Matt Stover blew it in last year's Super Bowl. Missed it wide right. Matt Stover - the greatest offensive weapon the Ravens have ever known!
"The kicker let me down," says Rene Smith. "He sure did."
Before this goes on too long, please know that Rene Smith, a 49-year-old Catonsville man, is talking about the forgotten, frustrating game of electric football. Forget about fantasy football leagues and those Madden NFL state-of-the-art-graphics video games. Real men still play electric football.
Well, call them middle-aged guys who probably received their first Tudor Tru-Action electric football game as young football fans in the 1960s. Remember the buzzing? Remember the aimless play of your vibrating Bears or Cardinals football team? Scoring was just a dream some of us players had.
In the 40 years since, Tudor became Miggle Toys, which resurrected the game in the 1990s. Thanks to company chat boards and a crafty public relations effort, electric football staged an improbable comeback. More than 500 players are expected this weekend in Hunt Valley to attend the 12th annual Official Electric Football Super Bowl (yes, there have been 11 others). The convention begins tomorrow, and, after single-game elimination rounds, the Miggle EFL Super Bowl will be held Sunday. No word on any tailgating opportunities.
Smith was a field goal short of making it to the championship game at last year's Electric Football Super Bowl in Pittsburgh. But Smith managed a third-place finish among 70 "coaches" who competed. This weekend, he plans to bring back his dream team - the '96 Ravens, of all teams - and has no plans on making any roster changes.
"Stover comes back. He's got to come back."
Is the game coming back to you now? Electric football was played on a metal tabletop that vibrated when the motor was switched on. The game, which was introduced in 1947, promised that "Players Actually `Block and Tackle'" - that's what the cardboard box said anyway. Families ordered the game through Sears. If you didn't get one for the holidays, you went over to a friend who did. Never before did a childhood gift arrive with such promise, such potential.
The football players were plastic figures wedged into pronged bases. You could theoretically bend or twist the player base to increase speed. To run a play, a felt football (how many of those were vacuumed up?) was tucked under a player's arm, and the motor was switched on by the offensive "coach." The play ended when the player's base touched a defensive player's base or the player happened to score.
Electric football still has a "triple-threat quarterback" that can pass, punt and kick field goals. The mechanized quarterback arm can flick the football to a receiver. If the ball touches the player or his base, it's a completion. In the old days, kids would set up V-shaped wedges on offense, but this just induced embarrassing traffic jams. Players often and unintentionally hooked their arms around a goal post in a sort of dance of death. During other plays, the rudderless running backs tended to veer out of bounds or just spin in hapless circles like drunken bumper cars. But by God, the game was electric!
In short, electric football was one great, bad game. It was true fantasy football.
Then, those boomers grew up and discovered Gameboys and PlayStations and Madden NFL video games. But, as it turns out, electric football never really went away - and its admirers say it's truly new and improved.
During the NFL playoffs, Sony's ad for high-definition TV featured an electric football game re-enacting the famous 1982 Cal-Stanford football game when band members rushed the field during an improbable kickoff return. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has an electric football exhibit - and hosted Miggle's seventh Super Bowl in 2001. The classic game boards pop up on eBay, where a vintage Tudor electric football game can start at $19.99.
The modern Miggle electric football game has NFL-sanctioned uniform colors and logos, and players come in various sizes and poses. The $60 Super Bowl version includes accessories such as scoreboards, signage and cheerleader figures. Current players say the motor has been improved to better control speed and player direction.
"We can get the men to run straight or run at an angle. The game is actually more organized and precise than when we were kids," says Smith, a welfare-program worker in Washington. He got re-hooked on electric football six years ago when he attended the sixth Super Bowl. "The D.C. area is a hotbed for electric football." Who knew?
Darrell Brevard, a 38-year-old bail bondsman from Suitland, is a member of the Beltway Electric Football League - 28 members strong. "And always looking for more," as Brevard says. He brings his 1995 49ers electric football team to Hunt Valley this weekend. He is a veteran of eight Super Bowls as a spectator, and this will be his first competition. He's ready. His team is ready.