By WILLIAM N. WALLACE – JUNE 16, 1974
SYRACUSE—Gaylord Powless, who grew up on the Six Nations Indian reservation near Branford, Ontario, is a professional lacrosse player for the Syracuse Stingers of the new National Lacrosse League. Woven into the gut of his lacrosse stick are red ribbons as a mark of fortune, like a four‐leaf clover.
Other Indians in other times had ribbons in their lacrosse baskets given as a mark of manhood in ceremonies in the long houses back on the reservations. In Powless’s case the ribbons have symbolism.
Realize that the North American Indian invented this game some centuries ago. It played a part in American history at Fort Mackinac on June 4, 1763. Field lacrosse (11 players) was slowly assimilated into the United States culture in the 20th century as an intercollegiate sport. Box lacrosse (six players) is played by a reported 250,000 in Canada and is called by some “the national game.”
This spring, box lacrosse has made a modest invasion of this continent as another professional league. After three weeks of play it is a hit in Philadelphia; a moderate success in Baltimore and Montreal and it’s holding its own in Rochester and Syracuse and a disappointment in Toronto.
What is box lacrosse? The game would be closest to basketball in that it is played indoors, matching six, men to a side on a man‐to‐man basis except for the goaltenders. There is a 30‐second rule. (The offensive team must try a shot on goal within 30 seconds or lose possession.)
There is blocking, pick plays, fast breaks and an allcourt press as the rubber ball, eight inches in circumference, moves from one player’s stick to another. There are three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie roaming all over the floor. (One goalie, Mery Marshall, had 17 assists after 11 games.)
There is plenty of contact, as in hockey, with similar penalties and a penalty box. The games are played on a wooden floor the size of hockey ring and over the pipes that make the ice in winter months.
It is a good spectator game, with three periods of 20 minutes each plus one overtime period of 10 in the event of a tie. The N.L.L. promotion claims it to he “the fastest game on two feet.”
So how come a handsome young Canadian Indian like Gaylord Powless is playing box lacrosse in Syracuse two nights a week? It is a heritage. His father, Russ, belongs in the Canadian sport’s hall of fame. And it is vocation. Gaylord makes about $75 a game.
Powless and the dozen other Indians in the league are in a minority. Caucasian Canadians abound. The league promoters, however, hope to bring into the league the best American intercollegiate players from field lacrosse and a draft of that kind of players was set up this month.
If the Americans come in, they will make obsolete Indians and Canadians, even National Hockey League players like Doug Favell and Rick Dudley. Why? Because they will be bigger and faster and adapt easily to the close contact of the box game. That is where the box‐office appeal lies.
Favell, a goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the N.H.L., plays forward for the Philadelphia Wings of the N.L.L. Dudley, of the N.H.L.’s Buffalo Sabres, leads the N.L.L. in scoring for the Rochester Griffins.
Compared to two other new pro leagues, World Team Tennis and the World Football League, the National Lacrosse League has started with reasonable economics and control of expenditures. The budget for the entire league is $3‐million for a season running from midMay to late August. Arena rentals are low. So are the salaries and the risk.
The big money man has been Bruce Norris, who owns the Detroit Red Wings of the N.H.L. and Toronto Tomahawks of the N.L.L. Norris can absorb the losses of the Tomahawks, but it is a little different for Dick Wells, a vending machine entrepreneur and president of Syracuse’s Stingers.
Wells hopes to hold on until the sport, long familiar here because of the Indian teams from the nearby Onondaga Reservation. “catches on.” The holding became sticky as the Stingers lost their first 11 games and home attendance sank below 2,000 in the Onondaga Country War Memorial arena.
Crowds have averaged 10,‐000 in Philadelphia; 9,000 in Montreal; 8,000 in Baltimore; 3,000 in Toronto, and 2,600 in Rochester, according to Martin Sear, the league secretary. “Let’s say everybody is satisfied so far,” he said.
The idea is to make some money by exploiting an old game:
The Indians were the initial exploiters. At Fort Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, the Indians were playing lacrosse outside the fort’s open gates on the birthday of King George 3d, 211 years ago.
The story goes that the Indians innocently passed the ball inside the gates past unsuspecting English soldiers; then captured the fort and ran a first‐class massacre.