Gaming in the 1970s – Football
Author :        Date : 12-Apr-09

The game of football is a North American trademark of sorts.  Rich in tradition, this sport has almost surpassed (if it hasn’t already) the official past time of the USA, baseball.  I first had the pleasure of experiencing this great game as an adolescent during the 1970s.  During that time, we had to rely upon gathering the required parental permissions and assembling our group of four to wage battle on the paved streets of our suburban neighborhood….

"Shut up you guys!!!" Jimmie barked at John and I as we were jabbering about his latest Hot Wheel addition.  Our self-nominated Quarterback was definitely taking his newly acquired role a bit too seriously in my humble opinion.  John acknowledged this as well with a quick glance towards me.  Now Jimmie was the classic over-competitive, under-achiever type – like most of those bad acts on American Idol.  That being said, we half-heartedly complied to simply appease him and avoid his "need to focus" sermon.  It was after all 4th down and we had to get to the Jones’ mailbox for a 1st down, lest we forget.

"We’re going for it!" Jimmie exclaimed in a confident voice to our foes (who were actually 8 year old kids just like us).

"OK… Now John, you go out to that first tree just past the Davis’ driveway and cut in." Jimmie whispered to us as though he was sharing military secrets.  "Terry, get to that mailbox, and turn around, fake and then go deep."  Jimmie made it sound like a plan – the only drawback was that he threw like a girl and the electrical wire ‘vines’ that crisscrossed through our street almost entirely negated any form of the long game (not that we truly had that option with him anyway).

"Hutt-hutt-Hutt"… the next thing I knew I was chasing down my opponent after our ‘gunslinger’ successfully completed his pass, off the wires, to my defender.  Now if I were QB….

Everyone, regardless of age, has experienced the raw emotions that are triggered by the simple event depicted above.  Though we did not have the benefit of today’s smorgasbord of electronic and digital entertainment, the evolution in the electronics field was just around the corner and would provide more options to fulfill our gaming needs.  The following takes a look at the football gaming experience during my time in the 1970s.
Paper Football

Who doesn’t love this school cafeteria classic!!  This game was a blast, right up there with plastering a gooey spitball smack in the middle of the some unsuspecting victim’s glasses.  Making a solid paper football was an art form in its own right.  Too big and touchdowns were a breeze but field goal attempts would flutter too much.  Craft one too small and games went on forever. Regardless, Scotch tape was always a necessity.  The ultimate high, and honest goal, of any serious paper footballer – "doinking” your bud plumb square in the forehead and seeing the thin reddened crease develop there as a result of your efforts.  This was an ego booster – 5th grade style.

Tutor Electronic Football

Believe it or not, this game debuted way back in 1947.  I never really could understand the fascination with it – set up a bunch of mighty-mite plastic dudes on a puke-green metallic gridiron and watch them shake and shiver like a drug addict at a detox clinic.  There were a great many variations of this game (Talking Football anyone?), but all of them relied basically on one thing – you had to have an vivid imagination to enjoy the gaming experience.  My fondest memory of this game was watching my buddy’s cat creep closer and closer to the electric gridiron and watching it jump 5′ in the air when we flicked on the power.

Mattel Electronics Football

This was one of my first true video gaming experiences.  Mattel Electronics came out with their line of dedicated handheld sports games in 1977.  Football was arguably their best release in this first batch of games and quickly became a favorite of all of us teenage hooligans.  Your warrior, who was basically a bright-red ‘minus’ sign, could pass, run and kick.  This game rocked – as long as your 9 Volt battery did not give out.  When the juice started to run low, the game became dimmer by the minute until your player would take three seconds to move just one space on the virtual playing field (grid).  This game could also double as a night light to check out your comics after the parental units decided it was lights for the evening.

Atari 2600 Football

This was Atari‘s first football venture in console gaming.  Released in 1978, Football consisted of three-on-three play with basic pass and run functionality. Remember Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots?  Well, put those guys into a trash compactor and you’ll end up with a reasonable facsimile of your virtual player, less the flicker. Some might find this aspect of the game nostalgic – I just find it purely annoying and gives me a headache to this day.  I do have to admit that the sound effects were kind of cool as well as the ’1st down’ line.  Other than that, this game didn’t really have that much more to offer.  One thing to note about this title – be prepared for your controller to take a beating. I remember really cranking on the joystick left, right, up, down and being severely disappointed by the lack of response.  The game is just slow, but it took me a while to figure this out. It also cost me two controllers that now reside at the bottom of some waste facility back in my home town.

Texas Instruments TI-99/4A Football

Texas Instruments released this game in 1979 for their TI-99/4A personal home computer.  Now this is as basic as you can get in a
football game – a choice of 4 plays on offense and 4 for the defenders.  Once your ‘rock-paper-scissors’ selection is made, you are basically at the mercy of the CPU.  This game was flicker-free thank goodness – I was not in danger of having any type of seizure during game play.  While this was a plus, once play was initiated, action would unfold at such a tortuously slow pace that I could actually feel myself aging during each play.  I can still remember getting a little buzzed with my buddy while we experimented with chewing tobacco (Kodiak) and laughing as he uttered ‘Da Bomb’ while I was in a goal line defense.

Atari Football

Atari Football was released for the arcades in 1979.  If there was ever a video game that truly made you pay for play, this was it.  Not only did it hoard up all of your hard earned paper delivery tips, it was physically abusive – literally.  The innovative Atari Trakball controller was very responsive, but the price was high to take advantage of this benefit – a pound of flesh from the actual skin of your palms.  Game play was frantic and invigorating.  Gamers wailed away on those trackballs and that sound alone raised the entire energy level of the arcade.  This game was definitely a test of endurance as much as it was a test of skill.  Bring your garden gloves before engaging this beast.


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