God, electric football help save father of five

Al Har­vey with the Cow­boys (left), plays Wil­li­am Chalmers with the Jag­uars (right) dur­ing the an­nu­al NE­FL Su­per­bowl, while Ernie Grice times them, Sat­urday, June 23, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. Al Har­vey wins 34-28. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


In one small corner of the world, the Dal­las Cow­boys have won two out of the last three Su­per Bowls.

Don’t worry, Phil­adelphia — this hasn’t happened to your Eagles; rather, it was Al Har­vey’s Dal­las Cow­boys of the North­east Elec­tric Foot­ball League (NE­FL) that claimed the game’s top prize last Sat­urday.

Har­vey, a 44-year-old fath­er of five from Cam­den, N.J., is a lifelong Cow­boys fan who hap­pens to live in the thick of Eagles Coun­try. However, he of­fers no apo­lo­gies on his un­pop­u­lar choice, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing his Cow­boys fan­dom has helped change his life for the bet­ter.

“I’ve been a fan of the Cow­boys since I was sev­en years old,” Har­vey said by phone a few days after his coron­a­tion as king of the NE­FL. “My fath­er rooted for the Eagles, but as soon as I saw that (fam­ous) star (at mid­field in Dal­las’ sta­di­um) I was hooked. Be­ing a Cow­boys fan in Philly makes a lot of people nervous or afraid, but not me. I wear my jer­sey and people boo me, but that’s about as far as it goes. It’s not as bad as people would think…I’m just a nor­mal guy in a nor­mal foot­ball jer­sey.”

Most would raise an eye­brow or two at the con­sidered nor­malcy of Har­vey’s pas­sion for elec­tric foot­ball. After all, it’s an old-school game that people loy­ally played long be­fore the days of iPads, DVRs, fantasy sports, soph­ist­ic­ated video game con­soles and high defin­i­tion tele­vi­sion. As tech­no­logy has con­tin­ued to evolve over time, a game like elec­tric foot­ball has seem­ingly be­come more ob­sol­ete for fans of elec­tron­ic gad­gets with short at­ten­tion spans.

But not for Har­vey, NE­FL Com­mis­sion­er Corey John­son and 30 of their closest friends, who gath­er every Sat­urday at the May­fair Com­munity Cen­ter and every Sunday at Daly’s Pub in Wissi­nom­ing from Feb­ru­ary un­til June to play a game that kids today would likely scoff at.

Elec­tric foot­ball con­sists of mini­ature, me­tic­u­lously de­signed plastic fig­ures moun­ted on bases and ar­ranged in pro­fes­sion­al form­a­tions on a 2-foot-by-3-foot met­al board painted to rep­lic­ate an NFL field. Play be­gins when a switch on the board is triggered, which trans­mits vi­bra­tions through the met­al board and sends the mini-play­ers in­to mo­tion.

A ball car­ri­er is tackled when his plastic base makes con­tact with a play­er on the op­pon­ent’s de­fens­ive unit. When it comes to passing, the act is as ar­cha­ic as it was when the game first be­come pop­u­lar four or five dec­ades ago: a min­is­cule foam foot­ball is at­tached to the passing hand of the quar­ter­back and flicked at a de­sired tar­get; if the ball makes con­tact with the tar­get, it counts as a com­pleted pass.

For his part, Har­vey un­der­stands people’s skep­ti­cism when it comes to a game that ap­pears prim­it­ive in com­par­is­on to what else is avail­able for con­sumers today. A fath­er of four sons, Har­vey has en­joyed (and still does) his fair share of video games. He is aware of bur­geon­ing tech­no­logy and does not shun it, but at the same time he wouldn’t choose any oth­er way to spend his week­ends when the NE­FL and its 32 mem­bers (each as­signed to a par­tic­u­lar pro­fes­sion­al fran­chise) sim­u­late an en­tire NFL sea­son un­til a cham­pi­on is crowned.

“I love foot­ball and bas­ket­ball, but as you grow older it’s harder to phys­ic­ally com­pete in those sports,” said Har­vey, whose Cow­boys de­feated Wil­li­am Cham­bers’ Jack­son­ville Jag­uars in a 34-28 thrill­er. “I just love any type of com­pet­i­tion, and this game rep­res­ents the strategy and com­pet­it­ive nature of the NFL, from the form­a­tions to the game plans. The think­ing as­pect really drew me to it.”

Har­vey’s re-entry in­to elec­tric foot­ball came at a per­fect time in his life. He played the game as a young­ster, but shelved it un­til his mid-30s, get­ting in­volved with the NE­FL in 2002. Aside from the in­form­al games he some­times played with his cous­in, this was the first real for­ay back in­to elec­tric foot­ball.

The trans­ition back in­to be­ing a ser­i­ous play­er came about the same time that Har­vey quit drink­ing and found God. After “be­ing saved,” as he de­scribed it, Har­vey elim­in­ated al­co­hol, smoking and foul lan­guage from his life. He de­voted him­self to his fam­ily and new­found faith, but he re­mained rest­less un­til he re-dis­covered elec­tric foot­ball and the league full of men he now calls his broth­ers.

“I was al­ways in­to elec­tric foot­ball, but I figured people didn’t play it any­more,” he said. “My life was chan­ging when I star­ted play­ing again and it per­fectly co­in­cided with me be­ing saved. It just happened, and it fit right in with what I was try­ing to do with my life.”

Win­ning and los­ing are not what drives Har­vey; in fact, he said he doesn’t really care about the out­comes of his games, even though he said he was blessed to have won six NE­FL Su­per Bowls. As a man in his mid-40s with four grown chil­dren and a teen­age son, Har­vey needed to find a group that he could share a com­mon in­terest with as his life pro­gressed.

The com­pet­i­tion part is great, but what Har­vey really loves is how elec­tric foot­ball helped bring him grow close to oth­er men he had nev­er met be­fore.

“It’s a broth­er­hood,” he said. “We help each oth­er in life and lean on each oth­er for sup­port. We talk about sports and the sim­il­ar­it­ies of our lives. If I have an is­sue with my wife, I can bring it up to them and we can talk and laugh about it as men be­cause we’re ex­per­i­en­cing the same things at this stage of our lives.

“It doesn’t mat­ter if you’re black, white, re­li­gious, a drink­er, a smoker, someone that cusses,” he con­tin­ued. “Every­one just comes to­geth­er and has fun. We’re all dif­fer­ent, but once you’re around each oth­er enough you start to be­come a fam­ily.”

Now that the sea­son is over and Har­vey is a cham­pi­on again, he’ll fo­cus on spend­ing time with his fam­ily, namely his wife whose pa­tience he tests dur­ing the sea­son.

“My wife looks for­ward to see­ing me on the week­ends now,” he said with a laugh. “She asks me what I’m go­ing to do now that the sea­son is over and I tell her, ‘Now I’m go­ing to chill with you!’”

And even though tech­no­logy con­tin­ues to evolve every day, Har­vey be­lieves there will al­ways be a place in the world for elec­tric foot­ball.

“I think it will get more pop­u­lar with con­tin­ued ex­pos­ure,” he said. “There are still plenty of guys who love the com­pet­i­tion and artistry of the game. And it’s a game where any­one can play. Wo­men can beat men and kids can beat adults, and the more people that give it a shot, the more it will grow. I just love the com­pet­i­tion and thought that goes in­to it, kind of like a chess match.

“Play­ing this game with this group of guys, I love it…we all do,” he con­cluded. “To us, it’s be­come way more than what we ori­gin­ally thought It’s more than just some game. It’s hard to ex­plain, but it’s like be­ing on va­ca­tion — when you play, there are no wor­ries about the ills of the world. You just play and have fun.” ••


You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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