Ismert loves foosball… loves it enough to have dedicated three years of
his life making the definitive documentary on the game.
And it’s a tough love, too. For foosball is not the
supermodel she once was. She no longer has the glamour of being the 8th
largest sport in the world. She no longer enjoys visits from 60 Minutes or Sports Illustrated or Esquire. Now she lies in a nursing home coughing up phlegm.
Ismert’s company Limp Lettuce Productions made the DVD: FOOS – Be the Greatest – The History of American Foosball.
Worth the coin and the time, it chronicles the game from its 60’s
beginning to the 70’s boom to its rollercoaster fall in the early 80s
when Pac-Man and other video games kicked it to the curb.
For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it is
miniature soccer using sliding, rotating poles in a table box, played
by folks who wouldn’t try the real game of soccer if their lives
depended on it. Even more crazy, it was popular in America during a
time when most Americans hated soccer.
Yes, there are still world championships. And there
is still prize money and dedicated followers of the game but the purses
and the fever is no where close to the pitch it reached in the Golden
Era of the late 70s.
Ismert’s documentary focuses on the career of Johnny
Horton, who quit school at age 15 in 1976 to follow his dream of
becoming a world champion. Horton, who was not the country singer
telling us about “The Battle of New Orleans” or “Johnny Reb” or heading
“North to Alaska,” had a career that mirrored the sport. He was loud
and brash during the boom and shunned during the bust.
Horton put everything he had into becoming the
champ. Sadly, he reached the pinnacle right when vendors were rolling
Ataris into the bars. “Sorry, Johnny, you can’t play tonight. We
mothballed the game into the back closet.”
“But I had just laid down the shag and bought the prettiest lava lamp in the world.”
“Sorry, Johnny, but those are out, too.”
“And my disco ball?”
“Yep. Might as well smash it. Johnny? Johnny, if you’ve got a leisure suit… pitch it out.”
Talk about bitterness! It has a way of frothing
forth when your lifelong dream is smashed. Johnny and a few buddies
tried holding on to tournament foosball but to little success. Johnny
had a habit of getting banned from the sport, for years at a time. He
finally worked his way back into the game two decades later and won
another world championship in 2001. Immediately after winning, he again
got banned which is still in force today.
Robert Ismert told me he originally intended calling
his documentary “Limp Lettuce” after the disrespectful handshake
tournament players give the victors. Common throughout the sport, this
wimpy handshake may signify the sports immaturity: a sport which grew
and fell too quick, played by youngsters who were not seasoned in
sportsmanship. No other reason makes sense for the handshakes because
who would possess better grips than foosball players.