Who Played Lacrosse First?

Hockey people take one look at box lacrosse and, once the shudders at the bodily contact have passed, invariably call it hockey without ice. Very nice of them, too. But the truth is just the opposite. Hockey is la­crosse on skates—and a rather mild form of lacrosse at that.

Lacrosse, you see, was here first. Hockey claims title to being Canada’s national game; lacrosse IS Canada’s national game, declared so by an act of Parliament in 1867, exactly a half century before the National Hockey League was born. But the game has a much stronger claim than a mere piece of paper signed by politicians. It is Canada’s—indeed, North Amer­ica’s very own game and heritage because it was played first by the first North Americans, the Indians who were here long before the white man knew you wouldn’t fall off the edge of the earth 500 miles from Spain.

They didn’t call it lacrosse. To them it was baggat-away and it stayed that way—some historians claim for centuries—before the French settlers looked at the funny stick with the fishnet on the end and called it “la crosse”—the stick. The invaders had named the game before they ever began playing it.

The earliest notes of games in­volving the white man place the date as 1894. Since then the rules, the team size, everything about the game has changed except the basic pat­tern of the stick. What we have left is two games—the original field la­crosse played in colleges throughout the United States, and the “boxla” indoor version in Canada. It is this indoor game, booming at the minor sport level as never before and catch­ing hold everywhere, that the new National Lacrosse League is launch­ing in the most ambitious, best- financed project in the history of the sport.

aybe the original Indian players wouldn’t like it. The wives carry no weapons, although they’ve been known to swing purses at opposing players—or, for that matter, other wives. But we think you will. A game that’s survived for centuries must have a lot going for it.
One thing, though. Check your tomahawk at the door.

Maybe the hockey people are right. Maybe the best way to look at lacrosse is to think of it in terms of hockey . . . hockey where every team is the Philadelphia Flyers.

This is a game that creates addicts. And this time, finally, it’s getting a full shot at proving it deserves an equal share of hockey’s North American prestige. Nobody in lacrosse is say­ing “Give it to us.” What they’re say­ing in the NLL is “Give us a chance, and we’ll take it.”

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