a mechanical engineer out of MIT who, in the late ’40s, became president of Tudor Metal Products. His moment of BFO (blinding flash of the obvious): Put plastic football players on a green marked field, then hit the power switch and watch everyone do the jitterbug.

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The game box said that inside there were “teams of tru-action (registered trademark) moving players.” It was more like trying to bring Dr. Frankenstein’s monster to life four downs at a time, then accepting the fact you had to punt away.

A row of offensive linemen, once set up in a logical formation to arrange a path to the end zone for a running back (trying to complete a forward pass didn’t figure into the strategy), suddenly careened all over the place like army men knocked off a plywood battlefield by a loose Doberman in the backyard. If half of them went straight, instead of making a zombie-like U-turn and allowing a nervous-acting defensive player to break through and touch the ball carrier to end the play, it was a success.

But, oh, what a beautiful mess.

What kid wouldn’t be enthralled, allowed by his parents to have a piece of sheet metal buoyed by an electrical current. It sparked all kinds of sideways intuitive thinking.

Like, I’ll betcha this thing could cook bacon.

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One Christmas, most likely in the late ’60s, my brothers and I finally got one after we saw it in the Sears’ Wish Book and begged really hard for it.

All things equal, our sister got an Easy Bake Oven. Easy, not so much. It also created its own gridiron-related conflicts.

Although we also the Incredible Edibles Thingmaker — another Mattel gadget that allowed you to pour colored goop into trays and make your own gummy worms — we were hungry for more. Something was missing.

Our common sense, for starters.

As we soon discovered, if we played Electric Football long enough, the green field would get warmer and warmer. One time we played with the thing so long, it started to smoke, so we were told to “give it a rest.”

I’m not sure when the light bulb went over our heads that the physical qualities of the Electric Football game was something like a camping hot plate/food warmer, but it wasn’t long before we had the idea to try to fry some raw bacon on it. This was, after all, a game centered around moving the ol’ pigskin.

Darn, if all it did was just get everything all stinkin’ greasy.

In retrospect, that may have helped the players slide around a little better, as if they needed that performance-enhancing ability. But the result was a “Wonder Years” moment that had to make Mom and Dad wonder just how stupid we could get.

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We’ve been reading other stories about Tudor Electric Football memories this week, and most owners seemed to have kind of a love-hate relationship with a game that went through several evolutions before finally petering out when hand-held football videogames came into play in the 1980s.

Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com found a reference in a book written by former NFL linebacker Chris Spielman, “That’s Why I’m Here,” saying that his competitive streak got the best of him while playing the game: “I ruined an electric football game (brother) Rick and I received for Christmas one year because the players made me mad. They wouldn’t go where I wanted them to, so I smashed it.”

Again, that was the beauty of it.

Pure chaos. Predictably unpredictable, with perfection impossible. If you could grasp that concept as an 8-year-old, the world was much easier to deal with.

In another obit about Sas, who died at his home in Vero Beach, Fla., on June 28 after a stroke, the question was asked by Chris Byrne, head of the www.timetoplaymag.com toy review website: “Who would’ve thought that a vibrating metal plate could capture the imagination of so many boys?”

In a pre-Atari existence of roasting Uncle Milton’s ants with a magnifying glass, giving Hot Wheels an extra boost with duct-taped firecrackers or adding to the aerodynamic confusion of the Wiffleball by adding dad’s fishing lures inside, why wouldn’t an otherwise impractical Electric Football game create an alternative universe of experimentation?

A book called “The Unforgettable Buzz,” (linked here), by Earl Shores and Rodney Garcia is set to come out this fall chronicling the game’s existence. Vintage Tudor Electric Football games sell regularity on eBay.com, the better ones fetching between $100 and $300, like some kind of first-edition classic novel. We’re also told that a Seattle toymaker bought the Tudor name and started churning retro-versions out for a generation of adults who can’t get over the shakes.

If the 1960s were about good vibrations, there was nothing better than an afternoon left alone with a Tudor Electric Football game, a sturdy extension cord and a slab of Farmer John’s recently expired bacon

Thanks, Mr. Sas. Your sassy idea will always remain a vibrant memory for us.

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