Commentary

Shaffer: Farewell to the foosball kings at Fat Daddy’s

jshaffer@newsobserver.comMarch 30, 2014 

Friday night marked the last night for Foosball at Fat Daddy’s, where team PowerKick and other top quality players have gathered for more years than they can recall. The players favor the French-style Bonzini tables, which are available only in a few Southern states. From left are John Lewis, Paul Scrutton, Steve McKenzie and Buddy Burchette.

JSHAFFER@NEWSOBSERVER.COM — Josh Shaffer

— They packed Fat Daddy’s arcade for one last match. The iron-wristed lords of foosball, carrying custom handles wrapped in tape, wearing leather gloves to cut sweaty palms, fighting the urge to cry.

For something like 20 years, team PowerKick has ruled this den of table soccer, attracting topflight foosers from across the state – stone-faced battlers nicknamed Mr. Methodical, The Enforcer and Foos Goddess.

But now Fat Daddy’s has dished out its last bowl of chili, char-grilled its last chicken wing and closed its storied doors on Glenwood Avenue. Team PowerKick finds itself homeless, chucked out of its Colosseum, wandering the streets with its resin bags and empty beer cups, forlorn and foos-less.

“It’s like a funeral,” said Robert Yates, 24. “I’ve been coming here since I was 14 years old. Same exact bartenders.”

For team PowerKick, an eviction from Fat Daddy’s isn’t a simple matter of relocating to the nearest sports bar. They play exclusively on French-style Bonzini tables, which feature pressed plywood, telescopic rods and heavy steel men, found only in a handful of Southern states. These people talk about foosball tables the way wine drinkers talk about Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Fat Daddy’s players regularly drive to Raleigh from Sanford, Wilson, Goldsboro or Winston-Salem. About half of them have played in France. They follow the Foosball World Cup, which is absolutely not fictional. Jim Parris, 57, uploaded videos of his 1986 matches to YouTube, and they’ve been viewed more than 5,000 times.

“It’s a weird subculture,” said Greg Hendren, 59. “You’ve got some real geeks here. These people are insane about it.”

Players come and go, but on Friday night, the mourners pointed to Chad Meadows as their godfather – the fooser who started it all.

At 41, he recalls his early days working at IBM in the mid-1990s, when his skills consisted of moves he’d learned at the roller rink as a kid. He and some pals started casually playing at The Corner Pocket on Roxboro Road in Durham, where they naively declared themselves “pretty good.”

Then they showed up at a tournament in Winston-Salem, where they got handed a cruel education.

“We got there,” Meadows said, “and it was like, ‘What planet are we on?’ The first match, I only had possession of the ball one time. I lost 15 to 1 over three matches. The high school league walked into the pro league.”

The secret to getting good, he told me, doesn’t come from shots on goal. It’s the passing. This is wisdom gleaned from 14 hours of weekly practice, two hours a day, year after year.

Fat Daddy’s became a permanent home for players of that caliber, with that level of devotion, and it drew more and more people. PowerKick printed business cards and left them in bars. They printed T-shirts. Word spread.

So the problem comes in recreating this nexus.

For a while, they’ll play at The Alley on Hillsborough Street. But it’s a temporary fix at best.

PowerKick needs a foosball den with Bonzini tables, plus a great band, plus good food, plus easy access to hotel and motel accommodations for tournament weekends. You don’t tear down Yankee Stadium and relocate it to Optimist Park. A king constructs a castle that proclaims his worthiness in battle, and if its walls should crumble, he builds it back with stronger stone.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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