By Michael Lewis
There is no known insanity in the Lewis family, at least any I have been aware of — but I have had my bouts with living in the Bizzaro World.
On Sunday, Jan. 31, 1982, I had a day off from my work at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, I decided to take in the Buffalo Stallions-New Jersey Rockets game at the Aud in Buffalo.
I drove there, 60-70 miles – during a snowstorm.
After watching the game, or a debacle that it really was, I am not certain it was worth taking the round trip, although I must admit I did witness something weird that I have, fortunately, not had to go through since: I called it Stall Ball.
What’s Stall Ball?
It’s when one team passes the ball back and forth in its defensive zone and the opposition doesn’t do anything about it. It had to be one of the darkest days and one of the most ridiculous games in the 42-year history of American professional indoor soccer.
Here is lede of my column, Offside Remarks for Soccer America:
Some 7,091 fans had a unique opportunity to catch up on their sleep during a Major Indoor Soccer League game on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 31.
They had an opportunity to snooze through more than nine minutes for what is now known as Stall Ball. Those who didn’t sleep voiced their displeasure by booing or and eventually shouting, “We want soccer!”
Never mind that the Buffalo Stallions defeated the New Jersey Rockets, 5-1. Never mind that Carlos Salguero scored his fourth and fifth goals for Buffalo.
For more than nine minutes that Sunday, the Stallions went into a deep freeze, never once leaving their defensive end. New Jersey compounded problems by failing to come out of its zone.
“If I was a fan and paid $8.00 a seat and saw nine minutes of silence, that’s bull,” MISL commissioner Earl Foreman told the Buffalo Evening News.
“I don’t know what was going on out there, but it wasn’t soccer,” said Rockets forward Joe Horvath, a former Hungarian international.
The instigator was Buffalo coach Ray Klivecka, who decided to freeze the ball for a short time in the second quarter and for nearly eight minutes in the third period. New Jersey coach Timo Liekoski let the Stallions do it.
Not surprisingly, both coaches pointed their fingers at each other.
“Our objective is to win and we thought this was the best way to do it today,” Klivecka said. “There are some very famous basketball games when teams held the ball and won the game. When the score was 3-0, New Jersey stopped playing.”
And what about the fans who might have been turned off?
“That’s New Jersey’s problem, not Buffalo’s,” Klivecka said. “If you’re winning and the other team refuses to play, what can you do? They were conceding a loss. They didn’t want to get blown away.”
Liekoski, whose team was playing its third game in four days, said he was conceding defeat. The Rockets were blitzed by Joe Fink (seven goals) and the Baltimore Blast on Friday night.
“We were going to stay in their zone until they came out,” he said. “Our plan was to stay down, 3-1, until the fourth quarter. Then we would put in some young legs and play them man-to-man.
“We knew we couldn’t run with them. I don’t want to come here and entertain fans and lose, 15-2. We don’t have the speed to keep up with them.”
One of the darkest moments of MISL history began late in the second quarter with Buffalo winning, 3-0. With 2:31 remaining in the half, Stallions defenders Dennis Mepham and Jim Sinclair and goalkeeper Paul Maxi had their own private “catch” at the edge of the penalty area.
No Rocket came close to the trio, but referee Gus Constantine warned Buffalo about stalling. Well, you could have made a case that the Stallions were moving the ball.
With 1:18 left in the half, the Stallions moved forward and 16 seconds later Horvarth scored for the visitors.
“They got frightened,” Klivecka said. “They thought they would get a penalty.”
The Stallions played keep-away for 7:19, or nearly half the 15-minute third period. This time Flemming Lund, Eddie Azevedo, Oscar Pisano and Maxi passed the ball around without any interference.
Some fans booed, others left.
“Buffalo stalled,” Liekoski said. “How can we stall when we don’t have the ball?”
Except for both Buffalo newspapers and Soccer America, the game hardly has been mentioned as one of the mind-boggling and confounding indoor games. Perhaps it was for the best because there is no way anyone would want to sit through another game of Stall Ball.