A man named Norman Sas died in Florida at the age of 87 the other day. I wish his family condolences on their loss.I’m sure he was a wonderful man.
But, when I read his obituary in the New York Times this morning, I felt my pulse begin to race, my hands shake a bit and it wasn’t until I came across the word “frustrating” in the tribute to him that I began to feel better- at least it wasn’t just me.
I often write about aspects of my youth including long lost television shows, restaurants which closed down long ago and the music that moved me “way back when”. But, I have never dared to write about Norman Sas’ contribution to my childhood because it just brings back too much anxiety and frustration.
I’m sure you’re wondering by now. So, let me tell you what Norman Sas invented. Norman Sas invented a game called Electric Football. I would be willing to bet that upon hearing those two words, almost everyone who remembers the game will begin to sweat profusely and shake like I did when I first saw today’s paper.
For the uninitiated, Electric Football was quite a popular game in the 50’s and early 60’s. The game was a metal board in the shape of a football field. When you plugged it in and hit the switch on the cord, the board would start to shake very gently with the grinding sound of a motor accompanying it. Before turning it on, you were supposed to take your football players and line them up while your opponent did the same, one team as offense and one team on defense. The offensive coach would then take the provided miniscule piece of felt shaped like a football and place it under the arm of the player who looked like the quarterback. Each piece had small appendages that looked like scotch tape on their feet and when the motor was then turned on, they would all start to move along the metal vibrating board moving towards the end zone until they were stopped by the other team’s player. Then it would be time for second down.
The only problem was that in all the years I played the game or watched it being played and I can still myself sitting on the sidelines watching my brother, my cousin and their friends settle in for a big game, I never recall even once seeing the quarterback move down the field in anything resembling a straight line. Haphazard is an understatement. He would move in a circle, go backwards, move right into the other players and just stand there with the others shivering in a pile or simply fall down. It was difficult to run for any significant gain.
Of course, you could pass the ball if you wanted to. You simply stopped the motor took the felt ball and tossed it gently to one of your team’s players. If it hit him on the head (at least this is the way we played), it was a completed pass and he would then move towards the goal line. (I recall, by the way, that they gave you at least a dozen felt footballs with the game because they were so small they would inevitably get lost somewhere.) But, passing wasn’t much more effective, as the obituary clearly pointed out. Every time, when the man who “caught the pass” was completely in the clear, he invariably would inexplicably turn around or just go out of bounds. Sorry. Part of the game.
I’m sure there were some who found this game fascinating and absorbing and became quite good at it and probably still play it today. But, I never want to see it again.
There is no lesson in this blog posting. Just an expression of nostalgia. But, the frustration that that game brought to me and I’m sure others is a memorable part of our youth.
When our kids were young, they used to play a first or second generation home computer game called Putt Putt Saves the Zoo. You had to help the animated car Putt Putt save all the zoo animals who were trapped on icebergs or in trees and there was a specific way to save each one. Once you learned the way, the game lost a little of its mystique but it continued to be interesting because sometimes you had to be extraordinarily precise in moving the mouse and clicking it at just the right time or else Putt Putt would have to start all over again.
One time while playing the game, I distinctly remember my son Avi getting extraordinarily frustrated and slamming down the mouse. I said to him: “Let me tell you about Electric Football”. He didn’t want to listen. But, then again, why should he have. That was another generation’s frustration.
May the memory of Norman Sas be for a blessing. Thanks for the memories, I think.
After writing this piece, I looked up “electric football” on wikipedia.org and saw this quotation from one of my favorite writers Bill Bryson in his book: “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir”. Great minds think alike. I’ll let his more graphic description of Electric Football be the last word:
“The worst toy of the decade [the 1950s], possibly the worst toy ever built…it took forever to set up each play because the men were so fiddly and kept falling over, and because you argued continuously with your opponent about what formations were legal and who got to position the final man…it hardly mattered how they were set up because electric football players never went in the direction intended. In practice what happened was that half the players instantly fell over and lay twitching violently as if suffering from some extreme gastric disorder, while the others streamed off in as many different directions as there were upright players before eventually clumping together in a corner, where they pushed against the unyielding sides like victims of a nightclub fire at a locked exit. The one exception to this was the running back who just trembled in place for five or six minutes, then slowly turned and went on an unopposed glide toward the wrong end zone until knocked over with a finger on the two-yard line by his distressed manager, occasioning more bickering.”
Sounds like someone else is mourning today.