3 epic toys from the 80s

Intellivision football

Though comically bad now, Intellivision was awesome in the 80s!

My cousin Curtis emailed me this morning with some fun memories from my youth.  Curtis and his brother Greg were from South Florida, so we only saw them over Christmas.  They would pile in the car, drive for 8+ hours, arrive in Atlanta, and we would be in constant motion and adventure until they left.  Great memories.

His email now has me thinking about some of my favorite toys from my childhood.  It was a simpler time, the 80s, and the toys reflected the time.

In the end, I was always a “sports guy”, so most of my time was spent outside with friends.  Depending on the season, we would run home from school, drop off our books, and grab either a football, basketball, or baseball equipment.  It was never a matter of IF we were going to play something, but rather which sport would be played on that particular day.  In a word, it was awesome.

However, there were always rainy days and nights when sports were not an option.  When this was the case, we turned to our “inside toys”.

In the 80s, when I was a kid, technology was painfully lacking.  From the vantage point of 2014 looking back, our “electronic” toys now seem like they were from the Neolithic Era.

So, in reminiscing about my youth today, here are 3 epic toys from my childhood.

  1. Electric Football – Looking back, this was the strangest game I owned as a kid.  It was comically low tech.  “Electric Football” was an aluminum football field, 27×16 inches, with the technological complexity of a waffle iron.  The rules were simple.  You lined up your “team”, which consisted of ½ inch plastic football players, in whatever formation you desired.  You designated which player would have the ball.  Then to the “action”. . . you hit the start button and the field began to vibrate with the consistency and sound of an electric razor.  It was also surprisingly loud.  The sound drove my dog crazy.  The “players” would then move at a literal snail’s pace in various directions.  If your guy with “the ball” moved forward, this was good.  If he moved backward, this was cataclysmically bad.  If you were on “defense”, your only goal was for one of your guys to touch the ball carrier.  This was a “tackle”.  The process would then begin all over.
    Electric football players

    2 “players” on Electric Football going head-to-head.

    “Electric Football” was maddeningly slow paced and boring; even for the 80s.  The problem was that it LOOKED awesome on the box.  It was an incredible concept.  However, the execution was always woefully inadequate.  We would set up elaborate formations, press start, then sit there bored while the “players” just convulsed back and forth in no apparent direction.  Always a major let down.  Add to this, my dog “Jingles” would always think the game was real grass, as it was green.  She would leave gifts for me right in the middle of the field of play, eventually causing rust to form in spots.  I guess this was her way of protesting the obnoxious sound the game made.  Not good.

  2. Intellivision – In the 80s, there were two primary video game consoles.  There was Atari and the lesser known, yet far superior Intellivision.  The name was a product of brilliant shorthand of the phrase “intelligent television”.  For the time, the sports games for Intellivision were cutting edge.  The football game was Madden before the concept of Madden was even on the drawing board.  Again, looking back, it is a joke how bad the graphics were (I literally laughed to the point of tears upon looking at this pic I have at the top of this post. . . literal tears).  However, at the time, Intellivision was a legitimate Friday night for my buddies and me.  Unlike “Electric Football,” Intellivision NEVER disappointed.  Unless, of course, it locked up in the midst of a tight game, which was frequent in those days.  Even though I came to near blows with my friend Darren more than a few times while locked in intense Intellivision battles, it was always worth it.
  3. Bigwheels – On days when weather was too bad for team sports or when there just were not enough kids around to make teams, Bigwheels were pulled out at ‘ole Castleridge Court (the cul-de-sac where I grew up).  Bigwheels were just what it sounds like; little trike-looking vehicles which were almost all wheels.
    Bigwheel awesomeness

    Just like the Bigwheel I used to shred Castleridge Court as a 5 year old.

    They were tiny, but would fly (at least it seemed that way when I was 5).  We would start at the top of hills in my neighborhood and let loose.  Top speeds were probably all of 10mph, but it seemed as if we would break the sound barrier on certain days.  Most days of “Bigwheelin’” would end upon a Bigwheel hitting a curb or just flipping over during top speeds.  The black, plastic wheels would screech and our 40lb bodies would go flying over the front handlebars.  The result was usually a wicked bloody knee or elbow or both.  No tears, though, as it was the code of the Bigwheel rider.  We would grimace, limp inside, and then receive a thorough coating of Bactine from Mom, followed by a trusty band-aide.  Though showers would be rough for the next day or two and legs would inevitably stick to sheets and jeans during the healing process, it was all worth it.  Little boys love two things; speed and danger.  Bigwheels were delightfully both.  Bigwheels were awesome.

Which toys did I miss?  What were toys you liked as a kid?



  1. Alexis says

    Those do sound ‘epic’…for a boy! I only had sisters when I was younger (brother came heaps later), all we had in our house were dolls, plastic horses, more dolls and anything we could dress up, accessorize or do hair/makeup! My best friend had my favourite game of the 80s though…Simon! Loved anticipating and remembering those little lights and loved when I could beat the game! Wish I had one right now. Might be a way to help my declining memory.
    Btw…you have a numbers theme happening in your posts lately. You in a phase?
    Have a great week, John! Grace & peace…

    • says

      Alexis, yeah, I guess I have been a little numbers-centric as of late. I’ve been pretty tired, so I think when that happens, my mind subconsciously shifts to structure for comfort.

      I NEVER played Simon. I saw the commercials, but never played one in person. My lose!

  2. Tatuu says

    What are those? :D

    Growing up these sides of the world in the late 80s and and in the 90s, we made our own toys. That is, the kids in the hood I grew up in and I. I think you had to come from a very rich family to be bought for toys or something because I don’t remember owning one. We made our dolls, then hand sewed and crocheted their cloths. I am amazed that we were able to do that. Our mothers provided the materials.

    The boys made their cars from scrap metals, used tins, used boxes and wires. There is also a way their footballs were made those days.

    I think we were just but a bunch of crafty kids.

    • says

      Tatuu, so glad you added your thoughts here! Yeah, my thoughts are pretty provincial to America in nature. I love hearing about what you guys did/played with.

      I’m certain you guys had as much fun as we did!

  3. Curtis "the real Gunter" Gunter says

    John, here are some real life lessons I think we learned from those 1980’s toys…..

    Magic 8 Ball – The future is unknowable, ever-changing.

    Scrabble – In any group of people, even if it’s only two, you will always find someone smarter than you

    Simon – Life is a series of endless demands, almost all of them annoying; Life is also a series of endless button-pushing, often only so you can push more buttons;

    Operation – Should a person’s life ever be in your hands –heaven forbid – you probably won’t be up to the task, especially if it involves tweezers and electrocution

    Monopoly – Everything is up to chance—especially your financial future—so never get too comfortable; You cannot spend more than two hours sitting with your family before getting into a huge argument;

    • says

      Curtis, love this list. Thanks for not only being the motivation of this post, but in adding a bunch to it.

      Man, I never played Simon or Magic 8 Ball, but loved Operation and Monopoly. Still HATE Scrabble to this day. I am terrible at it.

  4. Jerry C. says

    Handheld electronic football, Rubik’s cube, Atari 2600… however, heading to the local arcade with a pocket full of quarters was much more fun in the 80’s. Pac Man, Defender, Centipede, Galaga, Tempest, Tron, Dragon’s Lair, Donkey Kong, Star Castle, Space Invaders, Pole Position, Galaxian, Battlezone, Dig Dug… just to name a few!

    • says

      Jerry, I ALMOST added Handheld electronic football. Just ran out of time. That is still one of my all time favorites!

      Also, we used to wear out the “Gold Mine” arcade at Northlake Mall. Loved that place.

      • Jerry C. says

        There was a “Gold Mine” in Cumberland Mall also. Timeout and Aladdin’s Castle were a couple other arcades that you would see in various malls… and which I left often with only lint in my pockets. I am saving up for a Galaga/Ms. Pac Man machine someday. Good memories.

  5. HS says

    Hours of my childhood were spent playing monopoly!
    I also loved my Game & Watch with one game involving a monkey. I had a one screen game and watch then a 3 screen foldable one. It was a pleasant distraction on long car rides.

  6. Angela says

    Ah! Big wheels!!! I remember using all my muscles turning those pedals to get started and that big wheel would just turn and spin on the pavement in place until I got a little push. ha! I was also a big fan of the Speak and Spell back in the 80’s…. And then of course my rainbow brite dolls – always wanted to go over the rainbow. Ugh… and He-Man… yep I was a girl with the action figure…. I had SUCH a huge crush on him… so weird. lol!

    • says

      Thanks for throwing in some female perspective here!

      I was never into He-man, but was partial to G-I Joe. Huge fan of him, though thankfully never developed into a crush. Princess Leah on the other hand. . .

  7. says

    Thank you for writing such a refreshing post on a Monday, I loved it, though I relate to almost nothing there… :)

    My childhood toys were:
    – jumping ropes: me and my friends had serious summer “championships” of jumping the rope 12 ways or more
    – plastic water pistols in the shape of yellow elephants or blue pistols
    – playing as “the lady shop-seller” selling all kinds of “groceries” and, of course, the “customer” using leaves and small pebbles as money
    – doing “professional gymnastics”: we used the kerb-stone as a “beam”, the parking lot as the “floor” and the chains people used to enclose each person’s lot as the “bars”… Every girl was Nadia Comaneci!! :D
    – “cooking” mud and wild non/edible fruit and playing the “gracious hostess” offering food to guests – huge fun for us!
    – boys would “build” long intricate roads in the dust/dirt around our block of flats and “drive” their plastic cars to the “gas station”, “work” etc.
    – board games that got you started from a place and challenged you to get to the “finish” point after a whole series of traps, tests, adventures. The “magic ” names of these board games are Piticot (Hop-o’-my-thumb) and Nu te supara, frate! (Don’t get it personal, bro’!) I would still play them anytime.
    – my all-times favorite: Hide-and-seek, especially when it got darker in the evening.

    • says

      Great stuff here, Ilulia! Thanks for giving us a glimpse of your youth there in Romania.

      I loved water pistols were great and I agree. . . Hide and seek will probably always stick out as one of the all-time great kids game!

      Thanks and hope you are well!

  8. Keith Jernigan says

    John this post brought back fond memories of our childhood. I am laughing now at the arguments we had over whether or not two vibrating football players actually touched. I also remember playing baseball in the cul de sace for hours with a rubber baseball (incrediball?) or whiffle ball. We were definitely blessed to grow up in our neighborhood. Hope you are doing well.


    • says

      Keith, how could I have NOT mentioned Incrediball!?!?!? Man, I probably spent more time playing with the Incrediball than all the other combined. To be honest, though, half that time was spent getting the balls out of the sewer or searching for it in the Coulsin’s bushes, but it was time well spent nonetheless.

      Thanks and look forward to our next time of sitting down.

  9. Kelly says

    Definitely the rubik’s cube. I remember spending hours one time on my sister’s rubik’s cube trying to get the same colors to match up. Confession: I finally tried taking the stickers off & reattaching them to make it look like I figured it out. That poor rubik’s cube was never the same.

    • says

      Yeah, the ‘ole Rubik’s Cube remains an unsolved mystery to me even to this day. I gave up early on it, though, so not a ton of time invested in it. I guess I don’t like things I am not good at. Definitely a character flaw!

  10. says

    -Connectables–these cars/trucks that had interconnectable parts
    -Transformers–they seem to be popular again
    -Monopoly–my aim was to own mayfair/parklane & build hotels & charge rent
    -Sega Master System–games like Super Hang-on (motor bike racing), Steets of Rage (fighting game), Shinobi (ninja fighting game)
    -Nerf Bow & Arrow–I used to shoot my sibling ;)

  11. Tom says

    We had an Intellivision as well… perhaps it was ahead simply of its time. Those plastic inserts for each game that you put over the keypad – just like the icons on the iPhone today. No need for a joystick either, just a disc that was versatile enough to be a d-pad when needed. The biggest problem was trying to figure out how to wedge the controllers and their telephone-style cords neatly back into the center console.

    • says

      Tommy, good call here. I HATED the Atari joystick next to the Intellivision. The disc was far superior. I also forgot about the inserts. Definitely ahead of their time.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. . .