CHAMPIONSHIPS: GOING FOR THE BIG BUCKS

By Clark DeLeon

By 2:30 yesterday afternoon it was a sticky 74 degrees outside and the sun beating on the white bubble of the Eagles indoor practice facility at JFK Stadium had brought the stale, previously breathed, sweat-ripened air to a rank simmer.

It was more a stew of odors than air inside a bubble filled with the moist fetid smell of athletic effort. Sweat-drenched uniforms, salt-stained pads and plastic grass and foam rubber all collided in the lifeless air preserved within the nylon walls. Add to this the fresh exertion of 24 professional lacrosse players practicing for Friday night’s league championship game at the Spectrum, and the act of breathing felt more like trying to suck a sweat sock through a straw.

Welcome to Media Day sponsored by the Philadelphia Wings. As far as I could tell, the media was me. Oh, sure, there was a guy representing a weekly newspaper in Delaware County, but I figure he’s media with an asterisk since he asked Wings general manager Mike French if he could try out for goalie next year.

That’s life in the fast lane of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. And Philadelphia is the six-team league’s hottest franchise. For their last home game at the Spectrum, the Wings set a single-game league attendance record by attracting more than 16,000 fans, many of whom didn’t know lacrosse from La Choy chow mein before the Wings came to Philadelphia three years ago.

But enough history. There’s a league championship game to be played Friday night against the New York Saints, and during a break in the workout the team is being told that the customary post-game party at the Airport Hilton, to which all fans are invited, has been canceled. Instead there will be an after-game party at the Ovations Club of the Spectrum and each player can invite three guests.

Lou Delligatti did not like this one bit. “I’ve got 15 people coming to the game, and I only get three tickets,” said Delligatti from the back of the cluster of players. “I say we make a team decision. We all leave the party after 20 minutes and go over to the Hilton.” His teammates took it in stride.

Louuuuuu, as the Spectrum faithful shout every time the popular power forward takes the floor, is sort of the Wings’ designated Louie the Lip or Whino the Rhino. It’s part of his style, which is something like a John Belushi who does his own stunts. Just what you’d expect from a guy who once taught phys ed in a penitentiary. When Delligatti gets on the floor with swift, graceful offensive stylists like teammates John Tucker and Brad Kotz, it’s as though Mikhail Baryshnikov and Peter Martins have been joined on stage by Bronko Nagurski.

But hey, somehow it all works. The proof is in the championship game and the home court advantage that the Wings earned the old-fashioned way. There’s something else old-fashioned about this pro team that may sell out the Spectrum Friday night. The pay scale. If they win the championship, each player can expect to receive twice the amount he is paid per game.

For some veterans, that could be as much as $400.

(Philadelphia Inquirer, April 6, 1989)

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