Unlike the game's European origins, which are difficult to document, the genesis of the professional sport of foosball is easy to detail. There can be no doubt that the man responsible for turning the tavern game into the pro sport that it is today is E. Lee Peppard, president of a firm called Tournament Soccer.
In the sixties, prior to Peppard's involvement with foosball, a few tournaments were being held in various parts of the country. These were usually local promotions sponsored by a tavern owner, but even at that time players were willing to travel quite a distance to take part in tournament competition, no matter how small the prize money. As sincere as these early efforts were, no one involved seemed to have the vision to organize large-scale competition, or the courage to put big money into the sport.
Lee Peppard is a man of both vision and daring. As the owner of the Eight Ball Billiards tavern in Missoula, Montana, he organized his first major foosball tournament in 1972 for a total purse of $1,500. It was an amazing success, with players traveling from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to compete.
Exactly one year later, on Memorial Day weekend in 1973, the second Northwest championships were held, once again at Eight Ball Billiards, but with some very important changes. The prize money had been increased to more than three times what had been given away the year before-an incredible $5,000! To accommodate the large number of participants expected, twenty-eight tables had been set up-but they were not the familiar German brand used the year before. Instead, the players were introduced to a brand-new foosball table-Lee Peppard's brand-called Tournament Soccer.
The first Tournament Soccer table, manufactured in Taiwan according to Peppard's specifications, presented a major structural change: the solid rod. Accustomed to the hollow rods of German tables, the players complained at first, then adjusted to the change and were convinced by the end of the tournament that the solid rod encouraged a more controlled and more powerful style of play. Still a standard feature on today's Tournament Soccer table, the solid rod has been a major factor in the development of the American professional style.
Even more important than increased prize money and the solid rod, however, was the change in Lee Peppard's motivation: the $1,500 tournament the year before was aimed at promoting his tavern business; the $5,000 tournament was designed to promote his Tournament Soccer table. This unique concept of product promotion through tournaments is the theme behind the success story of Peppard's seven year old company-a story that is an integral part of the history of professional foosball.
The next milestone on the road to the creation of professional foosball was passed one year later-as tradition now demanded-on Memorial Day weekend. The popularity of foosball had grown dramatically during that year, not only in the Northwest, but in other parts of the country as well. While such early foosball greats as Marcio Bonilla, Larry F;olk, Joe Snider, and Jack Briggs were establishing themselves as the best in the Northwest, other regions were producing a few legends of their own, such as Tom Hansen and Billy Sumption of Minnesota, Mike Bowers of Colorado, and Gary Pfeil and Ed Whitesides of Texas. Gary Pfeil is often referred to as the first professional foosball player because of the high standards he set in performance, dress, and attitude long before rules were put into effect requiring players to meet such standards. These foosball pioneers and hundreds of other players from all over the United States met at the first national foosball tournament in May of 1974 at Elitch Gardens in Denver, to play for a total of $50,000 in prize money!
Once again the mastermind behind the tournament was Lee Peppard, and the event was billed as the Tournament Soccer International Table Soccer Championships. If $50,000 in cash seemed unbelievable to the players, the visual impact of seeing 144 foosball tables in one room was staggering! This was foosball, and it was the big time.
The anecdotes from that first Denver tournament have become a permanent part of foosball folklore. The tales tell of three hour matches, spinning rods, and unstoppable wall passes-tales more true than exaggerated! It was a learning experience for both the participants and the tournament organizers, to say the least. There is a big difference between a $5.000 tournament and a $50,000 tournament, and despite months of planning and preparation by Tournament Soccer, confusion reigned. It was the first exposure to the solid rod for many players, and the first exposure for everyone to the remarkable differences among regional styles and rules. Dismay and disputes caused by foosball culture shock, however, soon gave way to excitement as the competition progressed. The surrounding amusement park lent to the festive atmosphere, and if a player grew sluggish between matches, he had only to go for a ride on the roller coaster, which proved to be quite an eye-opener.
The final match in open doubles ended at 5:00 A.M. Tuesday. The winners of that endurance test-the first national champions in open doubles-were Gordy Somekawa and Joe Purcell from Seattle. They took home $8,000, with second place and $5,000 going to Bill Sumption and Tom Hansen. The other big winners that weekend were: open singles-Mike Bowers, first, and Dale Fallon, second; mixed doubles-Gary Pfeil and Lori Schranz, first, and Jack Briggs and Karin von Otterstedt, second; women's doubles-Karin von Otterstedt and Vicki Chalgren, first, and Karen Waehlte and Marla Gibson, second.
Out of the chaos of that tournament emerged a nationwide solidarity among the players. The World Table Soccer Association (WTSA) was formed, the players' organization that still serves as the governing body of professional foosball and is responsible for the official rules of play and the regulations concerning dress code and conduct of players. John Gilill and, a player from Texas, became the first WTSA president and editor of its official news magazine, Foos Noos. Each region of the country had its own WTSA representative who contributed to Foos Noos monthly reports on what was happening in the area. Although both WTSA and Foos Noos have undergone many changes during the years, they still meet the needs of foosball players today in many nations the world over.
Another alliance brought about by the Denver tournament was the partnership between Lee Peppard and Cal Rogers, a player and foosball promoter from Texas. By far the most intense rivalry at the tournament was between the group from the Pacific Northwest, who played at a lightning fast tempo, and the Texans, who preferred a much slower-but deadly-pace. Cal was an unofficial spokesman for the Texas delegation, and through his conversations with Lee regarding the need for standardized rules and tournament procedures, a friendship was formed that led to the addition of Cal Rogers to the Tournament Soccer staff. Texas joined forces with Montana at the new Tournament Soccer headquarters in Seattle, which became, after a few months of planning, the launching pad for the most daring foosball promotion ever-the 1975 Quarter Million Dollar Professional Foosball Tour.
In January of 1975, Tournament Soccer announced the thirty-two cities that had been chosen as sites for tournaments. From Boston to Los Angeles to Honolulu, the tour took foosball from coast to coast and then some, with prize money ranging from $1,000 to $20,000. The tour ran from January through August, with the 1975 International Tournament Soccer Championships taking place Labor Day weekend at the Regency Inn in Denver, for $100,000!
Operating without the aid of nationwide distributors, the Tournament Soccer crew-made up of Cal Rogers, Steve Blattspieler from Missoula, and Kyle Edie from Texas-often had to bring the tables in themselves, taking foosball into many areas in which it was totally unknown. Through rain, hail, sleet, and automotive breakdowns the show went on, in a different city every weekend for thirty-two weeks. Being dependent on the availability of hotel space, the tour could not always make a geographically logical progression; a glance at the schedule shows that the crew drove to and ran tournaments in the following cities, during one sixweek period from February 22 to March 29: first Reno, then on to Madison, Wisconsin, then back to Houston, up to St. Louis, over to Atlanta, Georgia, then back to Tulsa, Oklahoma! Another three-week nightmare took place during the last three weeks of May, when the trusty crew traveled from Tampa to Portland, Oregon, then to New Orleans. Looking back today, it is generally agreed that the completion of that tour was nothing less than a miracle.
But completed it was, and the Tournament Soccer crew wasn't the only group of people traveling from city to city. If Tournament Soccer was a little foolhardy in undertaking such a perilous tour, the players who traveled on the Quarter Million Dollar Tour must have been plain crazy. They quit their jobs, forgot their studies, and left their families behind to take part in one of the greatest sporting adventures in history. For the most part they traveled by car and lived on what they won from week to week. By August an elite group had established themselves as the hottest players on the tour, including such early greats as Lane Hunnicutt and Steve Simon from Texas; Ed Tuhkanen, Guy Volgelbacher, Paul Daltas, and Dan Kaiser from Minnesota; Ken Rivera, Faye McWilliams, Gayle Harding, and the Perin brothers from Oregon; and all the others already mentioned, such as Pfeil, Sumption, Hansen, Schranz, Whitesides, von Otterstedt, and Bowers. These top players joined others from all over the country in Denver on Labor Day weekend, to see who would be the new national champions.
Besides the fantastic increase in prize money, other changes were instituted at the second Denver nationals. Excitement ran as high as ever, but the carnival atmosphere of Elitch Gardens had been replaced by the class of the Regency Hotel. Eight months of tournament experience had led to the development of systematic tournament procedures, making it possible for the tournament to be run much more smoothly and efficiently than the year before. Regional rivalries were still intense, as they are today, but the WTSA rules, like the solid rods, had been established on a national level, eliminating much of the bickering that had existed the year before.
Dan Kaiser and Ken Rivera became foosball's first superstars, winning first place in open doubles-and $10,000 each! Second place went to Mike Belz and Brent Bednar, two high school students from Minnesota who proved then and there that they had a future in foosball. First place in singles went to Steve Simon, with second going to another young Minnesota player who was to be heard from again-Doug Furry. Mixed doubles went to Billy Sumption and Karin von Otterstedt, and Karin teamed up with Lori Schranz to win women's doubles. The top five money winners of the Quarter Million Dollar Tour were: Dan Kaiser, $14,160.00; Ken Rivera, $11,145.00; Johnny Lott, $8,362.00; Mike Bowers, $7,287.00; and Karin von Otterstedt, $7,057.50. Yes, people were making a living playing foosball!
Tournament Soccer capped off that weekend in Denver by announcing its plans for 1976: the $375,000 Tournament Soccer Spectacular. This tour was the first attempt at a twelvemonth schedule-a full year of foos. Although there were fewer tournaments, the prize money had increased and there were now no tour tournaments for less than $5,000. The West Coast tour consisted of six tournaments held during the months of January, February, and March. Then the tour swung to the East Coast for seven tournaments, coming back to celebrate the Fourth of July in Portland, Oregon. The national championships were held once again on Labor Day weekend, but this time in a city that was fast becoming one of the major centers for foosball in the country: Minneapolis.
This $125,000 tournament, billed as the 1976 world championships, was one of the shining moments in the history of foosball. The beautiful Radisson South was by far the most elegant location yet to host a foosball tournament. The grand ballroom, with 200 foosball tables, was magnificent. With the player's dress code more strictly enforced than ever, the entire operation had an air of professionalism never before achieved. Sections of bleachers in the pit area made it possible for a very enthusiastic crowd to watch the important matches.
Pandemonium broke loose when the hometown boys, Brent Bednar and Mike Belz, runners-up the year before, defeated Marcio Bonilla and Jim Zellick (Montana) for first place in open doubles. Dan Kaiser, 1975 doubles champion, defeated defending champion Steve Simon to take first place in open singles. First place in mixed doubles went to Rick "Redeye" Beberg (California) and Bev Froom (Oregon), and once again Karin Gililland (formerly von Otterstedt) and Lori Schranz took first in women's doubles. A rousing awards ceremony followed the finals, and everyone stayed to applaud the champions.
Since the 1976 World Championships, the Radisson South in Minneapolis has hosted three other major tournaments: Super Singles in 1977, Super Doubles in 1978, and the 1979 World Championships. Each one was a tremendous success, but none has quite out-shined the splendor of that Labor Day weekend in 1976, when foosball players looked around them and marveled at the progress of their sport.
Five more tournaments took place in the fall of 1976, and the tour moved into the new year without even breaking stride. The 1977 Tournament Soccer Spectacular was bigger and better than ever, offering foosball players a total of $500,000! Again, fewer tournaments were scheduled, but more prize money was offered, so that players' traveling expenses were reduced and a few more players could join that prestigious group who make their living by foosball alone. The 1977 tour introduced a new and exciting concept in tournaments with the $50,000 Super Singles. The hometown spell held true one more time at the Radisson as Doug Furry took first place and drove away with a 1977 Porsche 911 Targa! But it wasn't easy. Doug had to defeat the top players in the open singles category, including names like Simon, Bowers, Kaiser, and secondplace finisher Mark Scheuer (also from Minnesota), then go on and play against the first place winners from novice, championship women's, and novice women's singles in a handicapped playoff. Doug went on to become the leading money winner on the 1977 tour, with a yearend total of $25,190.
The 1977 World Championships offered an unprecedented $250,000 in prize money. Held November 36 at the Gateway Convention Center in St. Louis, this tournament provided foosball history with its biggest surprise ever: after paying their dues for three years on the pro tour, the corps of traveling professionals and top money winners watched two youngsters who were unknown on the pro tour beat the best and go home with the biggest prize money yet offered at one tournament- $12,500 each! Todd Loffredo and Gil Jackson from Colorado became foosball superstars, at the ages of seventeen and eighteen, respectively. Both Todd and Gil have proven that it was no fluke by continuing to be two of the top money winners in foosball today.
Other national title winners that year were Rick Martin (Idaho) in open singles, Steve Simon and Gayle Harding in championship mixed, and once again Karin Gililland and Lori Schranz in championship women's doubles.
The next tour was extended to last eighteen months, running from January, 1978, to May, 1979, and the prize money was increased to a fabulous one million dollars! One of the highlights was the $100,000 Super Doubles at the Radisson, where the Minnesota dynasty reigned once more, with Doug Furry and Jim Wiswell winning the super firstplace prize: two new Corvettes! The $25,000 "Fun In The Sun" in Los Angeles celebrated both the Fourth of July and Tournament Soccer's fifth birthday with a players' party and poolside antics at the Pacifica Hotel. The $100,000 Chicago Classic was the outstanding tournament of the fall, at which record crowds witnessed two historymaking events: European players of professional caliber competed in the United States for the first time, and Tom Spear and Shawn Coonrod, one of the most successful teams of 1978, won first place in open doubles for $10,000 in cash.
The St. Louis $10,000 Masters Invitational held in March of 1979 introduced a new idea to tournament competition. Billed as the Decathlon of Foos, this tournament consisted of twentythree rounds of competition, including draw your partners, goalie wars, and singles events. The masters were required to register weeks before the tournament, allowing the charts to be completely predrawn. Players earned points in each round and the four players with the highest total of points played off to see who was the best allaround player in the world. The title, the glory, and $2,000 went to Todd Loffredo, with second place going to fellow Coloradoan, Tom Spear. The highest placing woman at the tournament, Carrie Crowell from Missouri, placed seventh in the overall competition.
The Masters Invitational was just the start of the special events that took place in the spring of 1979. The $50,000 Super Singles 11 took place in Cincinnati the second weekend in March. Dan Kaiser once again proved that he is one of the alltime best in singles by winning the playoffs and $5,000 cash. Then players traveled to Nevada to compete at one of the most spectacular locations to ever host a foosball tournament-the luxurious MGM Grand in Reno. Two oldtimers-Mike Belz and Brent Bednar-took time out from Reno's distractions to play some serious foosball, winning first place in open doubles and $5,000.
Then it was back to the Radisson in Minneapolis for the 1978-79 World Championships, where Super Doubles winners Furry and Wiswell did it one more time, winning $15,000 each and the title of World Champions in open doubles. Also claiming the world champion title at that tournament-or reclaiming it, in this case-was Dan Kaiser in singles (his third national title, having won doubles in Denver in 1975 and singles in Minneapolis in 1976). Tom Spear set a precedent by being in the finals in all three championship categories. He teamed up with Kaiser to finish second in doubles, lost to Kaiser to finish second in singles, but succeeded in winning a world champion title with Carrie Crowell in championship mixed doubles. Carrie also took first place in championship women's doubles, playing with the top female money winner, Lori Schranz. The only real surprise at the tournament was the amazing way in which these remarkable world champions had been able to stay at the top for so long, dominating the tour for the preceding few years, and in the cases of Schranz, Furry, and Kaiser, since the first tour in 1975. It's not easy to get to the top, but it's even harder to stay there.
The 1979-80 Million Dollar Tour II was back on the twelvemonth schedule, from May to May. Highlighting the second Million Dollar Foosball Tour was the $250,000 East versus West World Championship playoffs. The first event in the playoffs, billed as the $100,000 World Championship West, was held in Portland, Oregon, during the month of April. For those players who did not qualify in Portland, the tour proceeded to Chicago's glamorous Hyatt Regency for the $150,000 Eastern Divslon.
The winners from each division were guaranteed not only substantial firstplace prize money (e.g., $10,000 for firstplace doubles), but also a berth in the world championship playoffs. In one of the most exciting of all finals, the Eastern Division winners played off against the Western Division; one match, winner take all, for $50,000 in bonus money and the prestigious title of world champion. Victorious in the playoffs and the world champions for 1980 were: open doubles, Tim "Zeek" Burns and Mike Bowers; open singles, Johnny Lott; mixed doubles, Lori Schranz and Jim Wiswell; women's doublesn Lori Schranz and Carrie Crowell.
As the professional tour entered a new decade, it seemed appropriate that the world finals would feature many of the pioneers of the sport, such as Bowers, Froom, Burns, Wiswell, and Schranz. It's been quite a journey from the $1,500 tournament at Eight Ball Billiards in Montana in 1972, but thanks to Lee Peppard, Cal Rogers, and the Tournament Soccer staff, along with thousands of dedicated players, professional foosball is a reality.