WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Norman Sas, a mechanical engineer who created electric football, a tabletop game with a vibrating metal field and unpredictable plastic players that captivated and frustrated children and nostalgic grown-ups for decades, has died. He was 87.
Sas died June 28 at his home in Vero Beach, his daughter Martha O’Connor confirmed Friday.
Sas’ father Elmer owned Tudor Metal Products in New York, surviving through the Depression by making xylophones and a six-slot Budget Bank that allowed users to divide their savings for different purposes. The company eventually developed technology that used a small motor to create vibrations on a metal plate, the basis for car and horse racing games.
When Sas took over the company in the late 1940s, he was set on using the technology to create a football game. It was introduced by Tudor in 1949 and, with the flick of a switch, sent its tiny players vibrating haphazardly around the field, a felt ball in one of their hands. For children of that era, it was unlike anything they’d ever seen.
“You had your own NFL right there on your living room floor,” said Earl Shores, a writer who interviewed Sas for his forthcoming book on electric football, “The Unforgettable Buzz,” which he wrote with Roddy Garcia.
The game could be infuriatingly slow and its players’ movements nearly impossible to predict, but its popularity endured. Shores still plays occasionally with his game, which he received as an 8-year-old on Christmas morning 1968.
“Any time we look at it, we’re remembering that first time,” he said. “We’re touching our childhood. We’re touching innocence.”
Mike Holmgren, president of the Cleveland Browns, told NFL.com it was “the best Christmas present I’ve ever received in my whole life.”
Electric football became so popular that several competitors popped up to challenge Tudor. The game evolved, with the players becoming much more detailed, a grandstand complete with crowd added and an NFL licensing deal that allowed fans to have their favorite teams on the field. Its popularity endured into the 1980s, when video football games began to emerge. By then, Sas had sold his company.
Sas was born in New York on March 29, 1925, and earned degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Besides O’Connor, he is survived by his wife, Irene, another daughter, Wendy Jones, and seven grandchildren.
A swell of nostalgia for Sas’ game has been stirred by his passing. O’Connor said it may have taken her father aback, as “He never, ever would have tooted his own horn.”
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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.