We were typical college kids in the late 70’s. Brief moments of intense studying, staying up way too late, eating the wrong foods, smoking and drinking too much, partying like there was no tomorrow, falling in and out of lust disguised as love, rooting for our school and wasting time. Wasting lots of time.
One day at my fraternity house at the University of Virginia, it arrived. Our new foosball table. It was one of those heavy, solid tables built primarily for hours of hard play by rough, young, testosterone carriers. Thick table legs, sturdy steel bars and heavy metal plates backing up each goal. The brotherhood of the VA Omega Alpha chapter of Pi Lambda Phi fraternity was about to embark upon a giant quest to waste a lot of time.
I had never played foosball before so I scoffed at the new house table at first. Not my thing, I thought. Boy, was that ever wrong. Little by little, I started to look at the table with an eye toward learning how to play. Of course, you can always tell a foosball virgin because he’ll just spin the player bars around and around just trying to hit the ball by chance. That was frustrating but, soon enough, I started to get the hang of it. It begins with just being able to collect the ball and make a simple pass between two of your men. Pretty soon, you figure out how to take basic shots on goal or stop them if you’re playing defense. Your hands and eyes start to coordinate their movements. You get better. You start anticipating where the ball is going to go. You waste a lot of time doing this.
The other brothers were getting better too. We started to form two-man teams of players who were getting more and more comfortable playing together. Competition started heating up. Some teams started to pull away from others. Matches got more and more spirited. We all kept getting better. Smooth and slick passing from back to front and side to side ending with either a loud power shot or a deft trick shot. Matches got tighter and tighter with 10-9 being the usual final score.
My partner was a brother named Lester Leonard. Lester is a year older than me but we became fast friends very quickly. We’re also a classic “Mutt and Jeff” pair. I’m the upfront, overbearing, big, sweaty, know-it-all, loud mouth while Lester is the thin, quiet, slight, reserved, stone cold killer in the background. We were funny looking but we could play the hell out of that foosball table together. Lester ruled the back line defense like a rock while I took the muscular power role on offense. We were good and we knew it. And I know what you’re thinking. That must have taken a lot of time, didn’t it? Uh, yep. A lotta time.
How much time? Well, you would think that being in a fraternity on a college campus with a notorious reputation for partying that we’d have been hardcore party animals. And we were. That is, as long as we were sucked into that addictive foosball table. A bomb could have gone off and we wouldn’t have budged. Same goes if that month’s Playboy centerfold had whispered in our ears. Forget it, sweetheart, put your clothes back on. Can’t you see we’re playing foosball here?
The party scene at Virginia back then was divided into four different big party weekends. There were two in the fall semester. The first one was Openings in September and the second was Homecomings in late October or early November. In the spring semester, it was Midwinters in February and then the big one in April, Easters, the mother of all party weekends. I have no idea, by the way, why these official party names were plural but that’s what they were called. Each house hired a live band and the local beer distributors each had a windfall selling hundreds of beer kegs over each weekend. The parties were all open door, the beer was free and they lasted until everyone collapsed. I’ll leave it to your imagination just how wild they were.
Side note: Dave Matthews Band is from Charlottesville and got their start as a UVA frat house party band just like the ones we hired.
Anyway, I don’t remember which party weekend it was but I believe it was Easters in April 1979. We had a problem. The band was fine and the beer was cold. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was two guys from another house that nobody had seen before had gotten on our foosball table and were on a winning streak. The rule was winner stays on the table until beaten. And whoever these interlopers were, they were running the table on us. This was bad. You could almost feel the sense of alarm spreading through the house. “Foreigners” were dominating our foosball table, our home turf. Our “women and children” were under siege. They had taken on and beaten most of our better teams. Something had to be done. This aggression could not stand, man.
I was actually in another section of the house while the invaders were making their run. Lester was somewhere else too. I could hear several running footsteps outside the door of the room I was in and then a frantic set of knocks. Something was happening.
“Bob, you gotta come quick. There’s some guys from another house on the table and we can’t get them off. You gotta do something. They’re killing us.”
Now if this was a Hollywood movie, the “Rocky” theme would start playing in the background. Or maybe the dramatic booming sound we hear when Mr Miyagi starts rubbing his hands together so he can “heal” Daniel-san’s knee for the final match against Johnny Lawrence of the Cobra Kai.
I looked my panic-stricken brothers dead in the eye and said in a low voice …
“Go find Lester.”
When Lester and I got to the party room where our table was, the other brothers made way for us. We waited patiently for the current match to end and then we stepped forward. We took our usual positions with Lester on defense and me on offense. The crowd closed in around us. The air was thick, hot and heavy and reeked of beer. The band was in the other room playing at maximum decibels. But none of that mattered. The honor of our house was at stake. Our beloved table must be rescued. Game on, boys.
Right from the start, Lester and I were in the zone. We were playing better than we ever had before. He was blocking their shots cold. I swear Lester could have flipped his goalkeeper upside down and still stoned them. He was playing out of his mind and everyone could see it. Meanwhile, I was doing okay up front too. I was into the whole macho power trip thing. I had developed a thunderous shot that I could hit so hard you couldn’t see the ball itself. You just heard the loud clang of the metal backdrop to know it had scored. I loved that clang. I lived for that clang. And we needed 10 of them to send these intruders packing.
Lester and I were beating them senseless. The other brothers pressed in even tighter around the table. They wanted to see these jokers gone. And we were doing it.
To be fair, I think they may have scored a few goals. Maybe two or three but Lester was handling them with ease. You could see it in their eyes. They knew their run would soon be over. And soon enough, we had 9 goals and were at point game. Time for the kill shot. Now if all you do is hit the same shot over and over with the same speed and timing, eventually your opponent will figure you out. You have to change things up to keep them off balance and guessing. It was time for the secret weapon, the slow death roll shot.
I had the ball in the front court poised and ready to hit the game winner. To hit the slow roller, you have to do everything the same to make it look just like your power shot. So I rocked back the same, flexed my wrists the same, tensed and took a deep breath the same … And then just gave that ball the slightest little kiss. It rolled ever so slowly forward but it completely fooled the other goalie. He frantically tried to recover but it was too late. He was out of position as that lovely little white ball inched closer to the goal. No clang this time. Just a deliciously satisfying little … plop.
Game. Goodbye, boys. Thanks for playing and we have some lovely parting gifts for you.
The party room exploded around Lester and me. Brothers were cheering, clapping and singing songs. Cups of beer were passed around and thrust at us. Lester and I shook hands and hugged. The interlopers trudged on out never to be seen again. Our beloved table was saved and all was right within our little fraternal world again.
“Go find Lester.”