Norman Sas, inventor of electric tabletop football, dies at 87

Posted July 15, 2012, at 8:26 p.m.

Norman A. Sas, 87, who invented a buzzing, vibrating tabletop game called Tudor Electric Football, a wildly popular and long-enduring simulation of professional football action, died June 28 at his home in Vero Beach, Fla.

The cause of death was not reported. Family members confirmed his death.

With an electric motor and a sheet of metal, Mr. Sas devised a game that enthralled millions, winning the devotion of generations of children and retaining their loyalty as they grew up.

The electric motor caused up and down oscillations in the metal sheet, which was painted green with gridiron stripes to resemble a football field. The vibrations caused plastic figures to bump and push one another in a miniature evocation of gridiron play that combined an appetite for competition, a fascination with football and an American inclination toward tinkering.

The game was inspired in part by a horse racing game — also produced by Mr. Sas’s family-owned company — that used a vibrating surface to make pieces move.

The tabletop football game, invented in 1948, became even more popular after it was licensed by the National Football League in 1967. “For the first 10 years, we generated more money for NFL properties than anyone else,” Mr. Sas once said.

The game was also a major hit in the toy world at large. About 40 million were said to have been sold. People “grew up with the game imprinted on their psyches,” said Jerry McGhee, a member of the board of directors of the Miniature Football Coaches Association.

The quivering playing field transmitted force to the figures through prongs jutting from their bases and emitted a steady “bzzzzz” when the switch was engaged.

Further improvements, credited to industrial designer Lee Payne Jr., made the game more realistic. After the NFL licensed the game in 1967, the miniature figurines were painted in the official uniforms of pro teams.

Norman Anders Sas was born in New York City on March 29, 1925. He entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1942 as part of a Navy officer training program during World War II. He received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and was commissioned an ensign. After Navy service, he returned to MIT and received a second bachelor’s degree, in business administration.

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