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Disappointing Holiday Gift Guide: How Electric Football Made Me A Cynic

Is it bad form to be disappointed in a holiday gift? Probably, but we’ve all been there. Whether it’s the letdown after unwrapping (“Socks? You shouldn’t have. Really”) or the deflation when you realize that the thing you wanted, demanded, lusted after all year really isn’t very fun, you’ve looked a gift horse in the mouth and found cavities. And halitosis. It’s a universal thing.

The Christmas buying season is well underway (and if you’re buying for Chanukah, you’re pretty much out of time, although I cheerfully accept late submissions), so it may be instructive to take a look back at the presents that disappointed you, that didn’t bring you holiday cheer throughout the year… that sucked. There it is. Surely you learned disappointment at a young age. Here’s mine:

Electric football.

I know, I know, there are guys — always guys — who have a fetish about electric football. They have websites, they have leagues, they stage tournaments, they trick out their games with all sorts of adornments. From all appearances, they love electric football.

They are delusional.

The sad story of my deep childhood disappointment after the jump:

For those unfamiliar with electric football, here’s what it is: a metal slab that vibrates, with little plastic players on the surface. That’s it. They paint a field on the metal, with a fake grandstand, and… that’s all it is.

But in pre-video game days — yes, there was a time when there was no such thing as a “video game” — electric football was what you got when you wanted Real Sports Action!! in the comfort of your suburban New Jersey home. I wanted it. I saw the TV commercials with players moving in careful, deliberate gridiron choreography and I saw the box with the bright green field and little plastic players painted in NFL-licensed colors and I wanted it. Every boy in America wanted it.

And then I got it. I got a Tudor official Electric Football game, with all the NFL teams’ names on the side, the fake grandstand, and the special quarterbacks who could throw, punt, or kick. I couldn’t wait to get going. This was going to be epic.

Initial setup was easy: I removed the “field” from the box, set it up on a table, and plugged the cord into the wall socket. So far, so good. I removed the players from the box — I don’t remember which teams they were, but I remember they were teams about which I didn’t care, not the Eagles or Giants or Jets — and examined them. Each had little tabs on the bottom that you could manipulate to have them run patterns and block and stuff, so I dutifully and carefully set the tabs, arranged the proper formations, placed the tiny felt football in a player’s arms, and flipped the switch.

Chaos.

The whole game buzzed and shuddered. Little plastic players just shook and clustered into a huddle in the middle of the field, while others went flying off the board. There was no order, no play, nothing but plastic pieces bouncing on the World’s Largest Vibrator. Like this:

That couldn’t be right, could it? This was nothing like the TV commercials. I turned off the motor, collected the players off the board, table, and floor, inspected the tabs, reset the formations, and flipped the switch.

More chaos.

And that, pretty much, was electric football. Into the closet it went, and at some point, it disappeared; I don’t even remember throwing it away or giving it to the Salvation Army (I wouldn’t inflict that on anyone else).

They still make electric football. Adults gather to play intense “championship” games with tiny plastic figures. I don’t begrudge them, but I can’t understand it, either. For me, it would be reliving a bitter disappointment, maybe the Worst Gift Ever. That buzz, it still haunts me.

Warn the world about your Worst Gift Ever in the comments, so that others may avoid the pain:

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5 comments

  • I love the “Endorsed by your favorite pro stars and teams” tag at the end of that spot. I guess back in the day you didn’t need to be too specific. “An anonymous endorsement by my favorite players and teams eh? Good enough for me!”

  • Worst thing I ever received was in 2005… it was an AOL Free Trial Disc from my Aunt. Her intentions were pure! She knew that I was in to “That Whole Internet-Thingee” and she was so excited to give me the Exclusive Offer of a THOUSAND FREE MINUTES that the fine folks at AOL were offering her and only her. I didn’t have the heart to tell her how lame the gift was, so I just sat there admiring my disc and reading the Terms of Service while everyone else opened their gifts that were actually awesome (she got almost everybody else DVD players that year). “Oh, hey, look at that! It says I can play games and chat with friends! Thanks, Aunt Sandy!”

  • The worst gift I ever got: A furby. A friend had given it to me. They didn’t have an off switch, just an odd screw shape to get to the battery. And I didn’t own that type of screw driver.

    All the way home from her house I heard “ah! ah! YUUUUUMMM!!!!” A few moments of silence went by and the thing started the ‘go to sleep’ sounds. Then it woke back up and said “hmmm… BORING!”

    Eventually I got it home, put it on a shelf, and begged any one who came near it to not touch it or breathe on it for fear of waking up the demon.

    After months of quiet time, the evil thing woke up, and was stuck making this weird constant “AAAAAAHHHH” sound. I assumed the battery was running out. It sat in the garage for four days making that sound before it finally shut up.

    Furbies. Are. Evil.

  • I have to agree with you on that one. I also got an electric football “game” one Christmas and was just as disappointed as you were. I don’t even think mine had plastic tabs on the players so you could aim them. You had to line them up and hope for the best.