I’m sure you’re familiar with NERF balls. They’re colorful, round, fun to play with, and pleasantly soft. But what if there were NERF balls that were just as colorful, round, and fun to play with, but they were much smaller and made of hard plastic? And what if they had faces because they were the heads of a bunch of quirky characters from another planet?
That’s the idea behind Nerfuls, which I now realize was a short-lived toy line from the 1980s. At the time, there were two Nerfuls in my house: a guy with a blue head, red pants, a bowtie, and a hat; and a cat with an orange face and yellow fur. I believe the blue head guy officially belonged to me and the cat officially belonged to my brother, but because I was older I probably commandeered the cat pretty regularly. The pieces were interchangeable so you could swap them around, and I had fun playing with them. What could be more fun than a cat with red pants, a bowtie, and a hat?
At one point my favorite cereal (Cheerios, of course) did a special promotion for Nerfuls, which included an exciting offer: by mailing in UPC symbols and a completed form, you could get a FREE Nerful toy! I wasn’t quite old enough to understand how the postal service worked, so my mom did the mailing, and I eagerly awaited the arrival of my Nerful.
And then I kept waiting. And I kept waiting.
And my Nerful never showed up.
It was disappointing, and I still don’t really know what happened. It’s possible something got lost in the mail. It’s possible our UPC symbols arrived at Cheerios headquarters or NERF headquarters just after some kind of expiration date. It’s possible the mailman thought the Nerful looked cool and kept it for himself.
I don’t, however, think it’s possible that my mom forgot to mail the stuff or ignored my request and hoped I would forget about it. I know parents do that kind of thing all the time, but Mom made good on similar mail-aways several times. It’s how I got my Thundercats action figure of Mumm-Ra in his mummy form, not to mention a personalized matching bowl-and-spoon set from the same aforementioned oat-based cereal. They both said “RYAN HELPED MAKE CHEERIOS #1!” I’ve asked Mom about it in recent years, and she’s pretty certain that she did everything required to obtain that Nerful.
I don’t recall when I first recounted this extremely interesting story to my wife Staci, but she has an impressive knack for absorbing things I say and filing them away for later. And thus it came to pass that, when I made a recent trip to the grocery store, she requested that I buy some Cheerios. She doesn’t eat nearly as much cereal as I do, but she likes Cheerios so I thought nothing of it… until a few days later, when I poured some Cheerios into a bowl only to find an unexpected surprise.
It was a plastic bag… containing a plastic bag… containing a Nerful!
And not just any Nerful. This was THE EXACT SAME NERFUL FROM THE CHEERIOS GIVEAWAY. Staci, who is wonderful and silly, had tracked it down on eBay and snuck it into the Cheerios box. (As she later told me, she had very nearly supplemented it with an “official” letter from General Mills and NERF apologizing for the delay in its delivery.) I took it out of the original bag, which probably drastically reduces any later resale value, but heck, I wanted to be able to see it. And play with it.
The toy came with an original paper insert with info on all the Nerfuls, with which I was able to determine that the ones we had in my youth were Bart Ball (the patriarch of the Ball family) and Scratch. Like all the Nerfuls, they hail from the planet Erf. After further research on the website Nerful.org and the blog “My Collection” I was also able to learn more about the toys and their history than I ever could have hoped for.
It turns out the Cheerios Nerful was a special figure only available through that mail-order offer, and he doesn’t have an official name. The original wrapper had the words “13TH CHARACTER” printed on it, and some collectors refer to him as “Visor Guy.”
And now, at long last, Visor Guy the 13th Character is sitting on a shelf in my kitchen, and I’m happy to have him there. Now, who wants to place bets on how long I’ll be able to resist the temptation to bid on all the other Nerfuls on eBay?