God, how I miss the Mattel electronic handheld football game that any normal (which is to say, completely maladjusted) 10-year-old boy played pretty much nonstop for all of 1977. That year, for the first time in history, television viewing actually declined—by 6.4% from '76—and the reason is obvious: The electronic gaming age had arrived, led by a battery-operated wonderment that was smaller than a book of LifeSavers.
If you don't know what a book of LifeSavers is, you probably missed out on Mattel Football, a trailblazing marvel that was little more than an LED screen on which players were represented by glowing red hyphens. You could move the brightest hyphen, the ballcarrier, up and down and forward by furiously clicking buttons with your right thumb. The object, of course, was to elude the defensive red hyphens pursuing you. When you scored—or gave up the ball on downs—you handed the game to your friend Kevin Sundem for his turn. It was brilliant.
One Thursday night my big brother Tom and I were banished to our bedroom before The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour came on. We would, alas, miss Raymond J. Johnson Jr. and his killer "You can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay" routine. So, when I scored the winning touchdown on Mattel that night (an event always punctuated by an electronic bugling of "Charge!"), Tom could no longer bear life's unfairness and punched a hole in our bedroom wall. We were both stunned. His arm went in all the way up to his shoulder. We covered the hole with a Farrah poster and—after a terrifying eternity listening for Dad's footfalls, which never came—giggled ourselves to sleep.