a short history of foosball

The forces that bring men together socially are limited. Usually they involve large bags of chips of some sort, something to dip them into, a great quantity of beer and a big-ass screen on which to watch other men fling balls around or crash into each other at high speed. I find absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, its passivity is not exactly healthy in the long run.
Which brings us to the more physically demanding activities that bring men together: they themselves flinging balls around and getting into loud-mouthed arguments about fouls in full-court basketball; crashing into each other at high speed and cursing a good deal on the ice; or bashing slowly pitched softballs with metal bats and trying to catch screaming line drives without becoming disabled. These are healthier social activities but a good deal more dangerous than the televised versions.
Time was, however, that men played another game: a game of skill and cunning; a game requiring lightning reflexes, uncanny hand-eye coordination and, again, great quantities of beer. This game has gone out of fashion, and with it a certain special kind of male camaraderie. Which is really too damn bad, for what a game it was.
They called it foosball.
A short history of foosball shows it to be a strangely compelling game. The reason is simple: Nothing sounds, nay feels as good as the metallic THOCK of the hard plastic ball hitting the back wall of the goal behind the helpless goaltender whose master simply wasn’t supernaturally quick enough to stop it.
These days foosball seems mostly to be favored among church youth groups, set up in musty hang-out rooms with sloppy cushions strewn about for the vaguely interested teen offspring of liberal mainline Protestants, or arrayed in high-tech evangelical gathering halls with the front ends of classic cars jutting from the walls and a state-of-the-art soundstage where neatly but hiply attired Christian pop-punk bands pound out “Jesus, you are the savior of my soul! Hey hey hey!” while pumping their fists.
Occasionally you will find a foosball table at the back end of a dark bar, one of those trendy pub-like numbers where they serve 40 kinds of draft beer and the young up-and-comers gather after work to bitch playfully about the idiots they work for and get gloriously ripped before heading home to the renovated-warehouse condo with a perfect view of the river. They never even get close to the foosball table, nor do all the young dudes shooting pool nearby.
But back in the day, circa 1973, foosball was the game of choice anywhere young men (rarely women) gathered to flex their wrists of steel while pounding pitchers of Bud. Other young men (sometimes women) would gather round to watch the battle joined of long-haired titans and slap down piles of quarters to let the winners know who next would challenge them.
One such gathering spot was Dooley’s, a veritable behemoth of a bar where packaging and pre-med majors at Michigan State University met up to check each other out, dance to Doobie Brothers covers and get gloriously ripped on their way to vaguely interesting upper-middle-income careers.
In my case, this is where the paint crew splattered with splotches of Hint O’ Mint and Snowberry got together after a day of glossing over the cracked walls of student ghetto housing in order to shake off the shame of working for a slumlord by furiously pursuing the delectable THOCK. It was cathartic after having stuffed a loaf of bread into a gaping hole in the wall, spackling it and lathering it with Snowberry rather than properly patching it.
Here was the birthplace of the once-famous Krebs Maneuver, named after the affable paint crew leader who was much too smart for the work he was doing. I think Krebs studied political science at MSU. The Krebs Maneuver was when he controlled the ball with his defenseman, flipped it backward to his goalie and with an extra-sharp crack of the left wrist sent it screaming the length of the table into the opposing goal. THOCK.
Here also was born The Sauce. The Sauce was when you were trying to clear the ball out of your backcourt but your opponent’s center intercepted the ball and jammed it back into your goal with emasculating ferocity. The defender-turned-killer followed his score with a triumphant flourish of hands and tableside shouts of “The Sauce!” as in, “Take that, with sauce on it!”
A second favored venue was The Alley Eye, a basement dance club. Here foosball was not so much a marquee event as a sideshow played out in the back while lithe young women and men boogied to “China Grove” and “Suffragette City.” But frequently small crowds gathered to witness titanic class struggles between young white men controlling little plastic men.
The Alley Eye’s foosball tables were dominated by hotshots with shag haircuts wearing batting gloves. The hotshots were unsmiling and methodical and did their work with ruthless efficiency. They set up their shots with elaborate care, paused, stood back and wiped their gloved hands on their jeans while the spectators took a deep breath. They then unleased the shot with blinding speed. Like a Major League batter trying to hit Randy Johnson, the defender could stop such shots only by instinct, a sixth sense as to where the ball should be because there was no possible way to actually see it. The usual result was a sickening THOCK and smug hotshot attitude that he was just better than you.
Occasionally however the hotshots were dethroned by musicians on break with a beguiling combination of irreverence and junk. Cheerfully refusing to be intimidated, they disarmed the gloved assassins with their annoying banter and pesky shots that glanced off walls or dribbled between furiously flailing defenders experiencing what was known as “vapor lock.” Sometimes the mocking musicians unleashed a pelting profusion of shots on goal affectionately dubbed “a volley of salvos.” It was immensely satisfying to see future marketing executives taken down in such disrespectful fashion.
In time the foosball tables fell silent as the masters of the game got serious about studies and life. Some went on to successful careers in sales, insurance and what have you. Others fought the good fight in mildly successful bar bands, playing Springsteen covers at weddings and upscale clubs where ambitious thirtysomethings gathered to unwind after a hard day at the cubicle. Here the musicians’ break was better suited to a gentlemanly game of darts than the frantic tomfoolery of foosball.
Still, here and there a past master happens upon a dusty foosball table in a dark corner of a pub-like bar. His eyes meet a former hotshot wearing suspenders and tie. They slap down quarters, order one of the 40 beers on tap and resume their quest for the delectable THOCK.
It is the sound of laughing men, crashing into each other at high speed.

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2 Responses to a short history of foosball

  1. metaforehead says:

    Wellllll………. as I recall , the Krebs maneuvre was when the center forward pushed the ball away toward the left corner of the goal, then shot diagonally at the right corner. disarming and unexpected, and effective.At least more so that just attempting to “slap those chickens in there.”

  2. soulmailing says:

    I know that is your recollection, but it is not mine. Krebs may have excelled at the shot you describe, but I believe it was the left-hand goalie sizzler that earned the Maneuver sobriquet. But then again we are talking about the mists of time here, so who can say for sure? Though gods they were …

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