Richmond's Electric Football Fans Say the Cult Game Is Ready For Prime Time 

click to enlarge A hard-to-play and annoying game from the 1970s has been reborn with better technology and much more strategy involved.

A hard-to-play and annoying game from the 1970s has been reborn with better technology and much more strategy involved.

At nearly 70 years old, electric football is nothing new. Announcements for the 2016 Electric Football World Championships and Convention promise “the usual gang of tweakers, painters, and collectors roaming the hotel.”

One longtime player reverently refers to the game as “moving chess,” another as a combination sport, hobby and artistic endeavor. Those who play the game are called coaches.

Got all that?

First and foremost, electric football is based on the game of football. Coaches use plastic figures known as players, which are mounted on bases with prongs, to run offense, defense and special teams on a metal field. A motor causes the field to vibrate, activating the prongs on the bases and moving players in the direction of the coach’s play.

“You match your skill, strategy development and overall understanding of football against another coach’s ability to determine the outcome of the game,” says Dwayne Thomas, who first played as a teenager and rediscovered it in his 40s, amazed at how far it had come.

The former bland sameness of individual players was supplanted with realistic poses and authentically painted uniforms, name and number decals, helmet and uniform decals, chin straps and face masks. The bases on which players stand can be tweaked for speed, strength and direction using pliers and other devices. Metal playing surfaces are now designed to scale.

All of which plays a distant second to the two reasons coaches say they devote countless hours and days traveling to play the sport: the competition and genuine camaraderie that forms between hobby enthusiasts.

Electric football leagues have formed across the country, tied together by well-attended regional and national tournaments. Overseas, the game is played in England, France and among U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

“It’s the joy of creating a team with your personality,” says Lynn “Weirdwolf” Schmidt, president of the Miniature Football Coaches Association — “working with it, practicing your passing, kicking and play calling, putting it on the field against your peers and competing in a game of football without bruises and skinned elbows.

“It’s pitting your preparation and football knowledge against others in a way that allows those of us who didn’t get to live out our NFL dreams to do so on a smaller scale anytime and anywhere we want.”

For some people, the lure is the hobby and history aspect of re-creating every detail of a team from their past or present, using the exact helmets, shoes and gloves that their favorite players wore, a way of memorializing football heroes.

Coaches insist that electric football primarily is a game of strategy. Offensive and defensive teams are designed to run designated plays and coaches must be able to read what their opponent is lined up to do and counter it. “Luck is involved, but the strategy of a well-developed game plan will win the game for you,” Thomas says. “Most of the time.”

The three-day convention is held and Richmond, championed in part by enthusiast Chris Bopst, who also serves as calendar editor to Style. It will feature coaches and enthusiasts from across the world gathering for competition, along with information on leagues and everything newcomers need to start playing the game, which will be available for purchase from Tudor Games, the convention’s sponsor, as well as independent vendors.

“We’ll also have ‘EF Training Camp,’ where coaches will work with you to get started in the game,” Schmidt says. “Many dads bring their kids to get their first set and learn some new tricks that enhance game play right out of the box.”

Women are always welcome and coaches say they’d love to have more involved, but the primary players seem to be men between 20 and 55. Although last year’s convention had three female competitors, women tend to be more attracted to the painting and hobby aspect than actual game play.

“Someday I hope the games’ growth reaches a level that inspires a reality show or brings in big-name sponsors,” Schmidt says. “There’s no reason this game couldn’t be televised like an X Games or Xbox tournament.”

It could be a colorful event, he says: “We have the kind of characters in this hobby that would make for a real fun and good show.” S

The 2016 Electric Football World Championships and Convention will be held July 29-31 at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, 4700 S. Laburnum Ave.

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