Mark and I have been involved in electric football since we can remember. My Uncle introduced me to the game when I was about seven years old. We played for hours on his old Gotham fiber board field. At the end of the night I had to have my own set. Santa came through the next Christmas and the I quickly painted the Browns and Steelers to do battle. Mark is almost three years younger so at that time I didn’t have anyone to play against so I quickly lost interest. My elementary and Jr. High days were consumed with another hobby…Building military models.
I probably built (and destroyed) hundreds of models back then but one day we went over to Mark’s friend’s house and he had picked up an electric football game he wanted to sell. Mark was intrigued by the game but I just wanted to get the teams and paint up the players. The bidding was intense as we went back and forth on who would get the prized 620 game with translucent wide top bases. Finally, Mark went too high and I conceded. He quickly paid Troy the sixty-three cents and he was off to play the game. Little did we know we had begun a life long journey.
After hours of pyramid vs. pyramid we finally looked at the rule book to see if we could make it look more like real football. It was about that time that I started my paper route and began getting money orders to send to Tudor Games in Brooklyn, NY. Back then, you could only order via the mail (Post Office) and it took six to eight weeks to receive your order. Every day we would wait for the big brown UPS truck to stop in front of our house. Finally it arrived! New teams, bases, numbers, and a funky looking quarterback. The brochure that came with the order showed all these beautiful pre-painted teams. I had to have them…Every one of them! I kept that paper route! Soon more and more orders were placed and I had every team in white and dark jerseys! I played a solitaire season (Mark wasn’t as addicted as I was initially) that consisted of 16 games for all 28 teams. The Miami Dolphins won my first Superbowl. They had most of the wide top bases and just destroyed every other team.
The next year Mark wanted to play but he wanted his own league. New bases and teams were expensive so we had to find another way to get them. We bought sets from kids in the neighborhood who had grown old of them and then we landed the mother load! Back then we just didn’t talk about playing the game so I was shocked when a kid at school started talking about all these electric football teams he wanted to sell. For $20 I had enough bases for Mark’s league. These were older light green rookies and wide tops so he had a huge advantage (except against the Dolphins). He started with eight teams from the 1969 AFL and the Chiefs won his first championship but fell victim to the powerful Dolphins in our first World Bowl.
Within the next few years we saw something that would threaten the existence of our league’s ability to grow. The newfangled hand held electronic blip football games. Everyone was fascinated by them and one day our order was returned from 176 Johnson Street. Tudor had closed. We made do with what we had for a while until one day I went into a toy store and saw a miracle! A company named Superior Toys had revived the game! I bought several sets and we quickly filled out an order form for more bases! Unfortunately, Superior found out why Tudor had passed the torch on electric football and the game disappeared again from the shelves.
In about 1991 Mark called me and he was so excited he could hardly speak! The new JC Penny Christmas catalog had just come out and there was a new brand of electric football game in the catalog! We ordered one and waited patiently and when it came we were shocked. The bases were brown in color and were so much stronger and faster than any bases we had! WE looked for an order form but there wasn’t one. We called the company and spoke to a sales rep who informed us that the parts were not available separately. We kept calling back and finally he agreed to just send us some spares. A few weeks later a big box arrived with tons of bases and the figures they produced. Unfortunately, they were soon out of business and we were again looking for a supply of bases.
While we were in college at Sam Houston State Mark picked up a JC Penny’s catalog for his kids. Inside was an electric football game under the Miggle Toys brand. We immediately placed an order and Mark called to find out how to order bases. He was shocked to find out that the person on the line was the owner of the company! We were not alone! Mr. Landsman asked if we could put together a video for the Toy Convention and we jumped at the opportunity to help out. Not long afterwards the Landsman’s announced there would be a video contest with four winners selected to fly to Chicago to compete for the first ever Superbowl of Electric Football. We quickly went to work and submitted our video. We were ecstatic to find out that our video was selected and we would have a chance to meet other coaches and the owners of the game we love so much!
I’ll never forget the day we met Clem, Greg, Myron, and Mike and Delayne Landsman in Chicago. We were fortunate to beat Clem and his air assault in the first round. Clem had never passed with the triple threat QB so he stayed up all night practicing and did VERY well! Myron defeated Greg and was our opponent in the first Superbowl. The game was close and excited but our Oilers pulled out a 16-14 victory. I can’t describe the feeling we had! It was one of the most amazing moments of my life. When we arrived back in Houston our phone rang off the hook. The interest in the game was amazing! We were interviewed for the Houston Chronicle and on the local news. Radio stations from across the nation were calling to inquire about the resurgence of electric football. The Landsman’s had hired New York publicist Ira Silverman to get the buzz going and he delivered!
Meeting the Landsman’s got us thinking that this hobby is probably bigger than we ever expected. We came up with an idea to try to link us all together: The Read Zone. The Read-Zone was a monthly newsletter which featured talented artists in the field such as Reginald Rutledge and his stadiums as well as a History section that Mark Newell regularly contributed to. The most important part was the Coaches Directory where you could look up coaches in your area and make connections.
The next year Miggle announced another Superbowl in Chicago but this year it would also be a full blown convention! We knew the competition would be fierce so we went to the Dan Rather RTF department at Sam Houston State and edited our video there. It took six hours to edit the first 30 seconds but it was worth it when we were again selected. The room was huge and it was packed with coaches! We met lots of new friends and learned a lot form other coaches. Larry Walker arrived from California with a huge display of custom made figures. When we arrived home I knew I had to try to make new figures. Our Oiler’s Team won their second consecutive title over the Atlanta Falcons coached by David Nichols and Steve Graham.
The idea for ITZ Bases started years ago. We knew what we wanted to do but did not yet know how to realize it. Our first project started in 1999 and was released in 2001. Mark had started playing in the Dallas League and he learned so much from that talented group. They allowed all kinds of bases including custom made designs. The most sought after base was the old (and long out of production Munroe Dial). These dials allowed your figures to run in any direction! We worked for years on how to redesign them to be better than the originals and came up with two new modifications to add to the originals.
Other coaches started mass producing bases and in 2003 The Landsman’s asked Mark and I to redesign their figures and bases. Ideally, I wanted to re sculpt all of the figures for mass production but there just wasn’t time so we gave them the highly successful ITZ figures. Mark worked with the game’s best tweakers to design the new bases. There became issues with the language barrier via e-mail with China as the figures were very complex to mold and we were not thrilled with the plastic for the bases. I volunteered to go to China and get the project finished. After spending a week in Hong Kong the figures were under way and we had approved the plastic for the bases which would become the famous “First Run Pro Line Bases”.
For our commitment to the game we were honored with induction into the MCFA Hall of Fame in 2009 as contributors.
After a break from the game we started playing again in 2010. Mark still had a concept for a base that would do everything we could ever want and more but…We didn’t know how to make it. We hired a talented designer and the three of us met for over a year to create the new ITZ bases. Designs were modified and reworked until we had it down. The mold was cut and samples began to arrive from Hong Kong. After several shots we found a plastic that would work best for our bases and we ordered a set for the MFCA Convention in Cleveland. Unfortunately, they came the day before the show so we did not have much time to tweak them. Several coaches gave us some excellent feedback and we made a modification to the mold. Four new bases were added with wide prongs for strength and the Gear Base was improved.
So that is our story and we are excited to see what lies next…