As the college bowl season draws to a close and the NFL playoffs begin, I’ve noticed myself playing more simulated football. From classic paper football with my son to Madden NFL 10 with friends, I just can’t seem to get enough lately. Controlling the action in these games seems to help counter the sense of helplessness that goes along with watching the sport this time of year. During a recent session of Madden with a friend and fellow gamer, we mused about how electronic versions of the gridiron game changed over the years. As he handed me a rather thorough drubbing, we joked about the crude 8-bit characters on Atari VCS Football (1978), reaffirmed our allegiance to the NES classic Tecmo Super Bowl (1991), and marveled at how EA Sports continues to redefine the Madden franchise (1988-present) on a yearly basis.
Eventually our conversation veered from console football to the wonderful handheld electronic games of the late 70s. Following the release of the first digital handheld (Mattel Electronics’ Auto Race, 1976), scores of LED-style football handhelds hit the market. They included Mattel Electronics’ Football (1977) and Coleco’s popular Electronic Quarterback (1978). These quoted entries in Mattel toy catalogs from the Strong’s collection sums up the action in them: “It’s the Big Game! The computer’s on Defense! You’re the ball carrier! Cut back! Speed Up! Avoid tacklers! Run for daylight! Score a Touchdown!” In these games, imagination was key—your horizontal red blip could run with the speed and grace of late 70s great Walter Payton. Despite the technological limitations of the time, these games had over-the-shoulder appeal that kept friends on the school bus glued to your side. My friend and I agreed, nostalgically, that these early LED football games are some of our all-time favorites. I find it fascinating how screenshots illustrate the technological and graphic advances in electronic football games from the 70s to present. Which electronic pigskin classic is your favorite?