In the 1988 NCAA lacrosse tournament championship played at Syracuse University, the Orangemen defeated the Cornell Big Red, 13-8 for the first of their three straight NCAA titles. This Syracuse team is notable for being undefeated and for featuring the Gait brothers, Paul and Gary Gait, as well as lacrosse Hall-of-Famer Tom Marechek. It is also significant for being the NCAA tournament where Gary Gait took his famous “Air Gait” shot in a tight semi-final game against University of Pennsylvania. Syracuse won that semifinal game on a goal by Paul Gai with 3 seconds to play.
Tag Archives: 1980’s
Legends Of Lacrosse: The 1988 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championships Featured The “Air Gait” Shot In Syracuse-Penn Semifinal (Video)
The Greatest Lacrosse Team Ever: The 1988-1990 Syracuse Men’s Lacrosse Team Won Three Consecutive NCAA Lacrosse Championships Led By The Gait Brothers (Sports Illustrated May 28, 1990)
The Air Gait: This is a move that in two years has become part of the sport’s mythology. In lacrosse, as in ice hockey, the playing surface extends behind the goal. One difference, however, is that in lacrosse the crease, which is 18 feet in diameter, completely encircles the goal. Also, nobody but the goalie is allowed to set foot in the crease. As a result, until 1988 no one had ever made a direct attack from behind the crease, so when Gary circled behind the goal during a quarterfinal game in the NCAA playoffs that year, Penn goalie John Kanaras saw no immediate cause for alarm. Suddenly, Gary charged the back of the net. His last contact with terra firma occurred just outside the crease. As he hurtled past the goal, Gary reached his stick around the goal and deftly whipped the ball in. He touched down inside the crease, but it was no violation because the play had ended when the ball broke the plane of the goal.
The gates—and the Gaits—opened quickly on Sunday afternoon at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, where the Orangemen were playing Brown in the second round of the NCAA lacrosse tournament. The game was a scant 12 seconds old when Gary Gait picked up a loose ball and fired it to his identical twin brother, Paul, who was cutting toward the goal. After Paul caught the ball on his left side, the obvious thing for him to do was to let fly at Steven Ayers, who had the misfortune of being Brown’s goalie. But what magician deals in the obvious? Paul whipped his stick around the back of his head and shot the ball from his right side. It bounced once and went into the net.
Ayers was asked later if he had had a chance. “If I’d been expecting it,” he said. “But he has so many other moves. You’ve got to respect the basics first, and then if he pulls one of those on you, it’s just a great shot.”
Ayers was beaten again only 13 seconds after Paul’s goal, when Gary ripped one past him. Though Gary would score twice more in the next 3:46 and would end the game with five goals and four assists, it was his fourth goal that lifted 11,523 fans to their feet and had them craning to watch replays on the TV monitors in the Dome’s luxury boxes. On this one, Gary circled behind the goal, dived to the ground and whipped the ball around the near post while stretched out on his belly.
“He did what was unexpected,” Paul said. “Deception is the key to this game. I think someone called it the Subway Gait.”
Indeed, soon the only challenge left for the 23-year-old seniors may be that of devising nicknames for their ever-growing repertoire of moves. Gary’s five-goal performance in Syracuse‘s 20-12 win over Brown gave him a career total of 182. That puts him tantalizingly close to the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association career record of 193, set by fellow Canadian Stan Cockerton, who played for North Carolina State from 1977 to ’80. Gary has two more chances at the record: The Orangemen face North Carolina in a semifinal on Saturday; if they win, they’ll play for the NCAA championship in New Brunswick, N.J., on Monday.
The record would almost certainly be Gary’s already had he not been part of what many observers call the finest college lacrosse team in history. It’s a juggernaut that includes not only the Gait brothers, who are midfielders, but also All-America defenseman Pat McCabe and attackmen Tom Marechek and Greg Burns. Syracuse went 10-0 in the regular season this year, walloping opponents by an average score of 21-9, and entered the NCAA tournament, which it has won the past two years, as the top seed.
The Orangemen’s one-sided victories have cut heavily into the Gaits’ playing time. Not only has Syracuse coach Roy Simmons Jr. pulled them during the second half of most games, but he also could find only 10 schools willing to play the twins at all. “A lot of teams dropped us from their schedule,” says Simmons. “They wouldn’t say why, but it’s interesting that they’ve promised to play us again in 1991.”
But the Gaits don’t bemoan the fact that Gary is likely to fall short of the scoring record. In their four years at Syracuse, both brothers have received more than their share of recognition. In 1988, as a sophomore, Gary scored 70 goals, which was the collegiate single-season record until this year, when Yale senior Jon Reese scored 72. The same season, Gary scored an NCAA tournament-record nine goals in one game against Navy and won the Enners Award as the top college player in the country. That might have created a fierce sibling rivalry if the sibling in question were anyone but Paul Gait, who was named the MVP of the championship game last year after getting four goals and two assists in the Orangemen’s 13-12 win over Johns Hopkins. This year, Paul led Syracuse in total points with 51.
“They’re in a different stratosphere, trying things that haven’t been tried before. And it’s compounded by the fact that there are two of them,” Says Brown coach Dom Starsia.
The Gaits have become their sport’s first bona fide stars. “The media attention is unlike anything there has ever been in lacrosse,” says Syracuse assistant sports information director Bill Strickland. “They’ll spend an hour after an away game signing autographs. They’d do more, but I pull them away to get on the bus.” The Orangemen drew 18,244 fans to the Carrier Dome March 24 for their game with Johns Hopkins, and average attendance for home games exceeds 11,000. “The crowd comes to see the Gaits play,” says Simmons. “Many times the crowd leaves when they realize they’re out for the rest of the game.”
Lacrosse In The 1980’s: Syracuse Men’s Lacrosse Is Led By Twin Brothers Paul And Gary Gait During 1988 Season, The Best Players Since Jim Brown In 1957 (Sports Illustrated May 23, 1988)
If Gary, who led the nation’s colleges in regular-season scoring with 56 goals, is the alltime best, then Paul is No. 1-A. “Gary’s the best since ’57, when Jim Brown played here,” says 87-year-old Roy , who coached the Orange from 1931 to ’70. Brown was as dominating in lacrosse as he was in football, and, Simmons says, “Gary may be as good as Big Jim, and Paul may be as good as Gary.”
The best lacrosse player in the country, perhaps the finest to ever play the game, walks into the room. His coach beams. “I’d like to introduce Paul….”
“Gary,” the player interrupts.
“Ah, yes,” says the coach. ” Gary Gait.”
This is no way to treat a star, but it’s understandable, for Gary Gait is the identical twin of Paul Gait, and both are sophomore midfielders at Syracuse, which carries a 12-0 record, a first-round bye and the No. 1 seeding into this weekend’s second round of the NCAA tournament. The Gait twins are near
equals on the field. The Gaits insist that Paul is as good. “We do everything the same, always have,” says Paul. Adds Gary, “In our league back home, Paul was MVP last summer, I won the award the summer before that, and Paul won it the summer before that.” Paul finishes the thought: “We take turns having great seasons.”
Back home is Victoria, B.C., and the league is part of Canada‘s box-lacrosse circuit, which uses out-of-season hockey rinks as the sites for six-man games. The Gaits, who first picked up sticks when they were four, were weaned on the indoor game. “Box is a lot of fun,” says Gary. “It’s tighter, faster, rough along the boards. Cross-checking’s legal, and we’re pretty good-sized, so we did well.”
The brothers wound up playing at Syracuse, 3,000 miles from home, because Canada has no college lacrosse and virtually all the U.S. lacrosse powers are strung along the Eastern Seaboard, from Massachusetts to North Carolina. And when it came time for the Gaits to choose one of those schools, Syracuse coach Roy Simmons Jr., who inherited the Orange team from his father 18 years ago, had an edge.
“A while back we played some practice games against the Canadian national team as a favor,” says Simmons. “Their coach, Bobby Allan, said, ‘Roy, I owe you one.’ He called two years ago and said, ‘Here’s the tip. There are two kids in B.C. who are going to be stars for our team in a couple of years, and they want to go to college. Get ’em!’ ”
“A few colleges got in touch,” says Gary. “But Coach Simmons was the most persistent. He told us the weather in Syracuse was beautiful, nothing but sunny days. Our first day here, we had a huge snowstorm.” Paul chimes in: “In Victoria there are billions of flowers. I’m still looking for some color around here. Coach lied. We’re bummed.”
Actually, the twins are very happy playing for the Orange. They like their coach’s relaxed style—”We’re serious about winning, but we smile all the while,” Simmons says—and have become campus heroes. The Gaits are at home in the classroom, too; they take all the same courses in the College of Arts and Sciences and have twin averages of 2.8. “We’re here for four years, definitely,” says Gary. “We came for an education, not for lacrosse,” says Paul.
Lacrosse In The 1980’s: North Carolina Men’s Lacrosse Defeated Virginia In Overtime 10-9 To Win The 1986 NCAA Lacrosse Championship, Their Third Of The Decade
The North Carolina men’s lacrosse team powered its way to two undefeated national championships in 1981 and 1982. Despite these dominating seasons many Carolina supporters view 1986 as the Tar Heels sweetest, if not its most dramatic, NCAA title run.
The Tar Heels entered the NCAA tournament seeded fifth, carrying a record of 8-3. The three losses came at the hands of first Maryland, followed by Johns Hopkins, and finally Virginia. En route to winning the NCAA title UNC would avenge all three of those losses… and they would do it in the very same order they lost to them in the regular season.
The Heels were seeded fifth going into the tournament. No team seeded lower than fourth had ever made it to the championship game, and no team lower than third had ever won the title.
Carolina opened their previously unprecedented run with a 12-10 quarterfinal victory against Maryland, a team that had defeated the Tar Heels at home early in the season. The win propelled Carolina to Delaware, site of the first ever true NCAA Lacrosse Final Four. Never previously had four teams competed at the same location on the same weekend to crown a national champion.
The Heels semifinal opponent would be the two-time defending National Champions, Johns Hopkins University. Carolina had been on the losing end of a lopsided 16-4 score at Johns Hopkins earlier in the season, but this time the Heels would not be denied. The Tar Heels broke a nine all regulation tie with senior Mike Tummillio’s goal off a Gary Seivold assist two minutes into the extra session.
Fittingly, the title game two days later provided the drama indicative of the Tar Heel title run. UNC and Virginia traded the lead throughout the contest, with neither team establishing more than a two-goal advantage at any time. Another overtime period was required to settle the issue and Gary Seivold, the tournament’s most outstanding player, came through for the Heels with a score 1:50 into the extra session.
The win earned Carolina and Head Coach Willie Scroggs a third national championship, at the same time avenging Carolina’s most recent regular seasons loss, an 11-9 defeat to close the regular season.
Lacrosse In The 1980’s: Johns Hopkins Men’s Lacrosse Defeated Syracuse 11-4 To Win 1985 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship (Sports Illustrated June 03, 1985)
With 4:10 remaining in the first quarter of the NCAA lacrosse championship last week in Providence, Johns Hopkins coach Don Zimmerman called a time-out. His top-ranked team trailed Syracuse 3-0 and, worse, was getting outhustled, outshot and outsmarted. At that very moment most of the 15,000 fans at Brown Stadium had to be thinking that venerable Hopkins—winner of five official and 35 unofficial national titles—was in for an Orange crush. Syracuse, after all, had averaged 15.5 goals per game during the season and had Tim Nelson, the leading career scorer in the history of college lacrosse, on its side.
But Zimmerman wasn’t about to panic. The week before, the Blue Jays had overcome a 5-0 deficit against Virginia in the semifinals. What fiery words did the coach spout at his players? None. He just told them to relax and be patient. ” Syracuse got a couple of those goals on the transition,” Zimmerman said later, “but I wasn’t concerned. We knew Syracuse would pressure our offense on the perimeter, so I told the guys to go to the goal, and they did.”
And how. Hopkins responded by ripping off 10 unanswered goals en route to an
11-4 triumph. The Orange didn’t get their fourth goal until the final minute of the third quarter. Sparking the Jays’ rally were Del Dressel, who had two of their first four goals and finished with a hat trick, and Gary Matthews, who won 12 of 18 face-offs. However, the real Hopkins heroes were goalie Larry Quinn, the defensemen and the midfielders who shut down the Syracuse attack. Despite their ferocious start, the Orange turned out to be lemons. Their four-goal output was the lowest in the 15-year history of the championship game, and the team’s lowest since 1979.
Although Nelson assisted on three of the Orange’s four goals, he was kept well in check by the Blue Jays. As a crease attackman, Nelson likes to set up Wayne Gretzky-like behind the net and feed teammates breaking toward the goal. Trouble was, time and again his teammates couldn’t shake the tight-checking Hopkins defenders, which meant that Nelson was left with the option of taking a low-percentage shot or forcing a low-percentage pass. Speaking about the Jays’ defense, Brad Kotz, Syracuse‘s two-time All-America, said, “We were worried a lot about what they were going to do and didn’t concentrate on playing our own game.” Indeed, Quinn had to make only 13 saves all afternoon.
Several of those shots came from point-blank range, but Quinn, the Division I Player of the Year last season, held his ground. “In my craziest dream I shut them out,” said Quinn afterward. “Going into the game I did not project how many goals I would give up, but I was hoping to hold them to seven.”
In retrospect, if any team was going to shut down Syracuse, it was the Blue Jays. In the last two years, Syracuse has lost just three of 32 games, all of them to Hopkins: 13-10 in the 1984 championship, 8-6 early this season and, of course, the ’85 title game. The Orange had defeated the Jays 17-16 for the 1983 championship by coming from seven goals behind in one of the most thrilling college games ever. Hence, for a lot of lacrosse followers, Saturday’s rematch was an eagerly awaited rubber game. “They’re talking revenge,” said Zimmerman on Friday, “but we’re talking pride in retaining the title.”
Unfortunately, for the first time since these two schools became the sport’s dominant teams, the game failed to live up to expectations. “There’s no explanation,” said Syracuse coach Roy Simmons Jr., who was a midfielder on the Orange’s 1957 team, which went undefeated and included Jim Brown. “We played our worst game of the year, and they played their best game of the year.”
But not until there was 4:10 to go in that first quarter.
Lacrosse In The 1980’s: Highlights Of Syracuse Men’s Lacrosse 17-16 Victory Over Johns Hopkins To Win 1983 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship (Videos)
The 1983 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship was played at Rutgers University in front of 15,672 fans. Syracuse capped off a 14 and 1 season with its first “official” NCAA championship as they defeated Johns Hopkins 17 to 16. The Orange led by All-Americans Brad Kotz and Tim Nelson, scored eight straight goals in less than nine minutes late in the game to clinch the title, after Hopkins had gone up 12 to 5 midway through the third quarter. Kotz was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
When Johns Hopkins beat North Carolina in the semifinals of the NCAA lacrosse tournament two weeks ago, the Blue Jays figured they had the national title sewed up. They hung a sign outside their locker room that read: THE MONKEY is DEAD. For two years the Tar Heels had been the monkey on the Jays’ back, having defeated Hopkins for the national title in 1981 and ’82. This year they handed the Jays, 12-1 in the regular season, their only loss, slipping past them in double overtime on April 9. Now, with North Carolina out of the way, all Hopkins had to do to clinch its 39th national crown was roll up Syracuse. Well, the Jays may have shucked the monkey, but they choked on the Orange.
In the small world of lacrosse, Syracuse seems as far away as Kuala Lumpur. The Orange hadn’t won the title since 1925, and even then had to share it with Maryland. In 1957, Syracuse was undefeated, but in those pretournament days the national championship was awarded by a vote of the coaches. That year the honors went to the Blue Jays, presumably because they had a tougher schedule. Since then the closest Syracuse had come was the semis in 1980, when it lost out to Hopkins once again.
This season the 13-1 Orange came into the playoffs seeded second to the Jays. For a couple of weeks in midseason, Syracuse had been ranked No. 1, before losing 9-6 to the slowdown tactics of Army, which Hopkins earlier had defeated by the same score. The Jays play a patterned, methodical game that exploits opponents’ errors. The Orangemen, on the other hand, are a manic, fast-breaking band, deadly when a man up.
At the start of the tournament final at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. last Saturday, Hopkins took Syracuse‘s game away. The Jays outran the Orange and even scored when Syracuse had the extra man. Hopkins poked in the first three goals and at halftime led 8-4. Eight different Blue Jays had scored, which is pretty good lacrosse.
Orange Coach Roy Simmons Jr., an accomplished sculptor who sells his work for as much as $700, had told his team to chip away at Hopkins Goalie Brian Holman. Syracuse chipped, but nothing cracked. Midway through the third quarter, Hopkins’ lead was 12-5. “When we got down by seven, Hopkins put in its second attack,” said Jeff McCormick, an All-America Orange defenseman, afterward. “It was as if to say, ‘Now, watch this!’ Right then, Darren [Lawlor] gave me a wink.” Moments later Lawlor, a defenseman who’s not supposed to score, rumbled into the offensive zone, spun around two Hopkins defensemen in front of the crease and slammed in a goal. A minute later Midfielder Mike Powers of Syracuse scored. Powers had transferred to the Orange from Hopkins after he was told he’d never be more than a face-off man for the Jays.
Hopkins scored 42 seconds later to make it 13-7. Then Syracuse‘s fast break exploded. Over the next eight minutes the Orange scored eight unanswered goals, which is also pretty good lacrosse. “It’s funny,” said Syracuse Attackman Tim Nelson, a splendid feeder who had a goal and three assists in the eight-goal spurt and eight points for the game. “The look in the Hopkins players’ eyes said it was no big deal. They just didn’t seem like national champions.”
And Nelson turned out to be right. Hopkins never regained the lead and seemed weary at the end. “Our strategy was run ’em, run ’em, run ’em,” said Brad Kotz, the game’s high goal-scorer with five. The final score was 17-16, Syracuse.
If anything, the Orange appeared stunned by the win. That Syracuse even got to the playoffs was something of a surprise. Last year it was 6-4, lost to two Division III teams and didn’t make the tournament. The school tries to be a power in football and is hugely successful in basketball but only gives partial scholarships in lacrosse. Most of its lacrosse players are homegrown; fully a third of the present team comes from the same high school in West Genesee, a Syracuse suburb. By contrast, Hopkins draws its players mostly from Maryland and Long Island, veritable petri dishes of lacrosse culture.
Hopkins started playing lacrosse 100 years ago when Chester A. Arthur was in office. The Jays last lost to Syracuse in 1923, during Warren Harding‘s administration, and when they edged the Orange in the voting for the mythical national title in ’57, Eisenhower was in the White House. “It was frustrating,” says Simmons, a midfielder on that Syracuse squad. “We knew we were the best and weren’t able to prove it.”
The ’57 team was led by the greatest lacrosse player of all time, Jim Brown, who enjoyed a modicum of success in football. The Orangemen were coached that year by Simmons‘ father, Roy Sr., a semilegend around Syracuse.
Lacrosse In The 1980’s: North Carolina Men’s Lacrosse Defeated Three-Time Defending Champion Johns Hopkins 14-13 To Win 1981 NCAA Lacrosse National Championship (Sports Illustrated June 08, 1981)
North Carolina lacrosse Coach Willie Scroggs called for the locker room door to be closed moments before his team was to take the field last Saturday in Princeton, N.J. for the NCAA championship game against Johns Hopkins—fabled Johns Hopkins, No. 1-ranked Johns Hopkins, undefeated Johns Hopkins, three-in-a-row national champs Johns Hopkins. With steely eyes, Scroggs told his players, “Look, it isn’t a fluke we got here. And we’re not going to worry about who they are. All we want to do is concern ourselves with who we are. O.K., boys, let’s saddle up and get ’em.”
The result was a stunning 14-13 upset of Hopkins—against whom excellence in college lacrosse generally has been measured since 1891. It was also a signal that the clubby world of lacrosse, where over the past couple of decades Hopkins, Maryland, Navy and Cornell have been the elite, now must welcome a new member to its upper stratum.
Before a sun-drenched crowd of 22,100, a record for this event, the two schools put on a magnificent contest that led Scroggs to say, “This game proves you don’t need to understand lacrosse to enjoy it.” But for those who did understand, the spectacle was unmatched. Much of the stickhandling was peerless; the effort
was total; the incredible play of Hopkins Attackman Jeff Cook, who scored six goals, demonstrated he is the best lacrosse player in the country; and the goal-tending of North Carolina‘s gambling and rambling Tom Sears was superb.
That the Tar Heels, 11-0 going into the title game, have emerged as a lacrosse power is no surprise. Scroggs played at Hopkins in the ’60s and later was an assistant coach there. Two of his assistants also played there. And all of them recruit in the Blue Jays’ favorite areas—Baltimore and Long Island—luring prospects to Chapel Hill with tales of great weather and fun times, most of which are true. Losing Coach Henry Ciccarone said of Scroggs, “I guess it took a Hopkins guy to come back and beat us.”
But it also took some mighty good luck—which brings us to Michael Burnett, the Tar Heel sophomore attackman. Before the big game, he sat in a motel room searching for the right word to describe himself during his growing-up years. He mumbled and shook his head until his inquisitor suggested: rotten.
“Yeah,” said Burnett, “rotten. That’s perfect. That was me. Rotten.” He was raised in Arnold, Md., in a house hard by a cove of the Severn River. “I looked around as a kid and saw everybody was playing lacrosse,” he recalled. Of course, he also looked around and saw everybody was going to school, but that was not so appealing. During his high school years, Burnett preferred swinging on a rope over the river and going to rowdy beach parties. Worse, one of his buddies drove a boat to school, and at the merest hint of a nice day the two would cut class at their now-defunct private school, Wroxeteron-Severn. It was just the boys, the water and a case of Olympia. The headmaster was not amused and gave Burnett the option of transferring or being expelled. Burnett transferred, to St. Mary’s in Annapolis. Burnett was a fine lacrosse player at both schools, but when it came time for colleges to consider him, “My grades scared most everybody off.”
Scroggs knew about Burnett—Scroggs knows about everybody—and decided to give him a chance. Predictably, when Burnett wandered into Chapel Hill in 1979, he got involved in listening to a friend’s stereo, playing darts, missing classes and hanging around fraternity houses “because that’s where the free beer is.” He had grade trouble by May of last year. But summer school brightened him up sufficiently to enable him to play lacrosse in 1981, and suddenly Burnett became a team leader. He credits the steadying influence of a new girl friend. Tiffany Terranova. O.K., so he still flunked French this year. “The difference is he cares that he flunked,” says Scroggs. “That’s progress. Look, I’m not into saving souls. But if a player wants to try and do what I say, I’m willing to give him a chance.” So Burnett led the Tar Heels in goals with 26 and assists with 31 to the utter amazement of everybody. Without Burnett—the new Burnett—North Carolina almost certainly wouldn’t be the NCAA champion. “I could have done better before and I should have done better, but I didn’t,” says Burnett.
When play began last Saturday, it quickly became obvious that the Tar Heels were going to have to do a lot better as they fell behind 2-0 in the first seven minutes. They passed shakily, played defense poorly and seemed, just as the smart money had predicted, thoroughly intimidated by Hopkins. Twice in the first half North Carolina trailed by three. If Burnett hadn’t gunned home two second-quarter goals, a Hopkins rout might have been on. At the half, the Tar Heels were behind only 8-7, but this was the first time all year that they had trailed at the intermission.
Still, the typically calm Scroggs—”I like the idea that if I’m in a room, you may not even know I’m there”—insisted to his outplayed troops that “we’re just a step away from causing them a bunch of problems. Look their goalie in the eye and shoot the ball at his knees. O.K., boys, let’s saddle up and go get ’em.”