I have always loved American Football. When I was younger I would gravitate to the team that was always winning, but as I got older and my hometown actually got a real NFL team, I of course turned into a rabid fan for them.
Many a day after school was spent playing Nerf touch football with my friends. Video game football at the time simply was no where near enjoyable. The football on the 2600 (shown below) was a 3 on 3 game where all of your team was simply a straight line of guys that you could kind of move around, but there were no plays as such, and passing was mostly laterals.
What teams are playing? Is that even football? Where’s the endzone?
Atari had a black and white football video game that defined primitive. It was simply x’s and o’s that represented both teams and you moved a single player around with a trackball. Here’s what that hot mess looked like:
Needless to say, when you talk to a gamer about their favorite retro games, Atari Football is almost never mentioned.
One year for his birthday, my brother was given a gift that he absolutely hated and immediately gave it to me. It came in this huge rectangular box and the box made a ton of noise when you moved it. When I turned the box over, there was this massive picture of Roger Stauback, one time quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Behind him was the long football field, but instead of normal players on the field, there were these little men standing on these green bases. What on Earth was this? No wonder my brother didn’t want the thing!
Initially I thought this was some kind of model set, so I took the box and put it in my room and figured I would never mess with it at all. One day after school I had a friend over to first do homework and then play some Nerf football. He came into my room and saw this football box and he started freaking out.
He said, “No Way! You totally got a vibrating football game! When did you get it and why is it still in the freaking box?” I asked him if he meant that football model set that my brother gave me, and he just laughed out loud. He said that was no model set, it was an actual football game that you play.
We opened the box up and I was dumbfounded at what I saw inside. There were like a hundred little plastic football players standing on green bases. They were all totally white from head to toe. There was a larger player figure in the shape of a quarterback with his arm drawn back, and another figure whose kicking leg would move. Next we found page after page of these decals that you would dip in water, then peel off and stick to the player, and these looked just like the real football jerseys that the players wore. Each NFL team at the time had a set of decals represented on that decal sheet, so you had your choice of which teams you wanted to use.
There were also these tiny jars of paint of all colors in the box. These were to be used to paint the helmets of the players to match their jerseys. There was also this small brown spongy square in the box that had many tiny little football shapes cut into it. You punched these out and of course these would act as the football you would use for the game.
Finally there was this massive metal football field that looked exactly like a real football field. It even had some worn spots painted into it to make it truly look authentic. There were these plastic yellow goal posts that you put into holes in the end zones to finish the perfect football field. Attached to the football field was the electrical cord that had an on and off switch on it. Also on the field at one end was this small round knob that had three settings on it: low, medium, and high.
My friend then walked me through what we needed to do in order to get everything set up and get playing. We each chose the team we wanted. He chose the Minnesota Vikings, and I took the Dallas Cowboys. We got our decals put on our players, and because the paint would have been too messy, we just chose to leave the helmets white. Next we would line our men up in different formations that were listed out in the game manual that came with the game. I was on offense first, so I chose a passing play and put two men wide left and one man wide right. I grabbed the quarterback figure and put the spongy football in his hand and then placed him in the shotgun position. My friend lined up his defense and we were then both ready.
My friend then grabbed the electrical plug and plugged it into the wall. He turned the little round know on the playfield to low. He then told me that when we turned it on, the field would begin vibrating and the players would move around on their own. He told me that when I was ready to pass the ball, I was to turn the game off, then use the quarterback to pass the ball by aiming him at the received and then pulling his arm back and letting him throw the ball. Of course if I let one of his players touch the quarterback then I would be sacked where I was touched.
I cannot explain the amount of total awesomeness that just the idea of this game brought to me. We would be able to play full football games using our favorite teams and players right in my bedroom no matter what the weather was outside.
You could easily play this game by yourself as well since it only needed for you to set up the other teams formation and the game would take care of moving them.
So we turned the switch on and the most god awful noise came screaming from the field and the whole thing started vibrating like crazy! It was so loud that we could barely hear each other unless we screamed at each other while the thing was on!
After the shock of the noise wore off, I started to concentrate on my players. What was going on? My receivers were running around it little circles right on the line of scrimmage!!? My quarterback had turned around and was running towards the wrong endzone! This was just not going well at all!
I asked my friend why this was happening and was there anything I could do to get them going in the right direction. He told me that he thought there were magnets that were moving underneath the field and they were what caused the players to move, so no there was nothing you could do.
Pardon the pun, but we literally fumbled through that first game and it took like 3 hours to play. It ended with me kicking a field goal and winning 3-0. My friend left and I started to pick up the players to put them away. I happened to look at the bottom of the green bases the players were sitting on and I noticed there was a little green click disc that you would turn. Looking closer at the bottom, I noticed there were little posts that moved when you turned the disc! I turned the game back on and experimented with different positions on the disc and found that I could get all of my guys moving forward with the right disc position.
The next game we played I won 115 to 0! I finally gave in and showed my friend how to change the discs, but that was the best game of football I ever played.
Once video football games got better, vibrating football games went the way of the dodo bird. There was too much setup for most kids to mess with, and the video football games really stated to get much more lifelike and fun.
Toys R Us still to this days sells these vibrating football games and I think I am going to go pick one up and show my son the fun we used to have calling our own plays and getting our favorite NFL stars to run our plays.