Playbook mourns Electric Football inventor

Football fans who grew up in the 1970s probably remember the bzzzzzzzzz of Electric Football. AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser

By the time I was 9 years old, I had stopped believing in Santa. So when Christmas was approaching in 1973, I didn't waste my time sitting on some costumed loser's lap in a department store. Instead, I went straight to my parents and told them exactly what I wanted: "Electric Football, Electric Football, Electric Football!"

I was referring to that game with the vibrating metal surface and little plastic players. It may seem primitive compared to today's gaming scene, but video games were in their infancy and Madden was still the guy who coached the Raiders. If you wanted a simulated home version of the NFL experience, Electric Football was your best bet.

I thought about that Monday upon learning that Norman Sas, the inventor of Electric Football, had passed away. It had never occurred to me that one person had been responsible for this game. I figured it had been devised by a team of technicians or something. According to Sas' obituary, he designed Electric Football in the late 1940s, although it didn't take off until 1967, when he struck a licensing deal with NFL Properties.

The timing was perfect for me and millions of other kids who found Electric Football under their Christmas trees in the 1970s. (Yes, my parents came through for me.) As most of us quickly discovered, the game wasn't quite as realistic as it appeared to be in the TV commercials. Throwing accurate passes was nearly impossible, field goal attempts often went comically awry, and almost every play ended up with several players spinning around in circles (a phenomenon that would later receive the ultimate pop-cultural seal of approval by being enshrined in a "Simpsons" scene).

But most of us didn't care. Electric Football made us feel more connected to the game we watched on TV each Sunday. Every time I flicked the switch to activate the vibrating surface, I believed -- I was sure -- that the play would develop exactly as I diagrammed it. As it turned out, that rarely happened, but that just made me more determined to get it right the next time. Not a bad metaphor for life, right?

So here's to you, Norman Sas. Thanks for inventing a game that was a game-changer. R.I.P.