On the eve of Saturday’s NCAA lacrosse championship at Brown University, Cliff Stevenson, the host school’s lacrosse coach, sat in the stands in Brown Stadium watching the undefeated finalists, Maryland and Cornell, work out. Less than two weeks before, Stevenson’s squad had played them back to back. “This could be the greatest lacrosse game of all time,” he said. “I’ve been coaching 26 years and these are the two best teams I’ve ever seen.”
Stevenson was right on the button. For dramatics this year’s championship was unsurpassed. Before a noisy crowd of 11,954 the game boiled to a 12-12 tie and went into overtime, with Cornell playing under protest. The disputed play had allowed Maryland to draw even with only one second remaining in regulation time, but ultimately the protest was academic. Outhustling and outchecking the Terps, Cornell pulled away to a 16-13 win, adding a second NCAA crown to the one it had captured in the tournament’s first year.
The tournament was started in 1971 to help promote the game, and over the years it has produced enough upsets, controversies, records and, yes, money to make it a success. This year, for the first time, the tournament drew national TV exposure. ABC‘s Wide World of Sports was there in Providence, proof positive for aficionados, who can be a little tiresome on the subject of the growth of lacrosse. In truth, the sport’s stature was better summed up by a short conversation that took place between two ABC technicians immediately after they had been briefed on some fundamentals of the game—four quarters, goals count one point, play starts with something called a faceoff, which takes place at midfield.
“Is this the first time lacrosse has been on national television?” asked one.
“Yep,” answered the second. “We could make or break the sport.” If lacrosse fails to survive ABC‘s treatment of it, it can at least claim to have exited on a glorious note. This was the first time in tournament history that the championship game matched undefeated teams. More important, the finalists had reached their appointment with destiny, or at least with the American Broadcasting Company, by trampling all over their tournament opponents. Maryland had scored in the first 14 seconds of its opener with Brown and built up a 9-0 lead on the way to an easy 17-8 win. But almost before the Terrapins could finish flexing their muscles, word arrived from Cornell that the Big Red had demolished its opening-round foe, Washington and Lee, 14-0. In lacrosse, shutouts occur about as often as visitations from ABC.
Maryland went right back to work proving that it deserved to be the No. 1 seed by rolling up an 11-1 lead over fourth-ranked Navy and then coasting to a 22-11 win. The 22 goals were a tournament record. Then news came from Cornell that the Big Red had built up its own 11-1 lead, over third-ranked Johns Hopkins, before winning 13-5.
Nor had the regular season offered much of a challenge for either team. Cornell’s average margin of victory was 11 goals, Maryland‘s was nine. True, the Terps had been taken into overtime by Atlantic Coast Conference opponents North Carolina and Virginia, but in those overtime periods Maryland had outshot them 26-0. Against Virginia, the Terrapins poured in nine goals in less than five minutes.
Maryland was so explosive offensively this year that 37 times it scored within 25 seconds after a faceoff. Cornell players referred to the Terrapins‘ extra-man offense as the “Guns of Navarone.” The Terps’ coach, Bud Beardmore, was a high-scoring midfielder at Maryland and he had built his offense there around a midfield starring a cast of thousands. In lacrosse, midfielders play for short periods of time and frequently change on the fly the way lines do in ice hockey. Depth is crucial, and Maryland was so well manned that Roger Tuck, a Terrapin All-America midfielder, was serious when he said, “A really big part of our game plan is simply to run the opposing midfield into the ground.”
So deep was Maryland, in fact, that although it was the highest scoring team in the nation, none of its players finished in the top 12 in goals, assists or points. In all, 25 different Terps scored this season, 16 of them midfielders.
Despite incessant talk about the quality of Maryland‘s depth, no one lumped Frank Urso with the rest of the midfield. Last Saturday was Urso‘s final game, and he is likely to be remembered as the best collegiate player ever. In his career at Maryland he led the Terps to the NCAA finals in all four years and made first-team All-America every season. His overtime goal won the 1973 NCAA title for Maryland, and his record-tying five goals in last year’s championship game gave the Terps their second NCAA title. As a sophomore he was named Midfielder of the Year. As a junior he was named Player of the Year. As a senior he was so good no one could think of a description worthy of the man.