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By Thomas Wheeler

Professional football is, in my opinion, the most enjoyable spectator sport. College football is too hard to keep track of -- way too many teams, leagues, divisions, whatever. And I'm not going to get into my opinion of other professional sports since honestly, I'm just pretty indifferent towards them, and I also see no reason to upset any readers of this review who are fans of professional baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, auto racing, soccer, whatever. Nothing wrong with any of those sports. They're just not my cup of tea.

Of course, NFL Football is regularly broadcast during its season on any number of networks - NBC, ESPN, CBS -- and the FOX Network. And each of these networks has their own distinctive style. Granted, there's only so much you can do with broadcasting the game itself. A football game is going to follow a certain set of guidelines and rules, that have nothing whatsoever to do with the broadcast of it, and one can only hope that the commentators do a good job of presenting the game.

But what the networks CAN have some control over is their own pre-game, half-time, and post-game shows, as well as the "look" of their overall presentation. This is likely to take the form of a certain graphic style, these days involving a great deal of computer animation, set design, and whatever else. And in at least one case, the aforementioned FOX Network, it involves a certain mascot.

I'm honestly not sure when he was introduced, but the indication I get is that he was around for a while, briefly retired, and then brought back due to popular demand or some such. I really only started watching NFL Football last season, so the character's history prior to that is something that I'm not really well informed about. But the first time I saw an NFL Football game on FOX last season, here was this -- very interesting CGI character.

It was, simply stated, a robot football player. Extremely well designed and just as well animated, this robot looked big, very much designed in the style of a football player, and have the same sort of gung-ho sports attitude as an actual football player.

The overal design of the character was superb. He appeared to be a dark grey for the most part, with some yellow trim on him, mostly lines (yard markers?) and glowing blue eyes.

He was most frequently seen around commercial breaks, when the network would give a listing of assorted sponsors. Here was the robot, just off to the side, going through what would best be described as certain warm-up motions -- running in place, flexing his arms, stretching his neck, things like that.

Of course, being an action figure collector for a whole lot longer than I've been an NFL fan, one thought screamed in my mind every time I saw this character. "Dang, that would make one VERY cool action figure!"

I even went so far as to write a letter to FOX Sports about it. I mean, this CGI character seemed tailor-made for action figure treatment.

Now, I honestly didn't expect anything to happen here. The letter was, as much as anything, a way for me to get an idea off my chest that would not otherwise go away. I HAD to say SOMETHING to SOMEBODY about this notion, and figured that a letter to FOX Sports was the best way to handle this. But really, what were the odds? This character wasn't a Transformer. He wasn't a Gundam. He wasn't part of any established pop culture concept whatsoever. He didn't have an animated series, a comic book, or a video game.

Certainly the NFL is popular. It's probably more popular than any action figure concept on the face of the planet. But the NFL is not about action figures. It's not about toy collectors. Certainly the NFL has had toys over the years, everything from Starting Line-Up to McFarlane to Gracelyn. Heck, anybody remember those "Electric Football" games back in the 60's and 70's? Plug the thing in, set up the players, turn it on, and watch them shimmy across the field. These days there's video games. Personally I preferred the Electric Football. But these toys have emphasized the actual players, or the game itself, as one would expect them to.

This robot was another matter. He wasn't an actual player. For that matter, he was ONLY seen on the FOX Network. He was THEIR mascot, although I'm sure that the NFL might have some say in him. But he wasn't going to be turning up on NBC, or CBS, or ESPN. So I figured that the odds of this very cool CGI robot being turned into an action figure were probably only slightly better than my being signed as a free agent to the New England Patriots.

Well, while I have no desire (or capability) to play professional football, maybe I should recheck my odds on some other things. Imagine my complete surprise when I discovered a posting in a message board I frequent that there was an NFL FOX Robot toy up for pre-order on the Fox Sports Web Site! Makes me wonder how many people wrote letters, or just if somebody at Fox realized that they had a nice little potential money-maker here and decided to take advantage of it.

I pre-ordered the toy immediately, of course. He arrived in late December. At least he got to hang around here and enjoy the Playoffs and the Super Bowl.

Now, one reason I am not terribly fond of pre-ordering toys online is because one never quite knows what one is going to get. I don't like buying "sight unseen" if I can help it. But in this case, it seemed like there was no choice. I was even a little more hesitant, though, since there was no indication of WHO was making this toy. No company was listed in the online description. It didn't say Hasbro, Mattel, McFarlane, or anyone else.

Every so often this happens. You can go into the Disney Store and find exclusive toy merchandise that has no specific manufacturer. One has to assume that Disney directly contracts with a factory in China for the production of their toys, and otherwise designs them on their own. Some years back, there was an action figure included with a book. It was a Doonesbury book featuring the popular character of Uncle Duke. The book was entitled "Action Figure!", and the publisher arranged for the manufacture of an Uncle Duke action figure for the first couple of printings. Uncle Duke was a decent figure, and so is most of the merchandise from the Disney Store.

But I guess there's a part of me that still sort of wonders WHERE some of this stuff comes from, still expects to see a recognized company name on a package, and gets a little concerned when one isn't there. Let's face it, there's an awful lot of generic stuff manufactured, too. You can walk into a 99-cent store and see generic, unbranded toys in there that are an insult to the dinosaurs who perished to become the petroleum from which the plastic was produced.

Obviously I expected far better from the Fox NFL Robot, but I still wasn't entirely sure what to expect. The specifications in the advertisement only indicated that he was 10 inches in height and well articulated. That last part could mean anything. At 10 inches in height, you can get a lot of articulation in. But would they? The CGI robot seen during the games was capable of a very wide range of motion. I didn't really expect the toy to be THAT flexible, but I was hoping that it would be more than just head, arms, and legs.

I found myself wondering a bit over the market for this toy. While sports collectibles of all sorts are highly popular, would the time, attention, detail, and articulation that toy collectors so crave really be put into an item that was both a sports and network toy, arguably directed at an audience that is more interested in football than they are in toy collecting? You can see my concerns.

Finally, he arrived. And I should mention now that although it is not marked on the package anywhere, this robot has finally been given a name. Apparently there was a "Name the Robot" contest, and the winner was announced during the Halftime report on FOX on December 16. The official name of the NFL FOX Robot Mascot is -- "Cleatus". Okay, I might've gone for something a little more code-name-sounding, something that sounded more like it was out of Transformers or G.I .Joe or some such, maybe something like "Touchdown" or whatever (which I would've suggested if I'd known about the contest, but that one is so obvious I'm sure someone else submitted it), but -- okay, we'll go with "Cleatus".

So -- how is Cleatus? Holy cow. Any concerns I might have had evaporated the second I saw him. The detail level is incredible. The articulation level is nothing short of astounding. I don't know who designed and who produced this toy for FOX, but they need to be commended for it. The only indication of a manufacturer is on the bottom of the box, near the UPC symbol, some standard print that reads, "FoxSports 10" Robot - FoamFanatics LLC." Excuse me, FoamFanatics? Never heard of 'em. Maybe they're the same company that makes those giant foam glove-like things that fans wear to root on their favorite team at the games. They made THIS!? Talk about a step up on manufacturing complexity...!

Cleatus is just a shade over 10" in height -- maybe 10-1/4". And he's a very husky and very heavy 10-1/4". The figure is SOLID, weighing close to two pounds. He looks exactly like his CGI television counterpart. The bulk of the robot is a dark grey matte, with the appropriate detailing. There are two broad white stripes on his immense shoulder pads. The number "34" (if this stands for anything specific, I don't know what) can be seen on his helmet and chest. His eye/visor has been painted bright blue. The FOX Sports logo is also on his chest. Yellow detailing can be seen on his arms, legs, and even fingers.

This is one very tough-looking robot. If this machine existed in real life, you could line eleven of them up on a football field and make just about any NFL team have bladder control problems.

One area of concern I had with regard to this figure was detail. Well, I should not have worried. The fine detail on the fingers, the torso, the legs, all across this figure, is nothing short of incredible. And thankfully, the manufacturer resusted the urge to try to "enhance" that detailing with any sort of paint wipes. There's no need for that, and I'm pleased it is not present here.

Any number of shortcuts could have been taken, but weren't. The protective front of the helmet could have been molded as a solid piece, not as more accurate to an actual football helmet. It wasn't. The fingers could have been molded as a single group, or left unpainted. They weren't. The holes at the base of the torso didn't need to be drilled all the way through. They were. Visually, this toy is an asbolute masterpiece.

My other concern was with regard to articulation. You could produce the most detailed figure in the world, but if it's only poseable at the head, arms, and legs, is it really an action figure? And without a major toy manufacturer's name attached to Cleatus here, I did sort of wonder what we'd get in this department.

Hoo-boy! Once again, I shouldn't've worried. The figure is poseable at the head -- both back and forth and up and down, arms -- forward, backward, and outward, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists -- forward, backward, and a swivel, waist, legs -- forward, backward, and a swivel -- knees, ankles, including a pivot point, and even the front of the feet! About the only thing that doesn't move on this figure are the fingers and thumb, but they're so well detailed I can hardly complain about that.

The absolute only downside to this figure is that the football he's carrying in his right hand is not removeable (and I'll bet someone will come up with a workable solution to that before long). Now, it's a cool football. It's sort of futuristic looking. Its seam lines are not those of a typical football. It's half brown and half yellow, and has the FOX Sports logo on it. So it's a cool football, and as nicely detailed as the robot. I just wish it wasn't permanently attached.

Any other complaints? None. About the only difficulty with this figure is that he's so top-heavy and has relatively small feet that he has a little trouble standing up. But it's not impossible. I do not, however, recommend displaying him on a high shelf. He seems very well-made and very sturdy, but a six-foot drop onto a hard floor would hurt just about anybody, and Cleatus is way too cool to be damaged.

Apart from that little advisory, I have no complaints. This is truly an amazing, excellent, superb action figure of a cool character that, while perhaps off the usual track of action figures, is still a cool character that is obviously popular enough that FOX had to bring him back to their football coverage, AND made an action figure of him!

Furthermore, if there's any question about the popularity of this figure -- he's already sold out on the Fox Sports Web Site. Let us hope that FOX considers a second production run. I've heard some customizers talk about buying multiples, and painting several of them up in their favorite team colors. Obviously Cleatus has to be impartial, since he represents the entire NFL as well as the Fox Network, but I can see how some people would like to have a robot that represents their favorite team, and honestly, it's a cool idea. But it certainly creates a greater market for this toy.

Cleatus has turned up on a few other Web Sites, probably secondary sales, but what the heck, it's a chance to get him. Additionally, I have personally seen Cleatus at Toys "R" Us, in admittedly limited supplies, but you might want to check your local TRU and see if he's there.

The back of the figure's box has a few frames from his CGI adventures, as well as a large, close-up image of his arm, holding a football. The background information on him reads as follows:

"The revival of the Fox Sports Robot marks the beginning of a new era for America's favorite spectator sport. This 10-inch poseable action figure features the highest quality and greatest attention to detail available in an action figure. The Fox Sports Robot uses its fully- articulated joints to evade defenders and score touchdowns. A must-have piece for every sport fanatic's collection!"

So what's my final word here? Okay, I'm not THAT diehard a football fan. I'm not going to root for a team so much that I'm going to show up at their stadium in freezing weather with my shirt off and my body painted in the team colors. I don't need pneumonia that badly, and I doubt that it would be that inspirational to the team. Like I said, I am no athlete, nor do I look like one in the least. For me, football is a way to enjoy a Sunday afternoon and evening when it's in season, and hopefully I'll get to watch a good game.

But I don't take it THAT seriously. However, I do take my toy collecting hobby seriously, and I know an impressive action figure when I see one. Cleatus, the FOX NFL Robot Mascot, is extremely impressive. Even if you're not a football fan, you'd likely appreciate this toy. And if you are, well, so much the better. If you're a football fan but not much of a toy fan, you might still want to bring Cleatus into your home. He's very cool. In any case, Cleatus, the FOX NFL Robot Mascot, definitely gets my highest and most enthusiastic recommendation!