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Pros easily handle rookie foosball challenger as Fort Mill readies for state tournament

There’s a way to whip Bonzini pros, but it’s nearly too absurd to mention.

Down a dozen goals and barely half a glass of water, one finds opportunity and cause to ponder such matters. I’ll unscrew and remove my defense bar to set an offside trap. Hey, it beats tilting the foosball table or kicking for shins beneath it.

If any two people wouldn’t blink at the shenanigans this sport kicks up, Alan Cribbs and Bruce Nardoci are they. One’s a foosball philosopher, the other a smack talking showman with game to back it. Both are world class.

Together, they’re impenetrable.

“We were one of those teams that just didn’t lose,” Cribbs said.

For years the pair barely lost in tandem, barnstorming through state title events and tourists’ wallets. They’ve both been competing solo since the early 1970s. Both own the highest international ranking. They’ve coached, captained and championed national teams at world events and been enshrined in multiple halls of fame. They’ve won dozens of state crowns in nearly as many countries.

I admit it. I figured foosball for a whim game, victim to ball bounces and random forces. At times it is. Just not often enough to matter against the world’s best. Cribbs educates me first.

The ball pitter patters left and resets to midfield like an antique typewriter. Midfielder, striker, goal, repeat – onlookers could field a separate scrimmage in my scoring half for all we’re using it. Mine is a game of happenstance. His is one forged of necessity.

“I put myself through school on foosball,” said the tech school grad. “If we didn’t win, we didn’t eat that week.”

I’m not exactly clearance liver jerky myself. To be fair, the only game I’ll play tonight against a non-world champion is a runaway win. But I’m no match for the pros. They don’t just spin their handles and hope. Turns out spinning is illegal. These guys matriculate the ball like a golfer for green, passing laterally more than forward, crafting shots and angling assists.

Sounds a little kooky, until I witness it. Cribbs gains possession of the ball and pounds it repetitively into the table as if coding a distress signal. Nardoci might favor the masse, a spin shot of billiards fame, or a kick back shot where he heels it off a defender behind him and throttles home the rebound. Cribbs is more straightforward.

Either flicks a wrist faster than eye puts picture to it, coming around the ball and launching it violently into metal netting. Cribbs in my first loss, and Nardoci in my next, has a distinct advantage. Their center attacking forward is a man. I shutter to think should he have two feet.

The pros control with their midfield, bank or bully a pass through to one of three up men and slide the ball center. Plywood Pele goes for the throat. Talk about a guy who puts his best foot forward. It’s a wonder they haven’t coached the little pegleg assassin to flop in the box for a penalty shot.

Even his misses land. The little uni-foot hits it so flush and so hard that, four times out of five, the ball rockets back onto his foot for another strike.

It takes minutes for a game to five, but years developing the skill set. First ball possession, then progression between lines, then finishing into a target barely exposed by two foosmen rattling like some apocalyptic “Riverdance.” Cribbs now runs a national table distributor for the game near Winston Salem, N.C., but cut his handles paying hotel tabs and corndog vendors at Myrtle Beach off dollar games all summer. Nardoci, a north Charlotte nuclear engineer, rose through the ranks on several table styles before, among other things, helping form foosball’s international governing body.

These aren’t arcade passers-by with a quarter to kill. Nardoci’s foosball resume reads like a graduation lineup, mercifully ending with a quote I only half-believe he doesn’t mean.

“I’ve spent most of my life playing foosball,” said the foosball champion, historian, ranking rules author, webmaster and who knows what all else.

“The rest of it I’ve just wasted.”

I’m crying foul. My goalie won’t use his hands. We’re locked in a battle of wills, and I can’t notarize one fast enough. Cribbs puts 11 goals on his slide scorer before conceding a contestable one to me, then finishes nine more. I blink and Nardoci blanks me 5-0, after which we all can use a drink.

Cribbs insists I should’ve seen them in their prime, that they won’t be the highest seeds at this weekend’s state championships in Fort Mill, which could draw 60 players from several states and Canada. He insists he’s more interested in growing the sport than winning, which may be true. I don’t know that it’ll be true this weekend.

The pair returns to opposing handles. I hear of friends made and lost at the table, hustling through a half dozen states, surviving the video game onslaught when competition lost its personality. These two certainly haven’t. They’ll trade goals and borderline banter like sweethearts too long wed.

I leave them to it, bars still firmly attached to the table. Foosball, I’m told, is a game meant to “develop your character and not turn you into one.” I’m not sure I survived long enough for either. Nor that better results lay ahead, or afoot. It’s a truth I can handle, if hardly redirect toward goal.

On Your Marks is a monthly column where reporter John Marks takes on competition from the greater Lake Wylie and Fort Mill areas, challenging them in their field of expertise and profiling what makes them special. Check out past On Your Marks columns at For ideas on who you think Marks should challenge next, email

On Your Marks Scoreboard

Competition: Foosball champions Alan Cribbs and Bruce Nardoci

Contest: Games to five

Score: Cribbs won 5-0 twice, then 5-1 on a goal that I later learned would be illegal in tournament play, then 5-0 again. Nardoci won 5-0 quickly, after which I conceded. Final score: Foosball Pros 25, Marks 1.

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Want to play?

The fourth annual South Carolina State Foosball Championships will be Friday-Sunday, July 20-22, at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s in Fort Mill. The tournament is open to anyone, with fees varying by division. For more information, visit