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Electric football creator gave countless kids first buzz

I read the other day where the guy who created electric football died. Norman Sas, 87, died on June 28. His death wasn’t reported until July 8.

This seemed appropriate, because everything in electric football took a fair amount of time.

It would take 10 minutes just to set up the players for an off-tackle play. One kid in our neighborhood designed a triple reverse. By the time he put the little plastic players in their proper positions and tweaked the little brushes on their bases, the rest of us neighborhood kids had witnessed Halley’s Comet. Twice. And they shrank G.I. Joe.

If you were a kid in the 1960s, you know what happened when the switch was turned on in electric football: The little plastic flanker who was supposed to receive the little felt football went the wrong way, until he locked arms with a little plastic offensive tackle. Then they spun around in circles in electric football limbo.

Nobody on the defense touched them, because the little plastic defensive players also had gone the wrong way, like 11 miniature Jim Marshalls against the 49ers.

So the play continued and continued and continued until either there was a power failure, or the neighborhood kid’s old man came home from work and it was time for supper.

Either way, the electric football game would end, though if you gently tapped on the metal board with your fingers during a power failure, the game could continue.

There was no workaround, however, when meat and potatoes were on the table.

(Also, a cat could wreak havoc with an electric football game, occasionally mistaking the polyurethane Green Bay Packers for a family of field mice.)

Like most kids during the 1960s, I spent hours and hours and hours playing electric football (more than 40 million sets have been sold), and looking for little felt footballs in my mom’s shag carpet. I must confess that I had not heard of Norman Sas. I also don’t know who invented the basketball game with the ping-pong ball and little metal levers. And who came up with slot cars.

Mike Turner of Las Vegas didn’t know that Norman Sas had invented electric football in 1949, either. But he read about it, because the obituary was posted on the many websites that cater to electric football.

Turner started playing electric football in 1966 when he was 15. He still plays today, at 61. Once a month, a bunch of middle-aged guys from Las Vegas travel to Barstow, Calif., to play against a bunch of middle-aged guys from Los Angeles.

This is their idea of copping a buzz, the sound the game board makes when the switch is clicked on.

Mike Turner is one of the best electric football players in the world. In 1998, he played in the Super Bowl of Electric Football. In Cleveland. When Turner sets up the little plastic players for a triple reverse, they always go in the proper direction. They never lock arms, do not spin in circles. Plus, he knows how to use the spring-loaded, triple-threat electric football quarterback the way it was intended to be used, which is not as a sacrificial offering to the neighborhood kid’s cat.

While Turner, who drives a truck for the Clark County School District when he’s not setting up the vibrating Denver Broncos, was not aware that Norman Sas had created electric football, he said he owes him and Thomas Edison thanks for the thousands of hours – tens of thousands, counting triple reverses – of pleasure derived from their vision.

"Too many, and not enough," Turner said when asked how many hours he has spent playing a kid’s game. "From where it started to where it’s going now is amazing."

In my case, I hold Norman Sas and the guy who invented shag carpet responsible for all the hours I spent searching for little felt footballs when I could have been outside exercising, if throwing snowballs at 18-wheelers can be considered exercise.

But I mourn his passing. And when the guy who invented the basketball game with the ping-pong ball and little metal levers and the guy who invented slot cars die (if they haven’t already), I will mourn their passings, too.

I will reminisce about being a kid before there was Madden XXL, or whatever number they are up to now. And how much fun it was to set up triple reverses with little plastic football players that never seemed to work.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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