October 23, 2003

The Foosball Champion

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The midfielder has the ball. He makes a long pass upfield, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the offense is there. The striker traps the ball, flicks it right and nails a perfect diagonal shot between two defenders, past the goalie. Score! No, this is not a hypothetical scene from either of this weekend’s soccer matches, nor any other Cornell game this year. It never even took place on grass, and the ball is most definitely made of plastic. It’s all about foosball.

This weekend, thousands of alumni will return to Cornell for homecoming, and for a few days they will relive their college glory, partying in bars and frat houses, attending reunions and eating food at over-organized pregame tailgate parties. But the game I’m looking forward to is not preceded by Cornell’s chaste and pointless attempt at the parking lot food and debauchery practiced so beautifully at LSU and the other SEC schools. For homecoming this year, I’m gunning for foosball.

Foos may be one of the last pure sports left in collegiate play. Division I schools outside the Ivy League will not give you a scholarship to play foosball. Unlike football, car dealers do not “lend” star foosball players cars. The game will earn you no money, either in the present or the future. Unlike football, or hockey, or lacrosse (or any other number of sports) prowess in it will not help you obtain admission to an Ivy League school over more academically qualified applicants. I doubt it even factors into the “talents” admission departments look at. Outside of its connoisseurs, foosball is underappreciated by the general public. In fact, there is probably no benefit to playing foosball, outside the game itself. But therein lies the beauty; foosball is unadulterated. The competitors play it for the love of the game.

Foos is a game of surprising skill and power. The game suits Cornell’s student body (even if, after the freshman, or sophomore, or junior 15, it is a little overweight) so perfectly. Few other sports, aside from air hockey and those funky hand-controlled hockey games, require such a varied set of skills. Foosball athletes worker harder at their sport than perhaps any other group of competitors on campus. To succeed they need quickness, coordination and a wide field of view. A killer shot off the three bar helps too. But no single element, no matter how dominating, can win a game. Without well-rounded play, confidence and often even hope is foolhardy. Offense, no matter how good, carries little weight when backed by a Swiss cheese D. A stifling defense can dictate the pace of a game, score points, and shut another team down. The attack can only help you if it has the ball. And certainly not least, foosball requires almost endless mental fortitude. Many games have been won and lost when a team lets its guard down or loses its desire, even for a second. You have only won a foosball game when you have at least ten points and two more than your opponent. Until then, the game requires constant vigilance.

Not only is foosball a game of athletic prowess, where hours of hard work and practice pay off in wins and table time, but it is also a game of camaraderie. No other game can reinforce the bond between Cornellians so completely or tear two best friends apart, if only for a few minutes. Memories of foosball dominate whole semesters of my Cornell experience. (I don’t really remember if I took classes spring of sophomore year, but I can definitely recall the first time I shut-out a senior.) With such power, I have no doubt that if people played foosball someplace besides ba”
ts and rec-rooms, the competition would pull the University together like few other elements of our college experience. I’d bet that it could even inspire the students to pull together a good riot. Then Minnesota and Ohio State wouldn’t have anything on us.

And finally, without a doubt, foos piques the competitive desires. Nothing else inspires me to throw chairs or blindly hurl expletives at the wall more. The vanquished all bear their defeats similarly. They drop their hands from the bars, look down at the ground and grumble as they walk away weakly calling, “Next game,” to retain some strand of their pride, already in shambles. Don’t we all want to see Harvard do that? If Cornell challenged the school to such a foosball match (or matches), we could all watch as the weak-kneed Crimson players sulked away after the Red fangoriously destroyed them. I think the score would be 10-2, and one of their goals would be pure luck. How many other chances do we get to see a defeat like that, aside from men’s hockey games at the Lynah?

So this homecoming I’ll be promoting the Cornell spirit by launching vicious cross-table shots from my goalie bar. The alumni will get to revisit their beloved alma mater, and I will build upon my own experiences and hopefully my legacy. I hope to be remembered for as long as possible as one of Cornell’s better foosball players. Maybe people will praise my grit and determination, or perhaps they’ll note how I won more games than I lost, at least most of the time. Ultimately, I can only hope my career in foosball will help the university in some way. I am confident that it will.

Archived article by Matt James