Indoor Lacrosse, as created by Russ Cline and Chris Fritz, under the identifying title of Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League, was launched last January in four prestigious East Coast arenas. It was a riotous exciting debut. January 10 marked the official opening in the Meadowlands Arena before almost 7,000 fans as New Jersey clipped Philly’s Wings 11-8. On the same day, 9,000 plus watched the Washington Wave silence the Baltimore Thunder 16-13 in the Capital Centre. The jolts in the arena reverberated into the stands and left spectators breathless. One fan remarked, “Fractures and fatalities are the breaks of this game.” Another young fan said, “The hits are worth the price of admission.” What had Fritz and Cline wrought? They had placed 12 super athletes in an astroturf covered hockey rink, armed them with sticks, and threw in a few rules against maiming. These seasoned promoters had admittingly bought television time which said the object of the game was to survive.
The following weekend, the season’s worst snowstorms kept crowds down in New Jersey and Baltimore. But perhaps the most exciting game of the year was played in the Baltimore Arena as the Thunder won in overtime over the Wings 20-19 on Chuck Muir’s last of three goals. At the coaching helm that day for Baltimore was the present league Commissioner, Darrell Russell. But the tone had been set and the public’s appetite had been whetted. The third weekend 15,000 jammed the Spectrum perhaps to watch players skewer or be skewered. Their devilish thirsts were indeed slaked as the home team Wings dealt the Saints their only regular season loss 17-11, behind stellar efforts by the French brothers, Mike and Paul, and John Tucker.
The crowds continued to pour in the arenas through February and into early March. New Jersey, sparked by Vinnie Pfeifer’s goaltending, indeed won the regular season championship with a 5-1 record, finishing their season with an exciting come from behind victory over Baltimore 13-10 before close to 10,000 fans. The Wings ended their season with a victory over the Wave 19-14 at the Capital Centre to finish in second place. Washington and Baltimore ended tied for last with identical 2-4 records, Baltimore was forced to travel to the Meadowlands to play the number one Saints because the Thunder had lost twice to the Wave in the regular season. In the Playoffs, the Thunder, with Lou Delligatti throwing in three goals, avenged two regular season losses to the Saints by upsetting them 14-9. Washington, also playing on the road and powered by Brad Kotz and John Lamon, upset the favored Wings at Philly 20-15. Thus was set up the “Battle of the Beltway” at the Capital Centre.
On a day when the NCAA basketball playoffs were all over the tube and the University of Maryland was playing a big field lacrosse game 15 miles away, over 7,000 fans were treated to a nailbiting championship. With Buzz Sheain and John O’Brien snaring the goaltending, the Thunder held on to an 11-10 win to become the first indoor lacrosse “World Champions.” Refinement has steadily come to this game. It was taking form and definition as last season progressed. The gashing and mashing was in actuality exaggerated and secondary to the pure sport involved. Commissioner Russell has further modified the rules to emphasize speed, agility, skill and teamwork.
When the Indians played, a dirty player would embarassingly remove himself from the game. Or else the squaws would run onto the field and beat and slash him. Today, you won’t see anyone remove himself from the game, but one of Chief Referee Matt Swerdloff’s crew will quickly send a player to the penalty box for hitting from the rear or slashing in the rear. The sport is not as brutal as football or ice hockey. It’s not an Indian substitute for war. It is simply the most exciting game in America!