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Rich Kimball Rich Kimball
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The Sports Edge – I sing the Football Electric

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I was either 10 or 11 the Christmas I got my best sports-related present ever. 

Underneath our beautiful artificial tree draped with silvery, shiny “icicles”, sat an enormous box with my name on it. As I carefully opened one end of the package, I saw the words that meant my most fervent wish had come true - “Electric Football”.

It would be hard to explain to today’s kids, weaned on video games with more-than-lifelike graphics and accustomed to being able to simulate every real-life activity on the same device you use to message the guy sitting next to you on the bus, just how exciting this moment was and the possibilities it seemed to open. As I lifted the cover off the box, I saw the green “grass” of the metallic playing surface and it was as if Lambeau Field had been magically transported into our living room. When I saw the players, half in the uniform of the Packers and the other decked out as Los Angeles Rams, it was almost too good to be true. Here were Bart Starr and Roman Gabriel, straight off the television and now in the palm of my pre-adolescent hand.

I couldn’t wait to set up the game, stick the yellow plastic goalposts into the end zone, assemble the cardboard scoreboard, line up the teams and plug that sucker in. Taking the then-popular ground and pound approach, I tucked the ball under the arm of the plasticized Elijah Pitts and prepared for Forrest Gregg to open a hole to gain three yards and a cloud of dust. I flipped the power switch so the magic could begin.

It was at this exact moment that I first realized the vast difference between the images Madison Avenue created to sell products and the reality that was spread out on our floor.

Not only did Gregg not open a hole but he tumbled to the “ground”, shaking uncontrollably from the electric vibrations. As for the running back Pitts, he showed no inclination to run to daylight but instead locked arms with a green and yellow teammate in an awkward dance that had them spinning in circles while simultaneously gliding toward their own goal line.

If something similar happened today, I would be on the phone to customer service, invoking the Better Business Bureau and slamming the company on social media, but I grew up in simpler times. As the day wore on, I experimented with my QBs throwing the little felt football that always seemed to disappear under a coffee table and I learned to adjust the power so it felt less like an earthquake had hit in the middle of the frozen tundra. Maybe it wasn’t a perfect simulation of the games I watched on Sundays, but it didn’t matter - because it was mine.

Truth be told, I never did master the electric football game. My interest would wane until we’d get a snowy, sub-zero day when it was too cold to go outside, and I would open up the box and try in vain to get plastic Donny Anderson to go around the end like the real guy. Of course he never did, but that doesn’t change the feeling I had opening that box on a winter’s morning all those years ago, when even a game that didn’t live up to the hype could launch a young boy’s imagination. I hope this Christmas provides you and yours with that same sense of wonder.

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