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Fools for Foos

Denver's a mecca for those mad about foosball.

Is it going too far to say that foosball saved Shelly Langley's life? Possibly. But it would not be out of line to say that table soccer altered its trajectory -- and certainly for the better.

"I'm from a tiny town out on the Colorado Plains -- Kit Carson -- and when I was growing up, there were only two things to do," Langley remembers. "One was foosball, and the other was parking. And parking had consequences." Wisely, she chose to play the table her mother had installed in the local restaurant she owned: "Foosball was my self-imposed birth control."

Three decades later, the telecommunications engineer -- now one of the top 100 best foosballers in the world -- is celebrating her prudent decision by leaving her well-planned family at home for the evening and heading to the Golden Cue in Thornton. The Cue is ground zero for the foosball scene in Colorado -- which, if you know anything about the game, pretty much makes it the place to be for foosball in the entire country.

"There's tons of titles in this room," Langley says, surveying the crowd, which consists of a Noah's Ark mix of foosballers and pool sharks, as well as a pocket of Groove Hawgs fans and black-leather-encased one-percenters, including a few Sons of Silence. "Every title that can be won is in this room," she continues. "People from all over the world come here to train."

Look, over there -- the short guy in the trench coat, with the long braided ponytail and black doo-rag? It's Ditto Hobbs. His real name is Chuck, but that's his father's name, too, so everyone calls him Ditto -- especially now that Chuck Sr. has moved up to Colorado and plays a vicious foos doubles with his son.

Ditto had been playing in Tucson since the mid-1980s, pounding everyone who came into the local arcade, introducing them to a little tournament-style foosball. "I had always run the game room," he says -- not a boast, just a fact. He'd been a professional-level foosballer for more than a decade, playing out of Arizona. But when you get to a certain age, you realize what's important, and so a couple of years ago, Ditto made the move to Denver. "To play foosball, man," he explains. "It's the best scene in the U.S."

Bart Butcher made the drive from Colorado Springs. While he admits there may be other ways to spend a Saturday night, he'll stay until the night's over, maybe as late as 2 a.m. He wouldn't miss a weekend at the Cue. "I come up here every Saturday," he says. "Where else can you play the best players in the world?"

Or over there, the old guy: That's Mike Bowers -- but you probably already knew that from the Foosball World Championship jacket he's wearing. Bowers is the godfather of Denver foos, the man who was here at the start and has stayed through it all. "It's a foosball mecca," he says, nodding toward the six tables going full speed. If it is, Bowers helped make it that way.

Bowers's foos roots run deep. When he was a student at the University of Colorado, in the early '70s, his frat had a foosball table in the basement. "I became addicted to it," he remembers. He beat all the guys in the frat, then their friends, then anyone who was stupid enough to want to play him. Soon he was making several hundred bucks a week just from local tournaments.

Bowers became a headhunter and a trophy seeker, obsessed with foos. Whenever he heard about some guy who supposedly couldn't lose, Bowers would seek him out. This sportsman thought nothing of driving a couple hundred miles just to find a game and take whoever needed humbling down a peg or two. On a good night at a bar, with a bunch of drunk guys who thought foosball domination was just a matter of enough beer and entropy, Bowers could add $200 a night to his pocket from hustling.

In 1974, when the first-ever foosball world championships were held in Denver, at Elitch Gardens' Trocadero Ballroom, Bowers was waiting. He won the whole thing, beating out more than 500 other contestants. The following year, he earned about $13,000 from foosball tournaments -- not bad for 1975.

For a while he was virtually unbeatable, reeling off a record 88 singles tournaments in a row. He opened his own game rooms across the Denver area, trying to spread the gospel of table soccer, the foos love. Into one of those arcades walked a skinny kid named Todd Loffredo. Bowers took him under his wing, and the Denver kid became the best foosball player of his generation. Now a resident of Chicago, Loffredo has won nearly two dozen world and national titles -- just one more Denver foosball legend.

And look! There, just coming in the Cue's door -- it's got to be Tom Spear. Spear, whose white-boy dreads, soul patch, shorts and Jesus hat are unmistakable, marches to a different beat, everyone agrees, but he's more than welcome here. After all, in his day, with a clear mind and a bullwhip wrist, he won more than his share of world-championship titles.

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