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An Eye for Eagle
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Jefman
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2008 1:23 pm    Post subject: An Eye for Eagle Reply with quote

Ben Stein was a decent hockey player. He was captain of his high school hockey team, even played some amateur hockey as a center and left wing. He also possessed a vision: one of an animated hockey game. The year was 1943. Ben Stein would eventually become president of Eagle Toys, a company located on Rivard Street in Montreal.

Stein did not invent table hockey. Give that credit to Donald Munro and the Swedes (brothers Klas and Emil Widegren) of Aristospel and Cresta fame. But Stein was the guy who made table hockey and the National Hockey League partners and with that distinction he gets a lot of the credit for making table hockey a much more interesting and collectable hobby today.

The history of the NHL and table hockey began in 1954. Stein and his upstart firm felt they had enough ideas some theirs and some borrowed to craft and manufacture table hockey games. Being located in Montreal was obviously a plus. But Stein also possessed a certain genius in understanding the key to the success of his games rested in the marketing and the NHL was squarely in his sights. Stein enlisted the help of Kenny Riordan, the Montreal defenseman and later VP of the Canadiens. Stein learned that NHL sanctioning was a process that would include getting the approval of of the leagues six teams. Reardon's job was to convince the league that Stein had a product that would help promote the league thus energizing its popularity and growth.

Once the league and its six teams gave their approval to the marketing concept with Eagle Toys paying a yearly $7,500.00 fee to each team, Stein could then utilize the logos and likeness of the teams literally their trademarks and print them to the sides of the games, the overhead structures, the packing boxes and most importantly the metal flippers that were to be dye stamped with the likenesses of each teams uniforms both players and goalies.

A journey to the Royal York Hotel in Toronto where a league meeting was taking place and a subsequent 10 hour wait gave Riordan and Stein a window to show team officials a prototype game. With league approval of Stein's game he would have a distinct marketing edge on the field of competetion particularly Burlington, Ontario based rival Munro and the Swedish firms Aristospel and Cresta as well as Reliable Games makers of the Foster Hewitt game. In 1954 the competition had a leg up on Stein's outfit making better selling products that had more features.

Stein's hometown Montreal Canadiens signed with Eagle that first year and the 1954 version of Pro Hockey was introduced with generic side graphic banners showing the names of each NHL city that was sold with a red and blue clad Canadiens team and their CH logo painted along the side scoring peg line competing in a stationary game against a team of generic All Stars. The All Stars uniforms were an exact resemblence of the Toronto Maple Leafs minus the crest of their hated rivals. However in 1955 the Leafs signed on as the 2nd NHL endorser and the following year, 1956, Stein secured the blessing of the four US based clubs. Table hockey was about ready to become an under the Christmas tree favorite for children in the US and Canada for the next fifteen years or so.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2008 2:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

1956 was the year that Eagle created a Cresta lookalike game called Stanley Cup complete with the logos of each of the six NHL cities teams dye stamped to the sides of the game but now the all metal game had a pirated slot pattern from the highly successful Cresta game and a team of Canadiens and Maple Leafs playing each other as well as a uniquely designed goaltender that could rotate 360 degress. Eagle in an obvious move to avoid a copyright infringement patent battle with the Swedish firm marketed the game beginning in January 1956 at the Montreal Toy Show under a label called Sports Games but it was obviously crafted by Eagle as the Dick Gamble lookalike Habs were simply downsized. It is clear the release of the game was meant to send an opening salvo in a bid to grasp market share from Cresta. The most blatant copyright/patent infringement was the glider or slider design that Cresta had advanced by mounting it beneath the games slots. The Eagle 56 Stanley was nothing more than a rip off of this patent and it seems clear that the games success would be derailed by a Cresta response of infringement allegations that would probably pass muster in a court of law. The all metal game would only be made one year. However that year Eagle also made a smaller two on two stationary all metal game called PeeWee whereby the Canadiens were pitted against some generic All Stars and later the Maple Leafs as Eagle could not afford to do anything more that send a shock wave out that a slotted NHL game was on its way once the glider copyright could be overcome. In the meantime that would begin the process of sending Cresta and Aristospel on their way with stationary games, played with a marble but possessing the vaunted logos of North America's most noteworthy professional hockey league. The 1955 introduction of the famed teal game with its large screen printed logos of the six NHL teams in the same style as that of the prototype/lightly manufactured Stanley Cup Sports game product was the real fly in the establishment's table hockey ointment... the new game not only featured the incredible side graphics but now attachable side and mid game flags of the leagues six teams and also most importantly the logos were now mainstream on the four US teams and the fight was on. Eagle even went so far as to package the teams five players and goalie into colorful four color logo printed paper bags so that when a person opened the games the teams were packaged into some now very collectible paper bags. The metal players were these incredible dye stamped flippers with excellent graphics while the games were crisply silk screened on both the surface and sides. Even the boxes that were packaging the games were nicely printed. By 1955 the teal games were sold first in a Toronto vs Montreal version and that version included Leafs and Habs logos screen printed to the scoring rail in the side center areas on both sides of the games and by 1957 the concept evolved simply to home vs vistors. Three of the four US teams were marketed in their away white jersey's: Chicago,Detroit and New York while the Leafs,Habs and Bruins were sold in their home dark uniforms.

One could surmise that the teal game, still sold often on Ebay and still quite popular despite being more a toy than a game, a marble stationary pinball like battle that young children seem to grasp just as much as adults has survived the test of time and its structural and material make up still sees the game being extremly resilient and durable. Surviving the test of time is why the games timelessness is so critical to table hockey being perceived as a game that is non obsolete in a world where planned obsolence is a credo to most firms or hobbies continuance. Sure the games have evolved but like say a 1955 Chevy Corvette you just can't forget what the games were in their time and how they still hold a special bond with the owners and users of the product.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2008 3:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

*****
Knowing the history behind the games makes me appreciate them so much more.

Thanks for the very informative and well written story!
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2008 3:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The teal version of Pro Hockey was produced with those incredible metal players. The goalies were rather tall as they had to be affixed in a deeply seated channel that moved in a circular slot. Thus the teal game and its later numerous variations of a stationary,marble games were personified by the long goalies. Keep in mind as the NHL did an abrupt 180 degree course and now teams home jersey's were to be dark and aways white as prior to 1955 the policy was the exact opposite, Eagle was already being faced with a problem for example Boston was abandoning their black uniforms for the 1956 season. What would Eagle do about this dilemna? Nothing just like they ignored pleas to introduce white clad Leafs and Habs, blue clad Rangers and red clad Hawks and Wings, Remember in 1956 the games were sold in the toy department not in the sporting goods aisle and thus the costs to re tool and let alone remake the dyes to make new renditions of the highly successful first year product line was cost prohibitive. So in 1957 the focus was on refining the games not the players. The new sight was on keeping the ball rolling on not just the wildly popular stationary teal marble game but also on the rollout of a new version of a slotted game called Power Play.

Power Play for 1957-58 had a glider mounted to the top of the player slot and thus it was now apparent that the genie was out of the bottle. Like the launching of Sputnik and the space race that was heating up between the Soviets and the Americans, the slotted game was now the product of the future. Power Play was unveiled with the players being movable in traditional alleys that greatly enhanced the realism and playablity of the games. Adding to the realism was the introduction of a wooden puck or disk that greatly improved the product. The long goalie of Pro fame was now transitioned into a goalie shaped like vampire fangs on the bottom to accomadate a newly designed assembly for a goalie that just moved side to side not in a half circle. Eagle had no problem stamping out a third version of goalie as the shorty from the 56 game mounted to a half circle peg that gave way to the long goalie for Pro that mounted to the half circle slot was now in its third stage but they didn't have to change the dyes to accomadate any uniform changes. Thus the new slot pattern with alleys to score for all five players was now clearly the game of choice as the Swedes were being marginalized as nothing more than European marketed games and the only competition at Munro was counterattacking with games on slots but with a gear mechanism beneath the surface as opposed to Eagle's spring driven players.

By 1959 Eagle had a introduced a second version of Power Play, this version being more popular than the first and definetely the second blockbuster game introduced after the famed teal marble game. They also introduced another full sized game called Playmaker that combined the characteristics of Pro Hockey with the positioning of stationary defensemen and an element of Power Play-slotted forwards plus a new feature of a spring loaded goalie that could now move forward simulating an attempt to cut off the angle from the 3 on none attackling forwards. As I villified this game in a previous thread it becomes apparent that the constant tinkering and evolution of the games is the focal point of the games themselves. That the marketing department was putting such amazing pressure on the engineering side of the company to continue to evolve and innovate at such an an incredible pace that it was inevitable that a poorly thought design would be rushed into the maintstream before more critically thinking heads could intervene and derail potential duds from the product line. But keep in mind this is not an unfamilier problem as in 1959 Ford Motor was in the midst of marketing a clunker of their own called the Edsel. Therefore it is not out of the possibility that the same could occur with a table hockey manaufacturer. With Playmaker the ability to push ones goalie at extreme angles is just one of many innovations that occured in the late 1950's like overhead structures that were made to keep score, hold the teams banners and the Stanley Cup,drop the marble puck for face offs as well as innovative battery powered goal lights that illuminated when a goal was scored were just part of Eagle's efforts to combine realism and innovation to create a more desired product. Even the goal nets were being made now with a red metal bar frame to simulate a real hockey goal net. Likewise the art department was having a field day producing splendidly crisply screen printed graphics on the sides of the games. In short the games crafted were masterpieces of quality and precision. Table hockey was literally schooling the young into mainstream hockey. It was clear that the advent of slotted hockey was creating a generation of future competetive players who were also playing the real game in ponds and parks and rinks across the US and Canada but were also enjoying the games on televison as the six hockey markets were now clicking on all cylinders in part due to increased TV exposure but also in part to league endorsed and non endorsed table hockey games that were now the focal point of family rooms and basements across the US and Canada. Football, baseball and basketball were not able to present their now televised product onto an animated table game with not nearly the closeness of the real product as hockey could and thus this niche sport had perculated into the realm of the three major sports. Eagle Toys 1950's production line after the 2nd generation of Power Play was introduced was completed with a lightly marketed version of a game called Family Hockey that featured diagonal side controls and the 1956 short rotating goalie. Available in just Toronto vs Montreal teams, was probably an attempt to make the games playable to not just two but four players to cut down on exluding and to increase more simultaneous involvment. The design was a one year release and the game is very rare but really not a type of game based on the object and elements of traditional table hockey. Its apparent that the first 5 and half years of Eagle table hockey games on the north american scene had achieved remarkable success. The games led to the systematic sales meltdown of the Swedish games in the north american markets. Despite their success in Europe, the Swedish games would enjoy limited commercial success in the US and Canada until Stiga gained NHL endorsement of their evolved game in the late 1990's which saw a renaissance in the popularity of a firm that was previously a niche player in the world of table hockey more known for its table tennis products than anything else. Eagle Toys also made Ontario based Munro produce more and varied products to counter their remarakable success and counter what they did. However without NHL endorsement Munro would battle Eagle on a different direction by using retail giant Sears as a distribution conduit to fight off the Eagle NHL endorsed products that were not as aggressivly or widely distributed as Munro. But the gauntlet had been dropped and the next 10 years, the 60's, would present the golden era of the hobby of table hockey. So tommorrow we pick up where we leave off and I promise to give you all an insight into the 1960's easily the table hockey years that created a era of table hockey afficianados not just in the northeast US and eastern Canada but all across our great continent.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2008 9:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One of my more prized documents in tracking the lineage of games made by Eagle Toys is a letter from Bill Kobayashi, an engineer, who worked for Eagle Toys. The document was written to someone who inquired about the manufacturing processes at the fabled Eagle plant located on Rivard Street in Montreal. Naturally the easiest way to research the games is through purchasing and examining the games. The detail and subtle design changes on the games is somewhat easy to track especially when the game is purchased with its original box as on the back of the box in the center is a stamping of the year the game was made. The original box tells one where the game was shipped to and who the end retailer was. Prominent on the Canadian side is Canadian Tire and of course the Toronto based retailer Eaton's. Over in the US one can get a great insight into the games by seeing old catalog pictures from FAO Schwartz, the US Toy retailer as well as Western Auto, SS Kresge, Dayton, Montgomery Wards and yes even old NHL game programs as the league would allow Eagle to advertise in the game programs a definite win-win for both. However the best source for researching Eagle games from the 50's into the 60's is Canada's retailing giant Eaton's. Get a hold of an Eaton's Christmas catalog from 1956 until 1970 and you pretty much get an idea of the deluxe games offered that season as well as secondary and tertiary offerings for that year.Not only was Eaton's a great source of data for that season the ads are so well written and highlight on particular innovations for that season that Eagle would have the description alluding to more excitement and enjoyment for the end purchaser. Many of the catalog pages were in beautiful four color format and one can easily visualize the games pages being clipped out and pasted on letters to Santa Claus:"Dear Santa I have been behaving pretty good this year and I would really like the Hockey Night in Canada game for Christmas. If at all possible could you include the four US based teams with that game as well? Sincerely, me and 40 thousand other children throughout the northeast US and Canada." And so now we move into the vaunted decade of 1960's Eagle Toys table hockey games. Only a trip back in time would be better.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 3:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for that Jefman Very Happy

After reading that one has to wonder why it isn't possible, in this day and age, to mass produce a decent table hockey game Crying or Very sad

Great job Clapping Clapping
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 4:52 am    Post subject: Eye for Eagle Reply with quote

Yes! Jefman...thank you for your wonderful research on the subject of (Eagle) table hockey history. This is really facinating to read and I hope you continue your series of Eagle table hockey enlightenment! I can't wait for you to get into the transition from Eagle to Coleco. I would love to know the "reason" for Eagle demisement - the takeover by Coleco who after a short, couple years of improvements(?) to some games, cheapened their product on an annual basis until they went belly-up.

Ruffie, in answer to your question as to why good games can't be marketed and mass produced today...former U.S. President Ronald Reagan said it best: "If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it." Not a proposal for sure but, certainly meant as critizism toward an ever-hungry U.S. Congress and their constant greed for money. And an ignorant populace in the U.S. wonders why so many businesses are moving operations abroad! Wouldn't you also move your business to escape the many regulations and taxes we have here in the U.S.?!

With that sidebar out of the way, sorry Jefman...please continue with your series. We anxiously look forward to additional pages! Clapping
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 8:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

By the end of 1959 and with a new decade facing Stein's Eagle Toys they were really asserting themselves. They had to. Why? Munro of Burlington,Ontario. Like the upstart Leafs who recently brought in the boastful, hard driving Punch Imlach to coach the team, Munro was not about to sit back and let their market share erode to the Eagle onslaught. Like Maurice "The Rocket" Richard's impending retirement, Eagle's product line was due for replenishment and that was on the drawing board and being crafted into prototypes. The third and last version of Power Play was coming onto the scene. That game like its wildly successful blue 1959 brother was getting some subtle changes such as painting the surface and cigarette shaped goal lights white instead of the previous light blue. That game featured a dial on the overhead that could be spun when a puck was knocked out of play. A bad spin and some cardboard penalty boxes were inserted inserted into the right defenseman's slot taking him out of the action for a time. Now anyone who knows hockey realizes that a true power play is not defended by three forwards up and one defenseman back. A real power play is played two forwards up and two d-men back so the penalty bench feature was basically a one year gimmick and relegated to the pass line with a new sea change ahead. No more square corner games on the deluxe models, no more vampire goalies as the shortened goalie that could be pushed outward at any angle was introduced on that 59-60 version of Power Play. Thus the mainstay short goalie that has remained in existence since was introduced that year. Pro Hockey got a makeover as well with new side graphics, an insertable marble puck dropper, red post goal nets and a more realistic look were given to that mainstay model. Playmaker was also marketed as the mid range product.

1960 was the last year of US President Eisenhower in office and it was to be Rocket Richard's last year as a professional hockey player. The Canadiens with their splendid goaltender Jacques Plante and their equally impressive supporting cast: Beliveau,Harvey,Geoffrion, Moore,Johnson, Henri Richard,Provost etc and Toe Blake coaching were poised to go for five Cups in a row. 1960 also coincided with the release of the first two modern games of Eagle's existence with the rollout that winter of National League Electric and the new improved version of Power Play. National League was a big wide game and like its junior newcomer both games had rounded corners as if Eagle had found a good use for a sheet metal rolling press and stamp...it was obvious the games were looking more like a mini ice rink than ever. Kids and yes adults salivated at the 1960 creations that adorned retail catalogues that promised to bring more hours of enjoyment than ever could be imagined. National League had slots cut so that the defensemen could penetrate all the way to the opponenets blue line, allowing for a true power play to be executed. The caveat was to push those defensmen rods all the way into your opponents end and one might get caught and allow your opponent once they gained possesssion of the wooden puck with red dot to craft a quick odd man rush into your end and potentially make you pay dearly for your missteps. The games width being wider than Pro,Playmaker and Power Play brought about an engineering dilemna as the wideness combined with the excessive amount of slots particularly through the neutral zone could potentially warp the masonite surface that lacked any wide area for support. This dilemna was negated by some wonderfully engineered "bridges" that were located beneath the game and affixed to the surface with stainless steel rivets that were flat on the surface side and thus did not impede play. They were located at both blue lines just at a point where stresses were at a critical juncture and were made of metal flaps that supported the surface and thus kept it level and rigid.

As the older Power Play model was being phased out and a newer one phased in with a slot pattern that utilized the whole surface, Eagle mitigated their higher costs somewhat by phasing out the splendid silk screen graphics on the games sides and introduced a newer, probably more cost effective technique that was crisper in resolution than the old method. The era of those classic silk scren graphics was ending but the new style was an upgrade nonetheless. On the 1960 National League Electric another innovation that year was the introduction of a screen printing of the hometown Montreal Canadiens logo to the center ice circle. As far as I know National League Electric and its variants that included a name Official Hockey later on and the fabled 1962 Official slot pattern game were the only games to have just the Habs centre ice logo silk screened to the surface until the 65-67 era when after the upstart Leafs starting to erode the Canadiens dominance with Stanley Cup wins in 1962,63 and 64 did they screen print the Leafs logos opposite the Habs crest on games in that era. That was probably not a bad idea if Eagle wanted to penetrate Munro's core home Ontario market by at least acknowledging the Leafs existence. Research tells us that I've seen no game with any of the four US teams logos screen printed at center ice on an Eagle production game model. Perhaps the reason is that the only Stanley Cup won by a US team betwen 1956 and 1969 was the 1961 Blackhawks who by the way have not won one since and that helps explain Jim Rzonca's delerious state of this years upstart Hawks. But I digress and I'll save my thoughts on that topic for another thread. At any rate 1960 was a great year for Eagle table hockey games but the next few years ahead would be spectacular.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 9:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

By 1961 Eagle had reworked National League Electric and Power Play to include bluish green plexi glass ends to help keep errant shots in play. That innovation combined with some changes to the goal light wiring allowed a wire insert and bulb assembly to be placed at the top of the plexiglass ends behind each goal net to light when a goal was scored. Talk about realistic table hockey. The newer Power Play slot pattern, one that enjoyed a life on shelves throughout the bulk of the Coleco era as well as a fairly straight patterned game, allowed the defensmen less latitude than National League Electric but shortened the d-men's slot to cut off passes to the opponents wingers via an angular slot cut. The game was not nearly as wide as National but that game received top billing in the 1961 Eatons Christmas catalog. Why? Who knows. Maybe 1960 Power Play was more affordable and desired than the larger National League game. Maybe Eagle reasoned to position the game as an equal to help drive its sales as the margins on the game would be larger than National due to the excessive costs of producing the larger more intricate National League game. An Eatons catalog for 1961 lists National with six teams for $13.99 while the Power Play game with all six sold for $11.76. The most glaring change to the National League game that year was a new reworked plastic girder overhead that included a large dial and the older metal framed overhead was scrapped as a one year wonder.

The three holdover 1950's model games were also re-worked. Instead of scrappng them and their styles: Playmaker, old Power Play and Pro were reworked with two of the three models getting new names. Playmaker was re made with the same slot pattern but now was wrapped in a round metal corner frame. The double diamond marble dropping overhead stayed on for another year but the game was now relegated to the entry level stage of Eagle's product line. Pro was renamed Playoff Hockey and like Playmaker had reworked round corners into the design but still maintained the scoring line on both sides as well as the plastic marble dropper insert. Clearly this game was the low end of the totem pole. The older slot pattern Power Play game of 1957-60 fame was now reworked with an additional cut added to the defensmen's slots that allowed for a straight line push to the center red line. The game was repackaged and sold under the name Face Off with its trademark Red Kelly in white Leafs jersey Face Off hockey logo printed on each side.

While 1961 represented some good innovation and change to the product line. The next year would represent the high water mark in the history of Eagle Toys table hockey manufacturing era. Table hockey had now grown to represent a significant portion of the firm's revenues and the main driver was quality, innovation and lots of different models to choose from. The Canadian and US markets salivated for the games. 1962 would prove to be the golden year of its existence. Keep in mind Stein was spending over $100,000 a year after his first six years retooling his designs making table hockey games. But his sales had gone up from 1000 units that first year of 1954-55 to a point where they were selling over 100,000 games a year until sales peaked at over 175,000 games sold yearly by 1967.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 10:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great insight on the history of table hockey! Keep it coming
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 10:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A few years back I pulled out my prized collection of 20 NHL endorsed table hockey games for an exhibit. I had twelve Eagle games as part of my display. I have since downsized that number in half as I lack the space to keep the games. However, I spent a good portion of that day conversing with table hockey historian Andrew Bazan of Vancouver Canada as most attendees to my display were also playing in Jim Rzonca's Stiga Las Vegas table hockey tourney. Andrew presented me that day a 1962 catalog of the A.H. Delfausse company's product line. This firm was a sister company of Eagle Toys thus they were the sole distributor who sold Eagle table hockey games to retailers all across the US and Canada.

The 1962 catalog presented eight games: Playoff,Pro,Face Off and Playmaker on one side. The other side had drawing/photos of Power Play,National League and the two new deluxe models for 1962: Hockey Night in Canada and Official Hockey. Power Play model 540 was the same game sold in 1960 and 61 but no longer was being offered with the plexiglass ends. Instead the goal lights simply would slip into the slot at the top of the metal edge that previously were extended upward by the channel molded into the plexi glass end. Same for National League model 555. The two new kids on the block the deluxe Hockey Night in Canada and Official Hockey both lacked overheads instead the puck droppers were channelled off of a side crowd scene. Both possessed the plexiglass ends that adorned the 61 National and Power Play games thus its easy to conclude that only in 1961 did Eagle put plexi on National and Power Play. Same would apply to Offical and HNIC for 1962. Therefore plexi was a two year wonder in its made form. Down the line plastic end screens evolved but suffice to say the former plexi games made by Eagle 1961 and 1962 are often the highest bid upon table hockey games on current Ebay acutions. They really represent an almost timeless quality to the original six era of table hockey games. They are the Cadillac, the filet mignon of the era. I'm biased but I conclude the games are masterpieces on par with any classic toy ala Lionel trains, Johnny Eagle rifles and Scalextric slot cars.

The most telling innovation of the two new deluxe games was the ability to now pass the puck behind the opponents nets. That feature created more realism and more playability to the games. While HNIC is not as wide as Official it was probably made in larger numbers as one will see the HNIC game more often than Official which despite being sold with superb, realistic graphics including splendid likenessses of many Leaf and Canadien players including Mahovlich and Geoffrion its a rare occurence to see this game in any condition (it did get a supporting actor role in the movie Mystery Alaska) let alone with the original box or in its original condition including plexiglass ends. The electric wind up clock on the side crowd scene/puck dropper is quite nice and its another realistic quality exclusive to this game. No siren ala Montreal Forum or bell ala Maple Leaf Gardens however emits from the game. Oh well can't have everything. The HNIC side scene although quite nice was not sold with the side scene scoring clock instead just a smaller less elaborate side scene/puck dropper. Another innovation was an extra forward addition that was a plain white flipper that affixed to the attacking team/pulled goalies center via a plastic clip for a realistic last minute of play when a team, down by one goal, could put the press on and try to score an equalizer.

Its quite ironic that the year Toronto finally won the Cup after an 11 year absence and the Canadiens in the midst of a rare four year Stanley Cup victory drought that Eagle Toys would be selling this splendid 8 game product line to the public. Because for 1963 would see a tremendous operational shift on Eagle's part from not just an innovation standpoint but an operational/production focus that basically said that the games may have evolved into a cost prohibitive state. That its fair to surmise that the costs of the games were exceeding the toy budgets of Mom's and Dad's and that Eagle needed to reign in costly innovations that might not translate into robust margins and subsequent profits. Maybe the hockey game purchasing public could really care less about some of the splendid innovations that Eagle had unveiled.The product line into 1963 and 1964 was not devoid of innovation and change but the word Toy as in Toy hockey games would be the dominate mantra of Eagle's evolution in that two year window. Simply put purchasers did not care about plexi glass ends, wind up timers, last minute of play assemblies, intricate bridge supported slot patterns, multiple product lines. The games perhaps had gotten too intricate and detailed with too much product diversity for the toy budgets of many Canadian and American toy purchasers. Remember Ontario based Munro was also fueling the frenzy as they too were offering games with lots of features and options thus further clouding the wish lists of junior's Santa list. If sales were robust enough then I'm sure Eagle could justify their continued stature. But if the products features did not translate into sales and profits then Eagle would have to and did change its operational focus to some cost effective innovation spliced into games featuring less features but still focused on maximizing the enjoyment of the end user. Eagle probably made these changes to survive in a competetive toy market. That the advents of some of the above mentioned products combined with more and more saturation of televised marketing was crowding and confusing the landscape of what children desired in their Christmas wish lists. TV was starting to muscle in on the previously dominated domain of the Christmas catalog. Examine the catalog descriptions of table hockey games ala 1963-64 and you will get my drift.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 11:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jeff, Great walk down memory lane. I went down and took a once around look at my games after reading your latest post and got goosebumps all over.

It's funny how you can transport yourself back to the 60's just by getting an eyeful of some table hockey nostalgia. I wonder if the younger guys get just as nostalgic when they see the plasticized versions of the old Eagle greats made by Coleco after the acquisition.

Probably like trying to watch the 3 stooges after Curley left.

Cheers
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Jim Rzonca
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 11:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

We all thank you Jeff! You are a historical information machine!

See you soon!
Jim Rzonca
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Jefman
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 11:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

For 1963 Eagle would introduce a newly designed slot pattern game called Stanley Cup. complete with a newly styled puck dropper,larger sides, new plastic stick players and a hollow puck plus cleverly designed goal lights at each end. The slot pattern is now known as the famed 550 model S shaped defenseman. Perhaps one of the most popular slot patterned games ever made: its fair, its competetitive and its timeless. The only problem with the game from my standpoint is that the wingers are prone to warping but its still a classic. Eagle also unveiled in 1963 the players with sticks first in a weak plastic tan format and then in a more robust plastic yellow form. The Red Wings and Blackhawks were now depicted in their home red colors, the Maple Leafs and Canadiens maintained their home jersey dark look while the Bruins would now be presented and played in the ir home yellow jersey's but dyed stamped in a circa 1959 yellow pants while the Rangers were the only road depiction being depicted in their whites. Oh what I would give for some blue clad Rangers with yellow sticks or some road Habs or Leafs in white. Now that to me is table hockey nirvana. But to cut back to Eagle's zeal to reign in costs they did not bother to redo the goalies with the new colors. Thus the Leafs,Habs and Rangers maintained some cohesivenes as far as the unifoms of the forwards and goalies but the Wings,Hawks and Bruins were sold with the old Eagle goalies. However, a game with red Black Hawks or red Red Wings was to see a goalie wearing a road white jersey. The Bruins were the worst as they had to endure with a black clad goalie circa 1955 and back old yellow B jersey. Not only were the tan plastic players sold on that game being interspersed with out of place goalies they only sold a six team set with some models with about a dozen or so tan sticks. Thus one would have to remove the sticks from one team to another to play another team on the game. Stein it seems had gone cheap. That his rolling the dice on that splendid line of 1962 was met with an austere product line for 1963. He literally did a 180 on his innovation. No more plexi on games. HNIC was renamed Power Play, Face Off was downsized to a shortened 30 inch version of Power Play. The teal outlined players were now being phased out first with white outlines and then not at all as Eagle was going plastic on all fronts at break neck speed.

However, 1963 saw the introduction of the largest game that Eagle ever made called Big Time Club Hockey. Big Time was made with the same big lip, crowd scene lithography on the side as Stanley Cup but it was slot patterned just like 1960-61 National League...its the forefather of Coleco's famed Game Room hockey and a like slot pattern to Rick Benej's first generation game. The Big Time Game was intended to marry plastic stick players combined with the 360 degree rotating goalie of 56 Stanley and 59 Family Hockey fame. The game I'm sure was not produced in large quanitites and I would not be adverse to any inference by a fellow table hockey afficianado that an assertion could be made that the game was introduced in 1964 and not 63. I know so little of this game. I believe the game that Steve G had or still has is one of the few examples out there where its existence has been shared.

Another innovation for Eagle table games was not just a wire loop game raiser that elevated the height of the games in a table top setting but also the introduction of game stands to affix both the Stanley Cup games as well as Big Time Club Hockey games to a stand thus eliminating the need for a table to play the games on. It might be safe at this juncture of Eagle's evolution to surmise that Stein might be trying to bridge the gap of perception that his games might be more suited for the sporting goods aisle and not so slanted for the toy department. Either way his cost conscious re direction was zeroing in on an older and more deep pocketed target purchaser that could relate to the product in ones game room along side the ping pong or pool tables. Its an interesting debate that Rick Benej for example has helped to steer the answer on. Basically if Big Time would have been a commercial success then maybe an argument could be made that Stein's obvious shift was viable,workable, practical...that he did not want to omit the kids but that he saw opportunity catering to the Dad's as well. By 1964 Stein's Eagle Toys was big business selling over 175,000 games a year. Why not try to bridge the gap. I'm sure the people purchasing the games were playing them as well. Their popularity was at its peak.

1964 was also the year of the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. To coincide with this event Eagle unveiled on its circa 1963-64 big lipped crowd lithograph chassis a new slot pattern game called Olympic Hockey complete with 3-d players. This game was also marketed as Stanley Cup Hockey and the slot pattern bares a remarkable similiarity to Stiga's current game except the behind the net winger on the mid point spring rod is the right wing not the left wing. The game however, was only made one year. Why? Who knows. Maybe one year wonders like 62 Official and 64 Olympic/Stanley Cup or 63/64 Big Time were never intended to be continued models unless there was sound financial justification to maintain those games in the product line. So we go into 1965 with new vigor. The natives are getting restless in Montreal. No Stanley Cup in the last four years. Jacques Plante has been shipped out, thugs like John Ferguson and Ted Harris are waiting in the wings and Eagle Toys is going to refocus on past successes and learn from past failures. The story continues.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 12:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Its 1965 and Toe Blake is muttering. It's win now or on to the looney bin. Punch Imlach and his Maple Leafs have your number. Reminds me of my fraternity days when us TKE's would go over to to the Sigma Nu house adjacent to the Northern Arizona University campus in the gorgeous pine forests of Flagstaff Arizona. It was the winter Olympic year of 1980 The US had just beat the Russians at Lake Placid. We descend on the Sigma Nu house. Those gutless preppy attired Sigma Nu bastards all had money, sports cars, cute girl friends. But they liked us loud mouthed, dope smokin, magic mushroom ingesting fiends and invited the crew over for a multi kegger. We were fun, outrageous, oblivious to decorum and manners. We were basically living out the recently released movie "Animal House".Man that was cool: We would drink their booze, eat their grub, have our way with their woman and then leave. What a party! Shoot we wouldn't even flush the toilets. Man that was bravado, we humilated the Sigma Nu's and that's what the Leafs had done to the Canadiens the last four years. The stoic, reserved Canadiens were getting woodshedded routinely by the Leafs and their bald, brash, scotch swilling Mr. Imlach. Something had to give...Ben Stein had Don Munro and his juiced up Ontario crew napping at his heals. You were only as good as your last year and Ben Stein and Toe Blake were in the same boat floundering without paddles with those miserable Sigma Nu's!

So 1965 sees the release by Eagle Toys of a new chassis generation game for the Stanley Cup slot pattern now referred as an H chassis but with diamond post, yellow stick players no need to interchange the sticks like the tan versions of 1963, a shorter lip game with all six teams logo's printed to the games sides ala 56 Stanley and 56-58 teal Pro game, an optional stand, crowd scenes and an overhead banner/puck dropper. The game was made in two type variations. One had the trophies of not just the Stanley Cup but other NHL awards such as the Hart Trophy, Lady Byng, Art Ross, Calder etc. but not the trophy that was introduced that year: The Conn Smythe awarded to the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs which was ironically awarded that year to one of the first great stars to endorse Eagle Toys table hockey games Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau.The hollow puck was now becoming the standard bearer as the wooden puck was going by way of the pet rock. The lava lamp had arrived. The games were marketed as bigger,faster, better. A second generation 3 d player with the other leg drilled for a square peg mount and bended leg back inward would become mainstream on a Stanley Cup slot patterned game that was called Canadian Hockey that was rolled out as well.Shorter games were also popular in 30 and 24 inch length formats called Canadian, Major League, Three Stars, Slap Shot and PeeWee. Some were circa 1965 others 66 or 67. Don't forget Power Play also existed as a viable product in those years as well. The 1965 Montgomery Wards Christmas catalog also highlighted on the most deluxe or expensive game in their line that holiday with a game called Le Canadien or National League Hockey a long 41 inch game that replaced the one year Big Time Club Hockey game that was a bit to large 50X25 where as the Le Canadien game was app 41X19.5 and would be adorned with the logos of the original six teams for that year. Players on that team were the diamond post yellow plastic stick types and the game had end glass like the 1965 Stanley Cup game. Its chief selling point was the metal stand thereby allowing the game to sit on its own rather than requiring the need for a table. Like Big Time Club Hockey of 1964 this game is one of the rarest in the long history of Eagle Toys table hockey games. It was followed up with a same version called "Finals" for 1966.

The big deluxe game for 1966 was not just the slot patterned Stanley Cup game but a game called Finals featuring a long 41 inch fairly straight slot game with the previous years 1965 style low lip frame (H)spliced with graphics of the major NHL trophies ie Vezina,Calder,Art Ross,Hart etc printed to the sides. Again 66 Finals was a one year wonder also. It was a cool game. It was long at 41 inches...perhaps too long but that game was competetive and fair. It was played with 2nd generation 3-d players. It seems obvious at this point that a big game that caters to both adults and kids may be the answer. Meanwhile Toe Blake has found his answer in a rejuvenated Jean Beliveau, a brush cut stump of a goalie acquired from the NY Rangers named Gump and a head busting forward named John Ferguson personified with back to back Stanley Cup Finals victories over the Black Hawks in 1965 and the Red Wings in 1966. But all is not well on Rivard Street in Montreal. While action is robust over at the Forum on St. Catherines St. The Eagle Toys table hockey empire that has been operating on all cylinders for the past dozen years is reaching an inflection point in their existence.

Eagle and Munro are both having trouble keeping up in a hyper competetive world of manufacturing games against cheap Asian toy imports, hordes of low cost plastic and a league that is at a crossroads to either grow or die. The Eagle era is being confronted with another issue. The personal family of Ben Stein's has an illness to deal with...a family member is sick and Ben is re evaluating just what is really important to him. Maybe he is like the NHL: grow or die or better yet sell.


Last edited by Jefman on Sun Feb 19, 2012 8:56 am; edited 6 times in total
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

So here we are late 1966. For my 7th birthday my parents give me the best birthday present imaginable the new big wide G-155 game that Eagle has just unveiled with the sacred Leafs and Canadiens logo's silk screened at center ice. I'm awed by this game: Yellow stick players, two hollow pucks, a brand new neat intricate overhead puck dropper, a great and straight slot pattern where you could shoot at the top of center ice at the goalie unobstructed. The only thing lacking is Len Mecca giving a dissertation to a group of afficiandos of this game describing in great detail how the yellow stick players and the hollow puck combined to create such a marvelous table hockey playing experience. That would have to wait until January 2007. But I was in awe of the Leafs and Habs of this era. They had won the last five Stanley Cups including last years debacle when my Red Wings blow a 2 games to none lead on the Habs after winning the first two at Montreal. All they need to do is go home to the Olympia win games three and four and the Wings get their first Cup in 11 years. But no! Roger Crozier gets hurt. Jacques Lapierieere decides to become a Hall of Fame defenseman, we get jobbed in Game 6, I cry myself to sleep listening to Bruce Martyn and Budd Lynch describing the game six loss under my covers covertly listening to my transistor radio and won't smell victory again in a Cup until 1997. Trust me watching a Leafs game on Saturday night on Winsdor, Canada CKLW Channel 9 every Saturday with Bill Hewitt and Brian MacFarland or the Habs with Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin from the Forum in Montreal was cool. Hockey Night in Canada was also hockey night in Motown as a kid. Fact was in 1967 Detroit Red Wing hockey was broadcasted on the new weak signaled UHF channel 50 and the reception just wasn't as good as Channel 9. Besides the Wings were a terrible road team and Roger Crozier had a reputation as decent at home and worse than crappy on the road.

What the heck 1967 is Canada's Centennial year and a Leafs/Habs showdown is inevitable. Sawchuck and Bower lead the grey beard Leafs over an injured Worsley who try a young, green Rogie Vachon in goal...Imlach calls him a junior B hack and the Habs lose in 6. The crowd does not cheer wildly at Maple Leaf Gardens that evening of the cup clinching 3-1 win. Instead they clap in almost a regal and snooty fashion. No wonder those clowns have not won a cup since. They celebrate like it was to be expected that the Queen herself was present. Tell you what if the Leafs ever win a Cup again I'll put odds that the celebration won't be as subdued. I digress.

Anyways The new G-155 Game is the deluxe game in the winter 67 Eaton's catalog. The names of the future expansion six even includes the short lived San Francisco named franchise until the teams name is actually renamed California. The new slot pattern also allows one to pull their goalie. Only this time the extra attacker is inserted right into a stationary slot right at the opponents goal mouth. Makes for some pretty compelling risk reward to either score or get scored upon. The game is an unbelievable success and reflects that table hockey though not on par with the table tennis or billiards crowd is still a force to be reckoned with. Eagle has now become emboldened and is now making table football and basketball games. Seems that the table game is a great way to have fun. The problem is the factory on Rivard St. in Montreal may be in need of upgrades on both the financial and operational sides. Word is out that Eagle and Munro are going to need some infusions of cash and the robust economic infrastructure of their heavily populated southern neighbor is in a buying mood. However the Eagle Toys product line for 1966-67 was not just comprised of the G-155 game. Power Play and Stanley Cup get the mid range designation. Also distributed that year were the Stanley Cup S shape defense slot game as well as Power Play and a smaller version of Power Play called Slap Shot on a 30 inch frame like the previous Three Stars game and perhaps a 24 inch long game patterned after the 1965 game PeeWee. It is clear however that the product line is being refined and that no gimmick or new slot pattern game is on the drawing table.

Sure enough in 1968 both Munro and Eagle are sold to US companies Servitronics and Coleco respectfully. The games would continue their evolution thereafter. Coleco in particular having NHL endorsement, a growing league that has just doubled in size, a ton of new innovation on the drawing table at Eagle like metal gondola face off towers and new markets opening up with the NHL expansion should propel some growth for the company. Ben Stein's Eagle Toys would evolve into a Coleco subsidiary but their 14 year run is one that can't be forgotten in the lore of table hockey. Coleco seemed poised to listen to the holdovers from Eagle. The yellow plastic stick players begin to get phased out and a new generation of metal players for all 12 teams was envisioned and then brought to market. Coleco seemed content to let the Eagle guys set the future course of the firm as long as they made money and threw off a decent profit. I'm sure at this point Coleco had purchased a nice pile of history,innovation and future products that could sustain them. However don't forgive those knuckleheads for releasing the last version of metal players: the Sabres and Canucks with some type of cheesedog low budget silk screening of the players rather than some crisp dye stamped players similar to the original lot of the 12 teams released. I never would imagine that Coleco would constrict the research and development aspect of the firm. But instead they would set course with a combination of using existing designs, some stuff left on the drawing board and an occasional regurgitation of past successess and failures like re releasing both Finals as Baby Game Room and Big Time Club as Game Room Hockey. It's clear that Coleco was being run by some budget consious bean counters in Connecticut rather than the splendid group of innovators who made Eagle into a table hockey legend. For what its worth Coleco tended to do things in a half witted state witness their shift to all things plastic, the abandonment of metal players, metal gondolas, a shrinkage of the prodcut line to about four games, the stupid looking re marketing of those crappy 3-d players that were painted by morons etc.The City Series releases expressed a willingness by Coleco to at least target market each NHL city with specific product releases. However Eagle deserved a better fate it was the wheels of capitalism and modern production realities that derailed the once proud outfit into a typical low budget toy making conglomerate.

Enjoy the story guys. Give me your input. I'll strive to update,edit and redo copy as it warrants. I do this for fun. I love this hobby. It soothes me. It stimulates me. It is pretty much my only hobby. But I choose to share my thoughts. I might get chided for not commercially exploiting my writing but I don't think their's a market for a book on just Eagle Toy games. I told John Medema this summer via a personal e mail that I was embarrassed that I could not answer his questions about a late model Munro Bobby Hull game. I just never collected Munro. Nothing against it but I'll leave the topic of a comprehensive book on the subject to someone more knowledgable. Suffice to say I'll stick with my Eagle games and my other games circa 1972-73,1982-83, 1992-93 and 2002-03. Have a Happy New Year!

The Eagle has landed.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2008 10:17 am    Post subject: Eagle Reply with quote

Jefman...thank you so very much for absolutely a wonderful read concerning the history of Eagle table hockey! I purchased an Eagle 556 last summer - my first and only Eagle game ever, because, I felt the need to have an Eagle game; my attempt to quench a half-hearted thirst for Eagle history and feel more complete of my small collection. Because of your information, hopefully, we table hockey enthusiasts can move forward with even more pride and knowledge of whatever game's history while building/rebuilding, playing, whatever your choice may be. Smile
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2008 1:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My sister told me the other day that the Christmas she remembers the fondest was when I got my first table hockey game. Your article fits to the season. I'm sure many of us found their first hockey game under the tree on Christmas morning.

Fantastic article on table hockey history. I would love to see some pictures of your collection if you would have the time to post them.

Steve, you made some very good points. I'm not going to comment on Reganomics. I know this is wishful thinking but if I was running Stiga I would be reading this board finding out how to improve my product. Fly a few guys in from Montreal, give them the keys to the factory, and let them show me how to make a Stiga Premium

Stiglico? Rolling On Floor Laughing

I've never had the pleasure of playing on the G-155 but I think this would fit: „Choose your first game wisely. It's easier to get a person to change their religion than their favorite table hockey game.“ Embarassed Embarassed

Thanks Jefman Not Worthy Not Worthy Not Worthy Not Worthy Not Worthy
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johnbenej
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2008 11:39 pm    Post subject: Bravo! Reply with quote

Jeff, looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks. Hope you'll have time for some yellow stick hockey and a Wranglers game . . .
Two questions:
1. I have a 5200; No logos. Red/white/blue--just the names of the 12 teams: San Francisco was one: you know the game.
This game came WITHOUT the last minute of play guy. Yet, the slot pattern is the same as the games that had the last minute of play guy except for that the net was 3.75.
Why the allowance for the last minute of play guy but no last minute of play guy??

2. Why the smaller net? The 5330 has the same 3.75 inch net. When and why did Eagle make the gargantuan "like--shooting--fish--in--a--barrel net" smaller on these two (5200; 5330) models??

Thanks Jeff.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 30, 2008 6:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

John: My best guess and thats what researching games sometimes comes down to...that is the ability to speculate is this: When Coleco purchased Eagle in 1968 I don't believe that NHL licensing was transferable. Therefore Coleco would have to go to the NHL to obtain this lucrative right on their own. To that end they made games on a more generic ala Munro approach with games and players that simply highlighted the franchise cities. Since San Francisco was envisioned as one of the expansion six franchises that eventually evolved into the California later Oakland Seals I'm fairly sure that is what the transition team did at Coleco that first year. As for not placing the extra man last minute of play who knows. Maybe they wanted to keep costs down or release that game minus the extra player. I recall that game was sold with generic looking Toronto vs Montreal players. As for the small nets that could have been a product on Eagle's test or prototype bench being considered for addition to a game for the 68 season. The sale derailed that option and thus the perception is the nets were the first generation small nets to be released on a game but came onto the market during the non licensed Eagle Coleco transition. It makes sense because later that year Coleco was selling the yellow,red and blue banded games ala Power Play Stanley Cup and Official slot patterns. Seems they accomplished their task to get NHL approval and licensing for the games and the new 12 metal teams. As I recall some games at that time were sold with narrow nets and some wide.

See you soon.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 30, 2008 8:05 pm    Post subject: Thanks Jeff! Reply with quote

Jeff thanks a lot for taking the time to answer my poorly worded questions.

So If you could take a guess, is it accurate in your opinion that the center's slot pattern is not straight because they were leaving an area on the pattern to accomodate the Last Minute of Play Guy? Or was the center slot pattern not designed with the Last Minute of Play guy in mind???

Just curious.

Will we be seeing you at the Coleco Classic Cup on Sunday? Thanks for your time Jeff and all the best,
JP
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jefman, thank you very much for providung that great history of the eagle game. I have copied it and am saving it. My first game was the bobby Orr set with the picture of orrs head on the side with yellow ends. At 9 I didnt know any better and always thought it the best ever. When I got older I started collecting the eagle games and think they are the 2-10th best with of course bobbys being #1. thanks again Jefman.
25tigers

Happy new year all Cheers
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 08, 2009 9:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jeff

Rarely, have I seen a better written and researched document in any field of study.

I would buy a copy of your book, fully illustrated with amazing historical photographs, and put it under my tree at xmas time, if you were to consider taking on such a project.

I'd buy copies for myself, and for many friends as well.

Until that happens, I'm going to print this out for reading & re-reading at my leisure in the future. Clapping Clapping Clapping Clapping
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2009 12:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some recent posts inquiring about Eagle games compelled me to bring back this thread for review by those interested. Tried to put a little history into the games on this thread up until 1968 and then into the 1970's with the Coleco thread. Have fun.
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2009 7:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jef: thanks for re-posting this.
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