New Electric Football game has everything but Terrible Towels

There's a buzz in the game room about Super Bowl XL

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Starting Saturday, Super Bowl XL can be played over and over again, with the Steelers rumbling against the Seahawks and the winner taking all the marbles -- or jelly beans, M&Ms or whatever else you want to play for.

Tony Tye, Post-Gazette
An Electric Football official signals a score.
Click photo for larger image.

Miggle Toys' Web site is www.miggle.com.

To learn more about the Pittsburgh Electric Football League, check www.chem.cmu.edu/fun/pefl.html. You can contact Robert Delmasse at rd20@andrew.cmu.edu.

That's the day Miggle Toys will release its newest Super Bowl edition of Electric Football, that tabletop game in which tiny plastic players vibrate on a painted steel gridiron.

They still make that game, you ask? Sure, and it's just as funny and maddening as you remember. It just costs a little more -- $69.95 is the suggested retail price.

After nearly 60 years of buzz, Electric Football has become a little more like the real thing. With easier-to-control bases, the linemen spend less of the game circling aimlessly, and ball carriers are not as likely to turn away from an open end zone and loop back toward their own goal line.

But the basics haven't changed that much from when you were a kid. The 1 1/2-inch tall Jerome Bettis can't fight for extra yards up the middle; he's considered down the moment a defender's base touches his. And the only way Hines Ward will catch a touchdown pass is if a huge hand can flick Big Ben's plastic arm just right, so the minuscule felt football nicks the Super Bowl MVP in the back. Kicking the extra point means another flick on the combination QB/kicker figure.

Despite the game's flaws, Miggle President Michael Landsman believes it will be around long after GameBoy and similar devices are history.

"This game is social as opposed to handheld games, which are antisocial," Mr. Landsman, who is also commissioner of the Electric Football League, said from company headquarters in Highland Park, Ill.

As proof, he cites 1,400 players who met in Baltimore at the end of January for the 12th annual Official Electric Football Super Bowl & Convention.

"People travel across the country and stay in each others' homes," he marveled. "And at the end of the games, the loser often hugs the winner."

More than 40 million of the games have been sold since its creation and it continues to win over young fans, perhaps drawn by the novelty of something so primitive compared with PlayStation or X-Box. But its hard-core players -- the ones who traveled to Baltimore this year or to Moon last year for the 11th tournament and convention -- are mostly baby boomers who had Electric Football when they were children, or just wished they had.

Some bring an obsessive edge to their nostalgia, sharing tips on the Internet or through e-mail about game strategy, how to accurately paint the players, and techniques to boil or tweak the plastic bases to blitz, make blocks and run pass patterns. And Miggle, which bought out the company that created Electric Football in 1947, happily feeds their fixation.

The company sells pre-painted players from all 33 National Football League teams and 23 college teams, including home and away jerseys. To the original five player poses -- the Fabulous Five Mr. Landsman calls them -- the company has added 10 more.

You can also buy magnetic cheerleaders, referees, coaches, owners, reporters and cameramen to fill out the sidelines. There are team names for the end zones and logos for the fields, which come in five sizes, battery-operated or plug-in, ranging in price from $29.95 to $500 for one built into a solid oak table. Also available is an electronic scoreboard, wraparound stadium and lights for night games. If all this isn't enough, Internet entrepreneurs offer custom boards, players and other accessories.

In Pittsburgh, the most serious players are a group of mostly Carnegie Mellon University chemistry professors and graduate students who call themselves the Pittsburgh Electric Football League.

At last year's convention, Mr. Landsman was reunited with the group and its commissioner, Carnegie Mellon chemist Robert Delmasse of Edgewood. Mr. Landsman was particularly impressed by a 9-by-8-by-2-foot replica of Heinz Field built by Mr. Delmasse's brother and sister-in-law, John and Shawna Evans of Edgewood.

"Those guys are awesome," he said.

Mr. Delmasse, 43, a lab technician who helped found the local league in 1997, is still awaiting his Super Bowl edition, which is on order.

Interestingly, the Super Bowl edition sent to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette depicted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as black.

While amused, Mr. Delmasse explained that the 11 miniature plastic pieces that make up a team are made at random in China. Passionate players often customize their game pieces with acrylic or airplane model paint to make them look more like the real team members.

"You can either use your imagination or do some painting, which isn't that difficult," he said.

He plans to customize his own pieces before Steelers Fan Blitz on April 29, at which the local league will display several electric football games and challenge visitors to play. It will be held noon to 8 p.m. at Heinz Field.

Since the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, Mr. Landsman is expecting big sales for Miggle's newest Super Bowl edition.

"The Steelers, Packers, Bears and Patriots are our best sellers," he said.

The game, which is sold in other parts of the country at sporting goods stores, is only available here online, including on the Miggle Web site. On eBay, at least one seller was offering to reserve one a month ago for a mere $89.95.

"It's old school and three dimensional, not the video game of today," Mr. Delmasse said about Electric Football. "But it's a lot of fun."


Kevin Kirkland can be reached at kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.


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