I can't say that I've ever had an image in my head of a professional foosball player, but if I had, I suppose Coon Rapids' Dave Gummeson would fit the bill, other than the fact that he's cleanshaven, doesn't appear to smoke, and doesn't live in an apartment dominated by beer signs. (OK, so maybe I did have some sort of mental image.) Gummeson certainly looks, at any rate, like a guy who might have played a little foosball back in the day, but who doesn't?
Gummeson, however, is the 10th-rated foosball player in the world, but unless you travel in his small world or have crossed paths with him at one of the metro area's scarred bar tables over the last 25 years, you've probably never heard of the guy. Because in a state with a rich sports history, there are arguably no more invisible legends than the heroes of Minnesota foosball. Go ahead and chortle to yourself, but whether you know it (or care) or not, you live surrounded by foosball giants. There's Doug Furry, for instance, a 1996 National Foosball Hall of Fame inductee. He and his partner, the late Jim Wiswell (another Minnesota Hall of Famer) dominated the sport during the game's late-'70s, pre-video game glory days.
Gummeson is fresh off a national doubles title, and at 41 years of age has now won national titles in three different decades and with three different partners. He also squeezed in a world singles crown in 1995. Over Labor Day weekend he and his current partner, Tracy McMillan of Texas, will compete for the World Doubles title in Houston.
Gummeson doesn't practice or play as much as he used to, and since he skips a lot of the smaller regionals, his world ranking is surely not as high as it could or should be. These days, Gummeson is a single father of two with a full-time gig as a manager for Target, so professional foosball is merely his sideline. He's one of the old men of the pro tour, after all, and doesn't have a whole lot left to prove.
Gummeson started playing seriously at age 13 and turned pro three years later. He took some time away from the game a couple of years ago, and thought briefly about hanging it up. "I realized, though, that I really missed the competition," Gummeson says. "I played Little League and stuff like that when I was a kid, but I was never really above average at any other sport. I'm very competitive by nature, and I just thought, what else am I gonna do where I can be competitive at this level? I like the hand-to-hand, head-to-head nature of the game; it's like a combination of chess and pingpong. I've also made a lot of friends in 27 years of doing this, and though there's not much money in the game anymore, traveling to these tournaments makes for a fun vacation."
All those years of "pull shots" have taken their toll, though: the professional game is surprisingly hard on the joints. Gummeson has had rotator cuff surgery and persistent arm problems that have required cortisone shots in both elbows. There was a time when it was alleged that he had the hardest pull shot--a powerful old-school finesse move and the staple in Gummeson's bag of tricks--in the world; Gummeson claims that he's lost some of his velocity over the years, but has made up for the minimal loss of power by refining the mental game and working on finesse. He still prides himself on the fact that he's one of the best "two-bar" players and wall passers in the game and, judging by a demonstration on his basement table, his pull shot remains a fearsome thing.
As you might have gathered, get Gummeson talking inside foosball and it's easy to get lost in a hurry. As he studies a DVD of his and McMillan's finals match at this year's nationals (a company out of California, Inside Foos, sells DVDs and tapes of the major tournaments, complete with play-by-play and color commentary), Gummeson frequently pauses and rewinds the recording to dissect the performance for a visitor. "Here," he says, freezing the action again. "See all the holes in the table? While they're trying to switch it up on defense you're looking for the holes, all the routes to the goal that are still open. At every moment in every game you should always know which holes are open, and which are closed. Like right here, see? As soon as he goes to the wall--boom!--you go to the lane and find the hole."
And just like that--that easy--you watch as Gummeson does indeed go to the lane to uncork another one of his still devastating pull shots. And even in slow motion, even when Gummeson rewinds the shot again and again, you can't see the ball disappear into the goal at the other end of the table.