Our Electric Football Game Top 20 Countdown continues…at No. 13 it’s the Sears-exclusive Gotham NFL Big Bowl 1503-S.
The Gotham NFL Big Bowl could make our Top 20 Countdown on just a single reason — it was the game that convinced Tudor President and Electric Football inventor Normans Sas to go after the NFL. After seeing the Big Bowl in the 1965 Sears Christmas catalog, Norman knew he had to do whatever it took to convince the NFL that Tudor should have the Electric Football license. (See the free Chapter 1 download of The Unforgettable Buzz for more details).
But even without that very important distinction, Gotham’s NFL Big Bowl would be on the list because it had one of the most elaborate commercially produced stadiums in Electric Football history. With a 40+ piece double-decked 3-D grandstand that surrounded the game on three sides, it was such a massive step in Electric Football stadium architecture that few games have come close to equaling the Big Bowl in the last 49 years.
Gotham mounted their Big Bowl stadium on a basic Gotham NFL G-1500 field and frame, which the company had been selling since 1961. The new stadium was cardboard instead of metal, superseding Gotham’s Yankee Stadium G-1500 as the company’s “flagship” Electric Football game. And it was only available through Sears. Page 432 of the 1965 Sears Christmas Wish Book made it clear to the toy world that Electric Football was a “must have” boys’ item.
In an attempt to make the game even more “real,” Gotham included 44 players in the Big Bowl (22 red and 22 white). So after wearing out the included paint pallet, a kid could theoretically have 4 different teams to play with. Unfortunately, a different part of the Big Bowl’s “realism” set in long before the last player received a final brush stroke.
Once the fabulous stadium was taken down at the end of Christmas vacation, it was rarely ever reassembled. Because there were SO many pieces, adult or big brother help was mandatory in putting it together. And the “Santa’s” who spent a profanity-filled Christmas eve coaxing the complicated Big Bowl to life weren’t eager for another shift on the construction crew.
Another part of Big Bowl reality would set in the following September. It seemed almost inevitable that between Christmas and the next football season some of the stadium pieces would go missing or get broken. (Lost instructions were another kind of disaster.) All it took was a single missing or compromised piece of cardboard for the beautiful Big Bowl to become junk. It was a heartbreaking fate that one of The Unforgettable Buzz authors experienced personally.
Sears kept the Big Bowl at the top of its Electric Football line for four years. This included two with the NFL (1965-66), and two without (1967-68). So it must have been a popular game. But Big Bowl’s have long been one of the toughest “finds” in all of Electric Football. Between lost pieces and Gotham’s propensity for warped fields and popped frame rivets, perhaps the Big Bowl’s rarity isn’t that much of a surprise.
Yet the Big Bowl is a true Electric Football landmark, and part of the under appreciated genius of Gotham President Eddie Gluck. It wasn’t quite in the way that Eddie hoped, but the Big Bowl did propel Electric Football into the future. And Tudor into the NFL.
Earl, Roddy, and Michael