May 22, 2014

Glory Days: Cornell-Maryland 1976 Landmark Game of Unbeatens

As told to Will Cleveland | | Twitter

Cornell went undefeated to hoist the 1976 national championship trophy after a landmark win over Maryland. (Cornell Athletics)

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Cornell 16, Maryland 13 (OT)
Brown University, Providence, R.I.

Cornell's starting attack of Mike French, Eamon McEneaney and Jon Levine combined for 262 points during the Big Red's undefeated march to the national championship in 1976. The title tilt against Maryland was the first time in NCAA tournament history two unbeaten teams met for the championship.

Some consider the trio of French, McEneaney and Levine to be the best attack unit in college lacrosse history.

Mike French

We had a pretty dominating team throughout the three years I was on varsity. Keep in mind that back then, you couldn't play as a freshman, so we had players that might have been more inclined to help us and we also lost a couple of players in recruiting, because they couldn't play as freshmen.

We had a pretty dominating team. I never lost an Ivy League game. I only lost a couple of games. But if you talk to a guy like Tommy Marino, he graduated in '78, he only lost one game in his whole college career. We had a pretty dominating team, and of course, we were getting the very best players in the recruiting classes and we would get the odd transfer from Nassau Community College or Farmingdale, which also helped us.

I often think about what it would have been like to be on the other end of that score (in 1976), because it was my last chance to win a national championship. We had in my mind been upset the year before by Navy after we beat them quite badly. Just for some reason, we lost at home.

It was kind of a funky game. We had a very good team as did Maryland. We were both undefeated. At the end of the day, I think that there was a call left with one second left that sent it to overtime.

We were fortunate enough to not play sudden death back then. So we had two periods and we were able to win the overtime game 3-1. It was one of those days where I could probably do no wrong. I don't know if those days come around very often.

I was fortunate and obviously I played with Eamon McEneaney and Jonathan Levine and some really good midfielders. I think at the end of the day, we wore them down a bit in the midfield and we maybe got one or two better breaks than they did.

kind of look at the Thompson boys at Albany right now and they are doing the same thing. We had the good benefit of not really caring too much about the numbers. I had played with (former Penn State and Cornell great) Jim Trenz as a sophomore and it was a lot different playing with Eamon and Jonathan, because we played those couple years together. Nobody really cared about points.

What we really wanted to do was, particularly when we knew we were overmatching a team, our idea was to take care of business as soon as possible, so the other guys on the bench could get in. We really had a great team. Our goal was, let's just get this over with, so in the third quarter, the rest of the guys could get a chance to play. There were a lot of games where we played just over a half. There were a lot of other players on our team that were very, very good. I think it made for a better locker room. Of course when we got into tougher games, we would play much more of the game.

Hall of Famer Mike French (above) said, "The one ring that I would not ever want to lose is my Cornell national championship ring." (Cornell Athletics)

Everybody says, you scored all these goals, but I am most proud that I have over a 100 assists in three years. That's pretty good. We were very complimentary. Back then, I think there was a lot more moving without the ball and cutting. We had midfielders that not only could dodge but also move without the ball.

I think the game now is more about dodging now than it is moving without the ball. I think it's starting to come back a little with the two-man game and a lot of that stuff. Points were never a big thing. I played in Canada and in peewee, we played like 60 games. I was really worried much about the points. We were worried about winning.

I was the biggest one of the group. I was a box player from Canada, so I had that specific advantage. I think that I felt I could play behind or I could play out front. We had three guys – we had Jonathan Levine, the Jewish guy. We had Eamon McEneaney, the Irish guy from Elmont, Long Island. And I was the Canadian guy. We had people that came from different cultures.

Levine was a very strong lefty. I would be considered the strong right. We had a pretty good mix. But we really worked on trying to make sure we could play each other's positions. That's where we had the advantage. We used to flip the ball. We used to run around in circles. We used to go up front. Coach Moran gave us a lot of latitude.

We had the circulation offense we used where everybody would touch the ball. You would start off at the midfield. If I was the attackman, I would go to the crease. Then I would go behind and then you would rotate around. We had a lot of flexibility. If you are winning, sometimes the coach isn't going to mess with it. We were fortunate in that we had success and we were allowed to freelance. We did have some structure, but we were allowed to freelance. We all knew each other's tendencies. I always knew that if I had the chance to give the ball up to my teammate, they would score. Eamon was absolutely like that and so was Jonathan. I think there were other teams that have been that way. We were very eager to get a big lead and make sure that the rest of our teammates could all participate in a win.

It was a televised game at Brown [on ABC's "Wide World of Sports"]. It was a nice day. It was warm. We were playing on a nice grass field. It was great that we were down 7-2 at half. The Maryland guys were chirping. It was great that we came back. I often think about being on the other side of that outcome. Obviously I know the Maryland guys. I've seen them in the decades after. Jonathan Levine's twin brother was on that (Maryland) team. It was the first game of its kind. It was an event.

When you think about the lacrosse successes that you've had – I played for the Canadian national team, I played in Canada, I played in the indoor league – there's nothing better than winning a national championship. I am still extremely close with many of my former Cornell teammates. It was obviously a very sad day when Eamon passed away on 9/11. That was a devastating day for many of us, because we had such high respect for him. We're still all close. The one thing about Cornell that's unique in my mind is that the former players and the alumni are, without question, the most loyal to the program.I talked to John Danowski, and this is after he's already won the national championship more recently than us, and he says that he's trying to build a culture like they have at Cornell. That's why everybody is really proud.

There is no question about its importance. I would hate to measure one versus the other. When Team Canada won in 1978 in that huge upset against Richie's team with nine of my teammates, that was a big moment. If you ask if there is one thing in playing lacrosse that I would put on the top of the, whatever, Mount Olympus, or whatever you want to call it, it would be Cornell's national championship in 1976. It was the two best teams. It was the best attack every, they said at the time. It was a game of back and forth. There were times it was physical. I am 60. In my drawer, I've got six championship rings from the NLL, I've got a couple from Canada, I've got the Canadian (world championship) one, I've got one from the hall of fame, I've got everything. The one ring that I would not ever want to lose is my Cornell national championship ring.

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