Play football – on the kitchen table

Now that the Super Bowl is over, turn off the TV and rest your thumbs. If you’re looking for a football game that relates to sports collectors, you won’t find it playing on the television screen.

Football board games have been a part of kitchen table gatherings since the late 1800s, with no shortage of varieties during that span. From celebrity-endorsed games to strategy contests that put you in the play-calling mode, football games have been scoring touchdowns with fans for generations.

While it’s true that you will never get rich collecting football games (the classic board game market on the whole is not thriving right now, and football games rank below base in terms of popularity), there are some games that offer excellent play value for fans looking for no physical contact.

Prewar games
The most valuable football games are those produced by McLoughlin Bros. in the prewar era. These are among the oldest football games available, produced during the Victorian Era, which also happens to be  the most valuable era for board games in general.

The most valuable McLoughlin games in the group is the Yale-Princeton Football Game from 1895 and the Yale/Harvard Game from 1890. In Excellent condition, these games can bring $1,500 each. 

The Parlor Football Game from the 1890s is worth $700, while the Boys Own Football Game from the 1900s is worth $600 in Excellent condition. Of course, finding one of these games is more challenging than playing the game itself.

Other interesting football games from the prewar era include the Knute Rockne Football Game ($200), Elmer Layden’s Scientific Football Game ($20) and Tom Hamilton’s Pigskin ($40).

Most of the games from the prewar era are affordable, often selling for less than $50. Of course, finding these games in complete condition is the challenge. When you do, expect to pay more – the market rewards games that are complete and in nice condition.

Postwar games
Like most collecting categories in the postwar era, football games received a boost from celebrity endorsements. Football players such as Paul Brown, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas and O.J. Simpson lent their names for use, adding – at least at the time – some credibility to the games to fans of the college and pro game.

Familiar manufacturers in this period include Strat-O-Matic, Transogram and Mattel. Mattel produced a series of talking football games, bringing Monday Night Football straight to the kitchen table.

Strat-O-Matic is probably the most recognizable to fans, using the actual statistics from players in game play. The company still offers games today, now utilizing computer programs to input up-to-date statistics of the players.

Many of these games can be found rather inexpensively, often for less than $25 no matter what condition.

“While lagging behind the popularity of baseball games, the athlete-endorsed games and the classic strategy card games do the best on the secondary market,” said Karen O’Brien, editor of 2008 Toys & Prices and O’Brien’s Collecting Toys.
 “Electronic football games from the 1950s and 1960s, such as Tudor Electronic Football or Gotham All-Star Electric Football, remain popular among collectors.”  

And while many games can be found at affordable prices, O’Brien said condition always sets the price.

“Premium prices are still achieved for unopened games in their Mint-condition boxes,” O’Brien said, adding that finding games in that condition is never easy.

Where can I find these?

Some of the best places to find football games is at shows, including toy shows and antique stores. Prewar games are becoming more scarce as the decades go by, and a growing number of these types of games are appearing in antique shops.
O’Brien offered one special tip when searching for games at shows.

She said because games aren’t the hottest commodity on the market, be sure to check under the tables in the bins where the cheaper-priced items are often found.

The Association of Games and Puzzles Collectors (www.agpc.org) has a vast network of collectors of all varieties of games. Also, do some searching on online auction sites, where many examples are available at any given tim
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O’Brien provides some sound advice for those collectors looking to add football games to their stash of playthings.

“When looking to purchase games, first make sure all of the pieces are present and unbroken,” O’Brien said. “Then evaluate the condition of the game board and any other paper items necessary for play. Are the instructions present?

“Finally, consider the condition of the box – is there any damage to the corners or box art? Box art is a key component of condition. For many prewar games, the box art is the collectible component rather than the game itself.”

So strap on a helmet and throw on some shoulder pads. There are some great football-related games out ready to be tackled.

Are you ready for some football?

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