The byline of this column is: “anything and everything about life, tennis and sports.” With that in mind, here is my sports wish list for the year.
Watch a cricket match. I grew up in a small village in England. My only cricket memory is a bad one. I was playing cricket with my friends one day when I accidentally put my hands in front of the wicket and caught the only ball that was ever going to come close to knocking the wicket off. We were terrible. No-one could throw the ball accurately enough to get anyone out. After my faux-pas we gave up and trooped home.
Watch one of the weekly foosball tournaments held in Orange County. My dining room table is a cool blue acrylic foosball table with see-through sides and two sets of identical acrylic players. Makes it harder to play because the both teams look alike but that’s the price you pay if you want upscale high-tech design.
Find out why lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in this country. I watched a game of box lacrosse and found it almost indistinguishable from hockey. How much did you miss hockey during the lockout this season? Today let’s look at field lacrosse and see if that helps explain its popularity any better.
We are watching the 2005 NCAA Division I semifinal between Duke and Maryland at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, the home field of the Philadelphia Eagles. A lacrosse field is a bit longer and a bit wider than a football field. The goals are fifteen feet away from the end lines so we will see a lot of play behind the goals.
The first clue that helps explain the game’s popularity is controversy.
In their quarterfinal game against Georgetown, Maryland’s Bill McGlone scored a goal into an empty net with just over a minute to go to put Maryland up 9-7. The Georgetown coach immediately asked for a stick check. Lacrosse has very strict rules about the dimensions of the stick. The webbing that holds the ball cannot be too deep because that would make it too easy for the attacker to hold onto the ball while fighting through wrap checks, slap checks, poke checks and body checks on their way to the goal. To test the pocket, the umpire rotates the stick upside down. The ball should fall out when the pocket is at a 45 degree angle. The ball did not fall out of McGlone’s stick. He had to serve a three minute penalty which means that his team had to play one man down. Georgetown scored a goal to tie the game but Maryland managed to score a goal in overtime to win 9-8. More controversy, more press.
Athletes are switching from soccer to lacrosse because they can score more goals. It’s also easier to carry the ball on your stick than dribble it up the field on your foot. Unlike soccer, you can substitute on the fly. Whenever a Maryland or Duke player scores a goal, they go to the sidelines for a rest. It’s like playing football because you can lay someone out but you don’t have to stop every single play and stand around waiting for the next play to start.
The offense most resembles a game of basketball. Quick passes, pick and rolls, spin moves, fast breaks and quick passing. Duke’s players are beating Maryland to the ball. They win eight of the first ten face offs and they are passing the ball well. By the time Duke gets ahead 6-1, six different Duke players have scored. Maryland is taking quick shots at difficult angles. These bad shots lead to fast breaks that lead to a lot of goals for Duke. It’s just like watching the 2004-5 Los Angeles Lakers. Thanks heavens Phil Jackson is back.
Duke’s goalie, Aaron Fenton, is first team All-American and he’s playing like it. He stops point blank shots and throws beautiful outlet passes. There is no shot clock in field lacrosse. Imagine that Dwyane Wade could set up behind the goal all day and Shaquille O’Neal could stand in front of the goal without a three second penalty. That’s what is looks like today. Duke is controlling the ball and playing superb defense. By the middle of the third quarter, Duke’s attackers have more fouls than the defenders on the team. That’s a good indication that every player is scrapping for the ball.
Maryland started uncharacteristically slow and never recovered. Duke wins the game 18-9.
It’s an exciting game with fast moves, pinpoint passing and enough bodies sprawling to make it interesting but not brutal. It doesn’t have the aerial acrobatics of basketball, it doesn’t have the sophisticated patterns of football, it’s not as fast as hockey, it’s not as boring as soccer. It has a little bit of each sport and that makes it appealing to a lot of athletes and a lot of spectators. Over 44,000 turned up to watch the final between Duke and John Hopkins.
That’s a pretty popular sport.