Celebrating the newest take on America’s oldest sport: the inaugural game of the Premier Lacrosse League
By: Mark Jacob Bartlett
June 2, 2019 — It’s not everyday one has the privilege to be part of professional sports history, but yesterday’s opening faceoff of the first-ever game of the fledgling Premier Lacrosse League allowed thousands of fans in attendance that opportunity.
The brainchild of brothers Paul and Mike Rabil, a lacrosse legend and successful investment banker, respectively, this ancient Native American game has been transformed into the new family business by the dynamic duo.
First witnessed in North America in the early 1600s by the French Jesuit missionaries who gave the tribal custom of Baggataway its current name, lacrosse is played on a field roughly consistent in dimension to a football gridiron, with 10 players on each side. Simply speaking, the point of the game is to use a stick to throw the 5 ounce rubber ball past the opposing goalie into a 36 square-foot net, which these players can do very effectively (at speeds of over 100 miles per hour in fact). Combining finesse and brute strength, individual athleticism and consistent reliance on the team concept, lacrosse has a great deal to offer the casual fan and committed enthusiast alike.
During this two-day celebration, we had the occasion to meet plenty of casual observers and diehard supporters. Among the fans on the sidelines we even spotted New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a longtime lacrosse devotee who joked in an on-air video that quarterback Tom Brady would be a goalie in lacrosse because the other positions require players to run well.
Although widely considered a niche sport confined to elite colleges and secondary schools on the east coast, lacrosse is in fact spreading in popularity and is considered by many to be “America’s fastest growing sport.” A professional league hosting its first game at the “home of champions,” Gillette Stadium, lends credibility to lacrosse’s growth and offers a glimpse into what could be a big future for the, in my view, widely underrated sport.
The Premier Lacrosse League (or PLL) model is unique in several respects. The organization consists of six teams without any affiliation to a particular city or geographic area. Based upon a “touring” concept, the PLL descends upon a major city and sports venue each weekend from June through September, with all six teams playing each weekend. While the PLL attracts top-notch talent from the college ranks like the other professional leagues, there are considerable benefits for a player to strap on gloves and a helmet and play under the “Team Rabil” flag. In addition to providing salaries and benefits to participants, each employee is provided an equity share in league ownership.
The benefits were clear to the many players from Major League Lacrosse, the sport’s other big league, who jumped ship to join the PLL. The two leagues will likely battle it out for supremacy, as it’s unlikely both leagues will manage to draw enough fans and top players to survive for very long. It is clear that the Rabil family intend to pave the way for full-time professional athletes who not only play for their team but also own it, setting the PLL apart from typical franchises.
And how did these facts translate onto the field? One fan used the word “electrifying.”
With a player pool of quite simply the most talented lacrosse players on the planet, a world-class venue in Gillette Stadium and key rule enhancements like a 52- second shot clock, the action was quite literally nonstop. Big hits? Too many to count. Amazing goalie saves? From start to finish. Drama? How about the first two games in league history going to sudden-victory overtime? All the elements that make the sport of lacrosse present itself at its highest level were in play and are hopefully here to stay.
Team Chrome Head Coach and U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Famer Dom Starsia, who was enjoying the Sunday afternoon contest following his team’s first-ever game the previous day, volunteered his perspective.
“This is a great concept, from the game play to the in-game coverage. Fans are going to experience the game like never before,” the Chrome team coach said.
A former All-American defenseman at nearby Brown University and four-time national champion as the University of Virginia coach, Starsia is very familiar with the intensity the game brings at its highest level.
“Some of the fans will be surprised, even shocked by how intense these guys can be. They will see some things and hear some things that show just how intense these competitors can be and how much the game means to them,” he said.
Whether you’re a lifelong devotee to America’s oldest and fastest growing sport or a casual fan looking to be treated to the very best the game has to offer, be sure to tune into the PLL television package (which you can purchase here — with a steal of a price at $38 for 39 games) or stop by a game when the league visits a city near you this summer (check out the schedule here). You’re not going to want to miss the start of this new, thrilling league.