Lacrosse's Mount Rushmore: Who Ya Got?
The question of Peyton Manning's legacy, comments by LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and the recent Presidents Day weekend — fueled by the need to populate 24-hour sports news cycles — has led to a lot of talk about Mount Rushmore. As in, "Do you put Peyton on the NFL's Mount Rushmore?" and "What four players would constitute the NBA's Mount Rushmore?"
Who would you put on the Mount Rushmore of lacrosse?
Here's mine: Jen Adams, Kelly Amonte Hiller, Gary Gait and Paul Rabil.
Admittedly, my frame of reference stretches only back to the late 1980s. I'm sure Lacrosse Magazine columnist Bill Tanton might espouse men like Jim Brown and Jimmy Lewis, widely considered among the best players ever despite a comparatively fleeting involvement with the sport at Syracuse and Navy, respectively. Women's lacrosse historians might look to a pre-Title IX era standout like Elizabeth Richey (22 straight years on both the U.S. field hockey and women's lacrosse teams) or someone like Karen Emas, who held the NCAA scoring record for nearly 20 years before Adams came along.
But from this editor's chair, you can't find four more transcendent figures than Adams, Amonte Hiller, Gait and Rabil.
Adams embodied the Aussie invasion of the 1990s. Her entertaining style and ridiculous stick-handling ability gave her mass appeal. It didn't matter if you were a men's lacrosse fan who never paid attention to the women's game. You knew the name Jen Adams. After graduating from Maryland as the NCAA's all-time leading scorer in 2001, she went on to lead Australia to an historic victory over the host U.S. in the 2005 Women's World Cup and now is the coach at Loyola.
Amonte Hiller likewise was a wizard in women's lacrosse, with unbridled athleticism that even her brother, former NHL standout Tony Amonte, admitted surpassed his. That same tenacity has followed her to the sidelines as coach of seven-time NCAA champion Northwestern. She was a trendsetter as a player at Maryland and with Team USA (her formula for success on draw controls is a trade secret) and is a trendsetter as a coach in Evanston.
Gait made lacrosse mainstream. When he and twin brother Paul Gait exploded onto the scene at Syracuse and in what was then the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (now National Lacrosse League), their highlight-reel abilities made lacrosse fit for TV. The Air Gait remains the most iconic goal in NCAA lacrosse history. And while Canadians always had a place in the college game (Hall of Famer Mike French lit it up for Cornell in the 1970s), the Gait brothers (and Tom Marechek) really forced coaches to look north of the border for talent. (And we all know how that trend has evolved in the new millennium.)
Rabil is debatable. He recently became lacrosse's first "million-dollar man," as dubbed by Bloomberg News. He's certainly the face of the game right now with the Boston Cannons and Team USA. Unlike Adams, Amonte Hiller and Gait -- whose creative influence has spread to the women's game as the coach at Syracuse -- Rabil has not shown any desire to coach. He's more interested in the business aspect of lacrosse, which speaks to the sport's evolution, as does his desire to one day own or manage a pro lacrosse franchise.
"I want to continue to grow lacrosse as one of the sport's ambassadors where we're trying to take it into the mainstream spotlight," Rabil told me last spring. "I want to do my part in my generation and set it up like Gary Gait, Tom Marechek, Dave Pietramala and Quint Kessenich did for guys like me."
Sounds like more fodder for the Mount Rushmore debate.