Santa Clause was always good to me.

Over the years he brought me a bike, a camera, walkie-talkies, and a number of other goodies.

But when I was about eight, the chubby man with rosy cheeks, a white beard and a red suit slid down the chimney and scored a touchdown in my book when I woke up Christmas morning to find a Talking Football game under my Grandma's Christmas tree.

Now, I might be aging myself, but for middle-aged men like myself, the Mattel product was the greatest.

Long before John Madden brought the realism of football to game systems and personal computers, Talking Football was the way for young boys, and perhaps some grown men, to get their football fix.

By the time Christmas was over, I'm sure my father was sick of the game, but he was a good sport and played with me for hours.

The game itself was pretty basic.

There were 10 different little records with several offensive plays that were inserted into a machine called a sportscaster. On the other side of each disc were defensive plays.

The quarterback or person on offense could call anything from an off-tackle run, to an end around.

He might call for a screen pass, short pass or the long bomb.

Once the person on defense selected his play he could turn the sportscaster on and the result of the play would quickly be broadcast from the machine that ran on a battery.

If I called a passing play, my opponent had the opportunity to call for a blitz or some other formation.The sportscaster would let you know just how many yards were gained or lost on the play.

There were also disc for special teams, penalties and turnovers.

You couldn't kick more than a 50-yard field goal to keep the game more realistic. Field goals and extra points were just the luck of the draw.

You put the kick record into the machine and it would call out a play where the kick sailed through the uprights, or it would miss wide right, left or short.

If memories serves me correctly, there were 20 plays to a quarter.

The field had a little ball that moved up and down to mark the line of scrimmage, a first down marker showed how many more yards the person on offense needed to pick up a first down and a moving scoreboard allowed you to keep track of who was winning.

For its day, Talking Football might have been the most realistic football game on the market.

I played the game for hours. My friends and I even created a league where we played against each other. I even invented a way to play a solitary version of the game when nobody else was around.

A few years later, the first hand-held computer football games hit the streets, but they were really just bleeps of light and didn't come close to resembling the real thing.

On the first versions of those game, you couldn't even throw a pass.

I don't think they even make Talking Football anymore.

The belts used to run most of the sportscaster machines have apparently dry rotted and no longer work. Because of this, many collectors of old games are warned to stay away from buying the 70s classic on line.

But for its day, Talking Football generated hours of fun, and at least in my case, along with Dad, helped turned me into a football fan for life.

(Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com)