Air hockey, like most sports, has a rich history of how it came to be. It is, unsurprisingly, an offshoot of ice hockey. In 1972 an ice hockey fan by the name of Bob Lemieux aided in the design of the first known air hockey table for pool table manufacturer Brunswick. With the support of an established company to roll out many tables across the continent the game gained in popularity rapidly.
While air hockey became the staple of college rec rooms and even carnivals, Brunswick had greater ambitions for the new sport. They organized the very first world championship tournament in 1974 which comprised of 31 regional champions. The evenet took place in New York City where a bounty of $5000 was dangled to tempt more serious players into the tournament. Not to mention that the winner would receive the title of ‘The Best Air Hockey Player in The World”. The event was highly promoted with legendary announcer Marv Albert doing the play-by-play commentary. The tournament also featured an NHL star (Derek “The Turk” Sanderson) to gain legitimacy.
The tournament was truly dramatic with a final showdown between a Centenary College student named Barnett and an imposing feared 24-year-old player dubbed “The Spiderman,” who enrolled in a community college just so he could play in college air hockey tournaments (he never actually attended any classes). After 40 gruelling matches, the Spiderman was defeated, his game weakened by sever blistering on his hands. He settled for the $1000 second prize though.
Air hockey increased in popularity into the early eighties when coin operated arcade games posed a huge threat to table games. In 1983 legendary competitor Phil Arnold predicted a future without air hockey. He thought that the “only thing we players could do would be to buy up a dozen or so of the existing air hockey tables and go underground. We would be a dying breed isolated from the rest of mankind, growing older, wearing out both body and table in garages and houses — like some despised cult.”
This almost came true. Air hockey may have died if it wasn’t for Mark Robbins. He was an air hockey fanatic since 1973, and he took out and ad in a trades publication requesting that people donate their used air hockey tables. He rented a 20-foot truck and gradually collected as many as he could from respondents across the country. After storing with the intent of preserving the tables in a Minnesota barn, he convinced US Billiards, the last manufacturer of these tables at the time, to produce a higher quality unit than anything else they had made. This was based upon the original Brunswick Formica-topped tables he had collected.
In 1985 Robbins convinced Dynamo Corp., a successful producer of foosball tables, to begin making tournament-quality models. In the first year only one hundred were sold. This was dissapointing but Robbins kept on, determined to revive the sport. He worked 15-hour days without taking vacations until he left the company in 1993. At the time of his departure from Dynamo Corp., the company was selling 1000’s of air hockey tables every year. Air hockey, once on the verge of death, was brought by to life literally by one man and the indominable human spirit.