Twenty-five years later, it's still the only way to play ball in the house.
The year was 1970. Earth Day was celebrated for the first time, and runners competed in the first New York City Marathon. Doonesbury debuted in some 30 newspapers. There was Vietnam, of course, and Jim Bouton's book Ball Four tore the towel off of baseball's private parts. As the Temptations put it, the world was a Ball of Confusion.
Which brings us back to the Nerf.
The history of the Ball We All Can Dunk begins with 59-year-old Reynolds Guyer—erstwhile p.r. man and inventor, artist and songwriter. In 1965, while working for Reynolds Guyer Design, his father's promotion company in St. Paul, Guyer created the devilishly giddy game of Twister as a marketing gimmick for shoe polish. Twister was Guyer's first foray into toy land.
By 1968 Guyer had blossomed into a full-time creator of toys. He left his father's business and started his own company, Winsor Concepts. One day as Guyer and his team of research and development scientists were working on a game with a caveman theme, the Nerf ball literally took shape before their eyes.
In Guyer's prehistoric brainchild, players hid money under "rocks" made of gray foam rubber. Players protected their money by throwing these rocks at opponents. "Pretty soon we found that we were throwing the rocks around more than anything else," says Guyer. "And then someone decided the rocks were not round enough, so he began cutting them with scissors."
The idea for the caveman game was quickly abandoned in favor of foam balls. Guyer and his designers called their new toy Nerf because they liked its abstract, soft sound. In 1970, a year after Parker Bros. bought the license to develop Nerf products and hired Guyer as a consultant, the first Nerf balls hit stores. They were slightly larger than a Softball and sported a cozy 99-cent price tag. More than four million were sold in the Nerf's first year.
The Nerf Football followed in 1972, and by the end of the year it had become the largest-selling football in the world. In the next decade Guyer and Parker Bros. created some 10 Nerf products, including soccer balls, indoor golf and Ping-Pong.
The Nerf license was transferred to Kenner Products in 1991, and today the spongy rubber toys are more popular than ever. Toy shelves are lined with 42 different Nerf products, from footballs to foam heavy artillery.
Since the accidental creation of Nerf, kids of all ages have used Guyer's invention—and the many knockoffs that followed—to imitate, for instance, their basketball heroes' airborne antics, with hoops hung on bedroom doors. Chris Mullin, now an All-Star forward for the NBA's Golden State Warriors, is a proud member of the Nerf generation. He grew up fascinated by the aerial game of Julius Erving, who starred for the old ABA's Virginia Squires and New York Nets. "But what he did," says Mullin, "I could only do with a Nerf ball."