Miniature Football Transforms From Classic Game into Modern Competition
Weighing four grams and standing one-and-a-half inches tall, the pass rusher on coach Lynn Schmidt’s Kansas City Chiefs’ team does not look formidable. Yet, the miniature athlete buzzes through the offensive front line and sacks the quarterback. Opponent Kelley Newton, coach of the Oklahoma Sooners, switches off the electric current. Schmidt and Newton reset the field for the next play.
The “coaches” are two men playing a modern version of electric football, or miniature football, using figurines styled after their favorite teams. The tabletop American football game, invented by Norman Sas of Tudor Games in 1947, is played on a metal vibrating field. More than 40 million electric football games have been sold since its creation.
Schmidt first played electric football in 1968 as an eight-year-old. “My Dad brought home a 1949 set he bought at a farm auction,” says Schmidt. “I played the game with my nephew for years until I put it in the closet.”
Plastic players are mounted on a rectangular base with plastic prongs underneath. Each coach positions their team on the field. A switch turns the board’s electric current on and off, making players vibrate and move. In the original game, the players moved randomly in circles. Still, the game captured the imagination of kids and even adults.
“In 1999, I saw the game on a shelf at Toys-R-Us,” says Schmidt. “It brought back nostalgia for electric football.”
Schmidt bought the game. It contained a newsletter about U.S. amateur leagues. Schmidt contacted a player in Iowa. Together, they formed a league that included players in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.
“We connected and discussed rules of the game,” says Schmidt. “In 2007, eleven guys and I formed the Miniature Football Coaches Association (MFCA).”
Today, coaches compete within the Midwest league and against regional and national leagues. Tournaments are held in Richmond, Virginia, Canton, Ohio, and other cities. Philadelphia’s league consists of 32 coaches with a waiting list of people to join the league.
Small Tweak, Big Results
A key modification drove advancement of game play and league formation. Coaches determined they could “tweak” players by making adjustments to the prongs in the base with pliers or flame. The tweaks enabled a player to move in a straight line, curve, faster, or in other ways, depending on the alteration.
“Once you can manipulate the player, that’s where the strategy comes in,” says Newton.
“You have running backs that can hit the hole and blocking schemes,” says Schmidt.
While the game still has random elements, coaches can more effectively place position players on the field. Players are tweaked to execute a block, rushing, or receiving maneuver.
Modern electric football is played on custom-built boards larger than the original game. Each board has quirks as electrical current turns a counterbalanced motor and send vibrations, giving its owner “home team advantage” with knowledge of the field’s idiosyncrasies.
“It has turned into a full-time hobby,” Schmidt says. “Some guys build stadiums and detail miniature figures to recreate historic fields and players.”
Schmidt built a replica of Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium, where the Royals and Chiefs once played on the same field. Creating these players, props, and settings is the sports equivalent of model railroading. With its modifications, electric football more closely simulates the professional game it emulates.
Big League Play in Miniature
Newton, basketball coach of the Kansas City Kansas Community College Blue Devils, is the youngest of six children. He watched older brothers play electric football. When his brothers left for college, Newton kept the game and taught his childhood friends to play.
“When I went to college and played basketball, I brought the game and taught friends how to play during downtime,” says Newton.
In 2004, Newton discovered electric football tournaments after researching online. Several years later, he moved to Kansas City, looked for local leagues, and found the MFCA. Schmidt still runs the MFCA which organizes local tournaments to qualify for regional and national competition. It also governs the game’s rules and regulations.
“I found Lynn in 2008 and reached out,” says Newton. “I learned about the new boards, players, and game-playing schemes. It hooked me. The fact that you can travel and play other coaches is exciting.”
Newton advanced to a competitive level since he rediscovered the game. He competed in the national convention in August 2016 in Richmond, Virginia, where he finished seventh in the Final 8 tournament.
Football and Fellowship
The Kansas City Electric Football League (KCEFL) formed in 2015 as others became interested in playing. The league began with six coaches and completed its first season in November 2015. In the KCEFL, a season lasts six to seven weeks with a final week of championship play.
Newton, the current KCEFL commissioner, oversees an expanded league of ten coaches that begins its third season in November 2016.
“Our league meets once per week and we play two games,” says Newton. “It’s exciting and fun to play against other guys.”
Schmidt added with a laugh, “It helps to have understanding wives and girlfriends.”
While women have competed in the KCEFL, the league’s coaches are predominantly men.
“The focus of the league is fellowship,” says Newton. “We use the hobby to meet people and create friendships.”
To promote the league and encourage membership, KCEFL games are conducted in rotation at three area bars – Paul and Jack’s in North Kansas City, Johnny’s Tavern in Shawnee, and Tiff n’ Jays in Lee’s Summit. Schmidt and Newton want to grow the KCEFL and add competitors.
Playing the Game
The game has a fundamental format with well-defined rules, plays, and strategies. Opposing coaches have time limits to position players in a matter of seconds and set up offensive and defensive moves known as pivots. Play begins when the offensive coach flips the switch to activate the electricity. Coaches watch the play develop, assessing the implications of players converging to block or separating to break downfield or catch a pass.
Newcomers quickly grasp the game’s basic format. Mastering the game is the appeal. The KCEFL details game rules in a 35-page rule book.
“With the assistance of experienced coaches, you can be up and running in two to four months and be somewhat competitive,” says Schmidt. “Without assistance, it can take much longer. The best way to learn tweaking is by working side-by-side with someone that knows how to do it. Tweaking is the lifeblood of the game and the hardest aspect to master. It is a continual learning process. Some bases tweak better than others. Different plastics in the bases can make some much more desirable for speed or strength aspects.”
Limited control over each play’s outcome increases the suspense, fun, and use of strategy. Schmidt, Newton, and coaches in leagues across the country compete with serious intent but don’t take themselves too seriously.
Like fantasy football and online role-playing games, electric football is fascinating and fun for all ages. The emergence of the KCEFL and MFCA taps into the cultural and historic appeal of professional football and a childhood game that has enthralled generations for nearly seven decades.
Learn more about miniature football and the KCEFL at MiniatureFootball.com.