April 28, 2011

Tanton: Is Box Season Over Yet? Indoor Hockey on Turf isn't Lacrosse in My Book

by Bill Tanton | LaxMagazine.com

Boxed Out?

The environment of professional box lacrosse is such that it turns lacrosse players into brawlers, writes Bill Tanton. The editorial has generated some impassioned feedback from the lacrosse community. As with any opinion piece that discusses a topic of controversy, some will agree and others will not. A couple quick snippets of feedback, and you can look for more in the June issue of Lacrosse Magazine:

"While Mr. Tanton's negative experience spans over 50 years, it took only two [Orlando Titans] games for me to come to the same conclusion. After witnessing brawl upon brawl in my beloved sport, I began to wonder what happened to our famous mantra to always honor the game."

"My son and all of his friends love the box game. No more ponderous possessions -- pass, pass, one guy dodges, rotate, pull it out, around the horn, pass, pass, one guy dodges, rotate, pull it out, around the horn, etc."

Don't get LM? Join US Lacrosse before May 1 to start your subscription with the June magazine.

Editor's Note: Bill Tanton's editorial appeared in the April issue of Lacrosse Magazine and already has generated comments from the lacrosse community. What do you think? Chime in at facebook.com/lacrossemagazine or with an email to feedback@laxmagazine.com.

John Grant Jr. is going to hate this column. So will John Tavares and Brodie Merrill and everybody else in the National Lacrosse League.

This may be heresy — and perhaps even reason for termination — because our core mission at US Lacrosse is to promote and grow the game. Still, I have to admit — I just can't go for box lacrosse.

Don't assume I went to a single game and didn't like it. I watched box lacrosse in Baltimore's Fifth Regiment Armory 50 years ago. Didn't like it. Covered Baltimore Thunder games in the Civic Center in the 1980s and into the '90s. Not for me.

But why?

After all, it was lacrosse. Even with players like the amazing Gait twins in the league, I didn't like it. It looked like ice hockey without skates (or ice). Those overstuffed goalies looked grotesque.

Still, I know some NLL stalwarts like Casey Powell and Ryan Boyle personally, and I like them. They make a few bucks playing in the box. And there are fans who do like box lacrosse — though I've never met one.

In December, finally, I began to understand my aversion to it. For that, I must thank Scott Rodgers, who, as Notre Dame's goalie a year ago, was named the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA championships.

Last fall Rodgers tried out for the NLL's Minnesota Swarm. The man is 6-feet-5 and 255 pounds. I would have thought he'd fill up that 4' by 4'9" goal in box lacrosse. He made All-America protecting the 6' by 6' outdoor goal.

The Swarm had something else in mind. They made him a defenseman. Something the young Notre Dame graduate told Lacrosse Magazine's Matt DaSilva about his new role in lacrosse last December turned a light on for me.

"Basically," Rodgers said, "all I have to do is go out there and throw my weight around and just hit people."

To show how quickly he had adjusted to the NLL game and that he was ready for come-what-may in the pros, Rodgers also said: "If they want to drop the gloves, I'm ready."

Scott knew what to expect in the Canadian-dominated, hockey-influenced NLL.

"The Swarm wanted to get tougher," he said. "They brought in Rory Smith, one of the best fighters in the league, and they wanted me to be an enforcer."

Now Rodgers ultimately did not make the Swarm's final roster, but this stuff is nothing new to me. I once covered a Thunder game in which the Baltimore goalie became so riled up at the urging of the crowd that he punched the referee in the face. My friend Carl Runk, who had been that goalie's coach at Towson University, called and said, "I had that boy for four years and never had a minute's trouble with him."

I explained to Runk there had been a hockey-like atmosphere and crowd at the game. No, that is not the kind of lacrosse I like. I love the college and high school games I see outdoors every spring. I like watching wonderfully conditioned, well-coached athletes playing aggressively but under control.

And I object to the code that seems to compel young men from some of the leading universities in the country to behave like brawlers when they play box lacrosse in those rinks.

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