Disappointing Holiday Gift Guide: How Electric Football Made Me A Cynic
by Perry Michael Simon on December 8, 2010
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:
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.
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.
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: