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.” ••EndFragment