We're dealing with a lot of freaks here," says Steve Feit, an
account executive with Silverman Media&Marketing Group, which
represents Miggle Toys. Have truer words ever been spoken? Feit
is standing in the middle of the NFL Films Theater at the Pro
Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, watching...well...what is
he watching? There are men--big, big men--cooing over tiny
figurines, talking to them, caressing them, begging them for one
fantastic moment. "Just do it for us, Jimmy!" one man bellows.
"Do it! Do it! Do it!"
Jimmy is Jim Brown. Were the real Jim Brown present, slamming
into defensive tackles and pummeling cornerbacks, perhaps it
would seem normal to scream, "Just do it for us, Jimmy! Do it! Do
it! Do it!" This Jimmy, however, is an inch-high figure buzzing
about on a piece of vibrating green metal. He has a plastic head
and no eyes. His owner is wearing brown Zubaz pants. "You have to
understand," says Feit, smiling. "Many of the people here--they
take this very, very seriously."
Translation: The people here are nuts. How else to describe most
of the 2,000 spectators and participants at the seventh annual
Official Electric Football Super Bowl & Convention, held on Jan.
20 and 21? There was Paul Bartels (a.k.a. Raiderman), a
26-year-old architectural draftsman from York, Pa., who enjoys
painting his face silver and black, swinging a thick plastic
sword and showing off his handcrafted collection of Oakland and
Los Angeles Raiders figurines, from Jim Otto to Bo Jackson. There
was Lynn Schmidt (a.k.a. Weird Wolf), a 40-year-old website
designer who arrived in red-and-yellow Kansas City Chiefs face
paint, red Chiefs shoulder pads, a red Chiefs bandanna, red
Chiefs sunglasses and a red Chiefs Bobby Bell jersey.
One guy who seemed almost normal was Ron Bell, a 32-year-old
assistant district attorney from New Orleans, who turned out to
be the world's best Electric Football player. As the other
competitors paraded loudly through the hallowed hall in oversized
Junior Seau jerseys, faded Eric Metcalf T-shirts, Oilers hats and
Jets hats, Steelers hats and Seahawks hats, the conservatively
dressed Bell coolly, calmly demonstrated the magic that one year
earlier had made him an out-of-the-blue sensation. In the 2000
Super Bowl, played in Washington, D.C., Bell shocked the world
(well, 78 guys in a room) by guiding his little Miami Dolphins to
the title. This year, with a last-minute 30-24 victory over David
Redmond's Atlanta Falcons, Bell repeated.
Like most of his Electric Football brethren, Bell discovered the
game as a youth. Back in the early and mid-1970s, when Twister
was the rage and play stations were backyard swing sets, every
American boy had--or at least recognized--an Electric Football
table. The idea was simple, fun and sort of inane: Line 11 little
plastic men on one side, 11 little plastic men on the other side,
turn the power on to make the table vibrate and the players move,
and see what happens. "It wasn't a complex game, but it was fun
for kids and dads to play together," says Bartels, whose Raiders
lost to Bell's Dolphins in this year's AFC championship. "Now
there's no more family time. Both parents work, and everyone
comes home dog-tired. So the kid plays a video game by himself
In the 1960s four companies made Electric Football games. By
1991, after the bankruptcy of Superior Toys, there were none.
Since Miggle began producing the game board and pieces in '93,
there has been something of a revival. The Electric Football
elite, like that of Dungeons & Dragons or Magic: The Gathering,
is a tight community of mostly single men (note: Electric
Football tournaments are not good spots to meet the honeys) who
communicate through Internet chat rooms. Secrets--how to make the
players move faster, ways to illegally widen the base of each
player--are the hot topics. Fashion is not.
Watching Electric Football is, 99% of the time, Meet Joe Black
dull. The switch is flicked, the little men vibrate. If a
receiver happens to get open, the switch is flicked off,
everything stops, and a tiny quarterback figurine chucks an even
tinier foam football. If the football hits the receiver, the pass
is complete. The switch is flicked on again and--yawn--everything
moves. Still, the Dolphins-Falcons Super Bowl had its moments.
Miggle spared no expense. Two young women sang the national
anthem. There was a coin toss. Tom Rubin, an Ohio high school
football official for 20 years, wore his black and white stripes
and refereed the event, whistle blasts and all. Two men provided
commentary over a loudspeaker. On their path to the title game
Redmond, an Atlanta-based postal employee, and Bell took
drastically different approaches. Redmond is a defensive
specialist, jamming receivers at the line and forcing short
screens to the running backs. The pass-happy Bell, as Ira
Silverman, president of Silverman Media&Marketing noted, "makes
Joe Montana look like a bum."
For most of the title game, spectators wandered to and fro,
peeking at the board and checking the display tables, then
grabbing overpriced hot dogs. As soon as the fourth quarter
began, however, things got serious. Ninety-eight people
surrounded the tiny field, some standing on plastic chairs,
little kids on their fathers' shoulders. With 7:25 remaining,
Redmond's Tony Martin figurine did the impossible. For the second
time he returned a kickoff 100 yards, a Super Bowl record that
gave the Falcons a 24-22 lead.
As Martin buzzed up the field, it was as if Redmond had him on a
string. A Dolphin approached from the right, Martin zigged left.
A Dolphin approached from the left, Martin zigged right. A hole
opened and--zoom!--Martin burst through. "Tony can flat-out play!"
noted Ken Allen, the color commentator. "He's a player!"
He's plastic. On the next possession Bell guaranteed himself a
place in the Electric Football Hall of Fame--if there ever is one.
On first and 10 from his own 45, Bell flicked a short pass to a
wide-open Mercury Morris, who flew all the way to Atlanta's
eight-yard line before, inexplicably, turning a hard right and
going out-of-bounds. With seven seconds left Bell connected again
with Morris for the game-winning touchdown. "Yes!" he said,
turning to Jim Bell, his proud father. "We did it! We did it!"
As the final whistle sounded, Bell and Redmond shook hands, then
hugged. Both men were emotionally and physically spent. "My team
had a lot of experienced guys, a lot of guys who have been
through the battles with me before," said Bell, holding the gold
championship trophy. "I looked my players in the eyes, and I knew
they would come through."
The champion smiled. He was kidding--I think.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHUCK SOLOMON
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHUCK SOLOMON Raiderman Bartels (left, preparing for action against Schmidt's Chiefs) was eliminated by Bell's Dolphins in the AFC title game.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHUCK SOLOMON In the NFC title game, the Falcons (black jerseys) sealed off the Eagles defenders, ran a sweep right and put six points on the board.
"You have to understand. Many of the people here--they take this
very, very seriously."
On one possession Bell earned a place in the Electric Football
Hall of Fame--if there ever is one.