Norman A. Sas, 87, who invented a buzzing, vibrating tabletop game called Tudor Electric Football, a wildly popular and long-enduring simulation of professional football action, died June 28 at his home in Vero Beach, Fla.
The cause of death was not reported. Family members confirmed his death.
With an electric motor and a sheet of metal, Mr. Sas devised a game that enthralled millions, winning the devotion of generations of children and retaining their loyalty as they grew up.
The electric motor caused up and down oscillations in the metal sheet, which was painted green with gridiron stripes to resemble a football field. The vibrations caused plastic figures to bump and push one another in a miniature evocation of gridiron play that combined an appetite for competition, a fascination with football and an American inclination toward tinkering.
The game was inspired in part by a horse racing game — also produced by Mr. Sas’s family-owned company — that used a vibrating surface to make pieces move.
The tabletop football game, invented in 1948, became even more popular after it was licensed by the National Football League in 1967. “For the first 10 years, we generated more money for NFL properties than anyone else,” Mr. Sas once said.
The game was also a major hit in the toy world at large. About 40 million were said to have been sold. People “grew up with the game imprinted on their psyches,” said Jerry McGhee, a member of the board of directors of the Miniature Football Coaches Association.
The quivering playing field transmitted force to the figures through prongs jutting from their bases and emitted a steady “bzzzzz” when the switch was engaged.
In the early days, this produced uncoordinated movement over the living-room gridiron. At first, players “just went everywhere,” said Lynn Schmidt, a former president of the Miniature Football Coaches Association. “They didn’t know what they were doing.”
“It was random, but it was beautiful,” said Earl Shores, co-author of a forthcoming book about electric football called “Unforgettable Buzz.” The tabletop game’s unpredictability was suggestive of the element of chance in football. A figure, Shores said, might without warning “make a random turn or movement and avoid an opposing player.”
But early on, aficionados of electric football began to spot differences between one mass-produced piece of plastic and another, and they adjusted their lineups accordingly. In time, they learned to modify the plastic prongs to exert greater control over their players’ movements.
The field of play became something like “a moving chessboard,” McGhee said.
Further improvements, credited to industrial designer Lee Payne Jr., made the game even more realistic. After the NFL licensed the game, the miniature figures were painted in the official uniforms of pro teams.
The advent of video and computer-based games appeared to mark “the beginning of the end” for electric football, Mr. Sas once said. But the game retained its hold on enthusiasts, including those who remembered it from childhood.
“It requires strategy, practice,” Schmidt said. “It takes a lot of us back to days we used to build models.”
Norman Anders Sas was born in New York City on March 29, 1925. He entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1942 as part of a Navy officer training program during World War II. He received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and was commissioned an ensign. After Navy service, he returned to MIT and received a second bachelor’s degree, in business administration.
He worked in plastics and in gas turbines for General Electric before becoming president, in 1948, of Tudor Metal Products Corp., which was founded by his father.
In addition to his wife of 62 years, Irene Sas of Vero Beach, Mr. Sas’s survivors include two daughters and seven grandchildren.
Mr. Sas once explained how the company’s horse racing game contributed to his invention.
“Watching these horses run,” he said, “I thought, ‘Gee! If we could come up with some football figures and get them running against each other, we’d have a football game.’ ”