Time magazine recently added to its ongoing roll of top 100 lists (albums, movies, novels, gadgets, etc.) by breaking down the 100 most influential toys from 1923 to the present. The list is a trip down memory lane for anyone who ever played with a Slinky, Silly Putty, Mr. Potato Head, Play-Doh, Barbie (and Ken), G.I. Joe, Hot Wheels, Legos, Lite-Brite, Weebles, Care Bears – and countless other objects of affection that defined our childhoods.
But as comprehensive as the list appears at first glance, no rundown of influential play things is complete without, for my money (actually, my parents’ money), the crown jewel of all sports-related toys: Electric Football.
I could give Time the benefit of the doubt here. Perhaps they are saving this for their “All-TIME” games list. But the inclusion on Time‘s list of Mattel Classic Football from the 1970’s – the original, and by today’s standards prehistoric, hand-held game – renders that argument moot. Besides, no one played Electric Football as a game. We played it for the shock value.
What other toy gave kids the opportunity to flip the switch on a rectangular sheet of metal that began vibrating with an electrical current? As a 5-year-old, this felt mildly dangerous – especially when your cup of Kool-Aid was within reach. For me, the contraption was nothing short of mesmerizing: tiny football players attached to a plastic base which, when the field was energized, vibrated in directions that more resembled a jailbreak than actual football. You’d set up your players in traditional gridiron formations (I favored the single wing and original T-formations), but within seconds, entangled players were doing low-voltage square-dancing maneuvers and free ones were vibrating toward the opposite end zone.
As author Bill Bryson wrote in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, “it hardly mattered how they were set up because electric football players never went in the direction intended. … Half the players instantly fell over and lay twitching violently as if suffering from some extreme gastric disorder … the others eventually [clumped] together in a corner, where they pushed against the unyielding sides like victims of a nightclub fire at a locked exit.”
Over the years, I owned about seven different Electric Football games, my addiction contributing to the more than 40 million that have been sold to date. Nothing against the Wiffle Ball, the NERF ball or Rock’em Sock’em Robots. But when it comes to sports-related toys, I’ll take a violently twitching Gale Sayers every day of the week.
Here is the complete Time list. See if you can find some other omissions.