Perspective from My First Flight with the NLL
PHILADELPHIA – Despite US Lacrosse tolerating me for 12 years of employment, I had never been to a National Lacrosse League game. I decided to change that on the tail end of the US Lacrosse National Convention, presented by Champion, in Philadelphia last Friday through Sunday.
The Wings hosted the Buffalo Bandits for their 2014 home opener at 4 p.m. Sunday. Working with the Wings on some activities surrounding both our convention and their game, I was looking forward to my maiden voyage to pro indoor lacrosse.
I did not know what to expect, but the Wings put on a great show. My perspective as a first-timer, in no particular order:
The tailgater in me thought a pregame trip to Tony Luke's on nearby Oregon Avenue was the perfect place to fuel up for the game, and the cheesesteak and cheese fries did not disappoint. A couple Wings fans were there, although I was disappointed I saw only one group of tailgaters in my portion of the Wells Fargo Center parking lot. A steady wind in the middle of January likely the culprit.
The sports marketing professional in me admired counterpart Nikki Samartino and her team with the Wings. Samartino, wearing a headset and carrying a clipboard, seemingly burned a trail in the tunnel before her team's home opener, smoothly directing the Wings' numerous pregame announcements and on-field recognition activities that included the franchise's gracious welcome of the local US Lacrosse First Stick Program team TREF Tomahawks. I wondered when she would get to take a breath. The Wings are very involved in the community, as evidenced by the number of kids in the crowd of 7,365.
The Positive Coaching Alliance in me loved the interaction between Wings players and the kids of Lawrence Lacrosse in the tunnel before they ran onto the field together during introductions under the glare of spotlights and music to a roaring crowd. I could've done without the "Get in the Box, [expletive]!" from the fans each time a Bandit was penalized or the "Bad guy goal" from the PA announcer each time a Bandit scored.
The lacrosse enthusiast in me marveled at the stick skills, quickness and shot placement by the players. It's easy to understand why certain skills and concepts of indoor lacrosse — operating and finishing quickly in tight spaces, for example — are in increasing demand by field players. I remember a photo shoot we did of former New York Titans 6-foot-7 goalie Erik Miller putting on his equipment one piece at a time for the December 2008 edition of Lacrosse Magazine. The goal measures 4 feet by 4 feet, 9 inches. How does anyone score a goal in this league? The Wings and Bandits combined for 23.
The basketball official in me squirmed at the amount of off-ball agitation going on — poking, chopping, shoving. Lose the sticks and pads, and I would've had a field day with that. I did applaud illegal screen calls by the two-man crew of Kevin Bates and Chris Williams, who overall called nine penalties and appeared to keep the game under control.
The liver in me appreciated the opportunity to buy a beer to enhance my enjoyment of the game, but the cheapskate in me couldn't stomach the $11 price tag.
The former sports information director in me got annoyed with the lack of players' numbers on the front of their jerseys and with the announcements of goal scorers and assist makers not coming until after the ensuing faceoff. We see that in hockey as well, along with the double assists. Wings captain Brodie Merrill scooped a loose ball in the defensive end, quickly passed to Kyle Sweeney and headed to the bench. When Kyle Buchanan tied the game at 2 with 1:57 left in the first quarter after a pass from Sweeney, Merrill also credit for a helper.
The ex-athlete in me cringed when I saw the wrinkles, some of them considerable, on the turf.
The sports fan in me could not understand why music played nearly non-stop during live-ball play, though the classic rock fan in me appreciated some of the selections.
Overall, the league's assets continue to be its players, and they put on a great show. Field traditionalists may scoff, but if you enjoy lacrosse, you can appreciate the skill and prowess of those who've extended their careers in the NLL.
The Wings remain one of the league's pillar franchises. I'm sure they've drawn larger crowds, but their involvement in the local lacrosse community and their ability to draw both families and 20- and 30-somethings to games promises an enduring future.