Repost: Challenges of Type 1 diabetes can’t keep Calgary’s Scott Ranger from thriving

Back in October of 2012, I wrote an article about Calgary’s Scott Ranger and how he deals with Type 1 diabetes while still managing to play lacrosse at the highest level. The article was featured on IL Indoor, and thanks to Bob Chavez for posting it.

The subject of diabetes was important to me when I wrote the article, since both my wife and father-in-law were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a few years before. But less than four months after this article was initially published, I was also diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic. Despite my initial assumption that Ranger gave it to me via email, I’ve done some research and it turns out that that can’t happen. In my case, it was actually caused by pancreatitis, which I had back in 2010.

Since Scott has announced his retirement from the NLL, I wanted to post a link to the original article, but with the recent web site changes at IL Indoor, the original article is badly formatted and clipped, and the photos are missing. I am reposting it here along with the pictures that Scott sent me for the original article. Scott, thanks again for talking to me about this, and congratulations on a fantastic career! I wish you the best of luck in your retirement.


Challenges of Type 1 diabetes can’t keep Calgary’s Scott Ranger from thriving

Originally posted on ILIndoor.com on October 31, 2012.

Over his nine-year professional career, Scott Ranger has risen to the upper echelon of pro lacrosse. He’s among the top scorers on the Calgary Roughnecks, where he won the Champion’s Cup in 2009 and was named to the Western All-Star team in 2011. In the WLA, he was named league MVP in 2011 and this past summer he led the league in scoring (12 points ahead of second place and 22 ahead of third) for the second straight year while playing for his hometown Nanaimo Timbermen.

But Ranger is in another much more exclusive class, which none of his Roughnecks or Timbermen teammates can boast – that of professional athlete struggling with diabetes. There have been a few athletes over the years that have been able to perform at the highest level of their sport despite having diabetes, including Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow, former Philadelphia Wings captain and current vice president Bobby Clarke, and golfer Scott Verplank. As far as he is aware, Ranger is the only NLL player in that list, though it’s one he’d likely prefer not to be in.

Scott, his wife Jill, and daughter McKenzieDiabetes is a strange disease. Some people are diagnosed early in life and have to learn to give themselves injections every day. Others are diagnosed later in life and control the disease through exercise, diet, and medication. Besides being dangerous by itself, diabetes can cause many other medical complications including glaucoma, cataracts, and other eye problems; hearing loss; nerve damage; high blood pressure; strokes; heart and kidney disease; and heart attacks.

There are two main types of diabetes, called Type 1 and Type 2. It has been said that these two types “are so different it’s a shame they are both called Diabetes”. Type 1 diabetes means, quite simply, that your pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to keep you alive. Type 1 diabetics must inject insulin daily and “how will this affect my blood sugars?” is a question that they must ask themselves many times every day. Type 2 usually means that your body has built up a resistance to the insulin you produce. It’s possible for Type 2 diabetics to manage the disease solely through exercise and diet, but usually require medication and sometimes insulin shots. A lucky few Type 2’s can take a few pills in the morning and a few in the evening and don’t need to think about it otherwise. Approximately 10% of diabetics are Type 1.

Ranger was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 4, around the same time he discovered lacrosse. He has almost passed out on the lacrosse floor, he’s had blood sugar levels that were over four times the recommended level, and he checks his blood sugar levels at halftime – so he bleeds at every game whether he fights or not.

In the twenty-five years since his diagnosis, he’s lost count of the number of insulin injections he’s given himself. Actually, he hasn’t exactly lost count; in fact three years ago, he had a very accurate count. “I was actually doing a paper for school and I had to calculate how many insulin injections I had done in my lifetime,” says Ranger. “When I found the number I thought to myself, what the heck am I doing?” He then ditched the injections in favour of an insulin pump, which gives him insulin continuously.

Scott RangerRanger tries to keep his blood sugar level between 4 and 8 (all numbers are in mmol/L, the standard unit of measurement in Canada). Anything under 4 can cause him to pass out, and once he starts getting up over 10, he needs to inject insulin. He does check his levels during games, sometimes a few times, but it isn’t always entirely successful. “Last season we were in Washington playing the Stealth and I had felt pretty good until the end of the game,” he remembers. “When the game was over and we were running down to congratulate Pouly [Roughnecks goaltender Mike Poulin], I nearly passed out due to low blood sugars.”

Post-games can be a challenge since Ranger doesn’t have much of an appetite, but simply not eating isn’t an option. “I can rarely eat after games and of course after playing a full game a diabetic needs to eat,” Ranger explains. “I usually have to have Gatorades or regular pop around to boost me back up after games because once the adrenaline wears off, blood sugars usually drop quickly and if I am not prepared, can cause some serious issues.”

One factor that a diabetic athlete needs to take into account more than most diabetics is adrenaline. During a game, Ranger cannot wear his insulin pump, and so his blood sugar level tends to increase. Adrenaline flowing throughout the body can further increase his level, but that effect is only temporary and once it stops flowing, the level can drop quickly. When he measures his blood sugar after a game, the level can be between 10 and 12, and so he needs to give himself insulin to bring it back down. If he doesn’t take the adrenaline into account he may take too much insulin, which could drop his blood sugar to a dangerously low level (below 3).

On the other hand, depending too much on the insulin pump can be dangerous as well. “Last year we were travelling to a game and my insulin pump stopped working in the middle of the night,” he said. “I woke up with a blood sugar of 31.0. When blood sugars get that high it can be very dangerous. I was fortunate enough to have back up insulin and I was able to get it under control within a few hours.”

Scott RangerNot all athletes have a great deal of respect for, or understanding of, nutrition. Babe Ruth was not known for his healthy diet, and more recently men like John Daly and David Wells (a type 2 diabetic) were able to perform at the highest level of their sport while not having the standard athlete’s physique. For most modern athletes, however, diet and nutrition are an important part of their training. For Ranger, it’s not just important, it’s crucial. He is very thankful for his wife Jill, not only for her support but for her help in watching his diet. “My wife is amazing at keeping me on track. Without her I would not still be playing at this level.”

He also credits his Roughnecks roommate, Nolan Heavenor. “I have a great roommate when we travel and he keeps a close eye on me. We often eat together at the restaurants and we know each other’s routine very well so that is very helpful.”

Diet is critical for Ranger not only to get the nutrients he needs to deal with both his diabetes and the demands of being a pro lacrosse player, but also because he can’t use the same nutritional supplements that many other players use. “Supplements are very hard for me to take because a lot of them contain sugar. The ones I do use are gross tasting and in my opinion not worth it. Because I have a fairly strict diet, my nutritional needs are met.”

Professional lacrosse players, particularly those who play in both the NLL and the Canadian summer leagues, have to train year-round. In addition to working on their strength, speed, stamina, and lacrosse skills, they have to watch their diet. Particularly in this era of controversy over performance-enhancing drugs, all pro athletes must pay close attention to everything they put into their bodies. For Scott Ranger, this would be an everyday occurrence even if he wasn’t a pro athlete. There is no cure for diabetes, and those who suffer from it are said to be “managing” the disease. In Ranger’s case, it would seem that he’s managing pretty well.

Shawn Williams and the Toronto Rock

OK, I have to say that I didn’t see this coming. But I don’t really know why not, because there’s nothing about this deal that doesn’t make total sense.

Williams from his early days with the RockShawn Williams is once again a member of the Toronto Rock, having signed a one-year contract to return to the team where his career began back in 1998. It’s no secret that he was brought in to fill the void left by Colin Doyle’s injury, but it’s rare that a player is replaced by someone so similar:

  • Both players began their careers with the Ontario Raiders in 1998, and won a Championship with the Rock in 1999.
  • Both are lefties who are accomplished goal scorers but are also unselfish players known for their playmaking abilities
  • Both are very well-respected throughout the league and the lacrosse world in general
  • Both have played the majority of their careers in the east with a stint out west. Doyle played three years for the San Jose Stealth from 2007-2009 while Williams went to the finals with the Edmonton Rush in 2012.
  • Both hail from southern Ontario (OK, that doesn’t mean much; so does half the league)
  • Williams is a teacher, Doyle used to be
  • Doyle is an NLL captain (Toronto), Williams used to be (Rochester)
  • Both played for the Toronto Nationals in their first season
  • Both have won multiple Mann Cups – Doyle has 5 and Williams 2
  • Both have been MVPs – Williams was Mann Cup MVP in 2009, Doyle was NLL MVP in 2005 and has been NLL Champions Cup MVP 3 times
  • Both are known for their iron-man streaks – Doyle had a 200+ game streak from 2000-2012, Williams’s streak also began in 2000 and is still going strong at 230 games.
  • Both will be first-ballot NLL Hall of Famers (Technically, that’s speculation. But find me someone who disagrees.)

Shawn the Sunshine BoyDoyle has averaged about 5.24 points per game over his career, about 3/4 of a point more than Williams (4.48). This average would give them 94 and 80 points respectively in an 18-game season but even if Doyle were healthy, I think it’d be a stretch to expect those numbers from the 40-year-old Williams and the 37-year-old Doyle in 2015. Doyle had 72 points last season while Williams had only 49, his lowest total since 2000. But it’s not unlikely that the health issues with his son Tucker played a role in that; it’s got to be hard to concentrate on lacrosse – or anything else – while your child is going through cancer diagnosis and treatment. While Williams played in all 18 Bandits games, I’m sure a practice or two was skipped.

Unfortunately, Tucker has been in and out of the hospital over the summer, so his health is still a concern. But with home games in Toronto instead of Buffalo and practices in Oakville rather than Grimsby, the travel from Shawn’s home in Oshawa will be easier on him and his family. If Tucker is at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto, it may be possible for him to travel a few kilometres south to see dad play at the ACC, but heading an hour and a half to Buffalo – including a border crossing – would likely be too much.

So in a nutshell, the Rock pick up a lefty scorer who’s a well-respected leader, much like the man he’s replacing. He’s nearing the end of his career so you’re not going to get 100 points out of him, but you wouldn’t get 100 out of Doyle either. What you will get is solid scoring and playmaking (I’m going to fearlessly predict 65+ points for Williams this year), leadership on and off the floor, and one of the classiest guys ever to grace an NLL arena. One can’t simply replace Colin Doyle, but if you’re going to try, you can’t get much closer than Shawn Williams.

For his part, Williams gets to play closer to home and will likely see more playing time than he would have in Buffalo. This is a win all around.

Thanks to my buddy Mike Scanlon for the photos.

Can the Rock compete without Colin Doyle?

If you follow the NLL at all, you’ve probably heard by now that Colin Doyle will be missing the entire 2015 NLL season due to shoulder surgery. Specifically, he hurt his rotator cuff this past summer while playing for the Mann Cup-winning Six Nations Chiefs of MSL.

The last time the Rock played an entire season without Doyle, well, it wasn’t pretty. It was 2009 and Doyle was playing his third season in San Jose. The Rock went 6-10 and missed the playoffs. They won no annual awards. They had nobody on either All-Pro team or the All-Rookie team. They had two players in the All-Star Game, Jason Crosbie and Cam Woods, and Woods didn’t even play. They only had 3 people break 60 points and nobody broke 70. Doyle, on the other hand, led the league in points with 111, made the first All-Pro team, and started the All-Star Game.

Colin Doyle

But that was a much different Rock team. There’s a new owner, a new (old) GM, a new coaching staff, and only four players – Rob Marshall, Jeff Gilbert, Cam Woods, and Kasey Beirnes – from that 2009 team are still around. The offensive leaders were Luke Wiles, Lewis Ratcliff (who dropped from 85+ points in 4 straight years to 68), Blaine Manning, Jason Crosbie, Kasey Beirnes, and Craig Conn. Only two of them averaged more than 4 points per game. Compare that to the offensive guys who will need to take over for Doyle this season: Garrett Billings (though he’ll likely miss at least the first month), Stephen Leblanc, Josh Sanderson, Biernes, Rob Hellyer, and Kevin Ross. Last year, only Biernes was under 4 points per game, and Billings was almost 7.

So no, we can’t use 2009 as a guide to what’s coming for the Rock this season. It’s not time to panic. The Rock have some pretty talented players up front, and they aren’t going 3-15 this year because they’ve lost Colin Doyle. But while losing one of your offensive leaders is bad, losing Doyle’s leadership and presence in the locker room might be worse.

With Doyle gone for the year and Billings out for a while too, what happens now? Is Terry Sanderson making phone calls looking for big-name help?

Calgary has tons of firepower, would they be willing to give up a Jeff Shattler? Edmonton managed to get along just fine last year without Corey Small, would they be willing to trade him to the East? Could T send a couple of draft picks to the Knighthawks for Cody Jamieson? OK, probably not that last one.

Of course, you have to give up something significant if you want to bring in a big name. Obviously, we’re not giving up any forwards. I, for one, am much happier with the Rose/Miller combination in goal than I would be with either one as the lone starter, so they both stay. Defense was the Rock’s weak point last year, but they’ve added Brock Sorensen and Jeff Gilbert. This doesn’t turn them into the Edmonton Rush, but along with guys like Bill Greer, Sandy Chapman, and Patrick Merrill, it ain’t half bad. That said, it’s not good enough to trade anyone away.

The transition is pretty good – in fact, I might say that guys like guys like Brodie Merrill, Jesse Gamble, Damon Edwards, and Rob Marshall give you one of the best transition teams in the NLL. Would Gamble and a high pick or two get you a strong lefty shooter? Maybe – the Stealth got (lefty) Johnny Powless and Joel McCready for 3 first round picks and a high second. But lefty shooters seem to be in rather high demand throughout the league. And I have no idea what kind of first round draft picks the Rock have in upcoming years. And I really don’t want to give up Jesse Gamble.

In 2012, Doyle missed two games, scored a single point in each of the next two, and then missed another one. In 2013, he only missed one game. In those six games, the Rock were 4-2 (including 2 wins against the Knighthawks) so they can play and win without Doyle. But can they pull that off over an entire season? I say yes, provisionally. As long as a few things fall in the Rock’s favour, they can compete.

First, Billings has to return at close to his normal level less than 6 weeks into the season. If he misses half the season or more, that would be too much for the Rock to recover from. Secondly, we can’t afford to have anyone drop in production. Guys like Leblanc, Sanderson, and Hellyer need to keep their numbers up where they were last year. Third, Kevin Ross needs to make the most of what will likely be lots more playing time. His best season was 59 points in 16 games for the Swarm in 2012; the Rock need that kind of production out of him. And fourth, there are a bunch of rookie forwards currently listed on the Rock roster – one of them needs to make the team and produce. A Rhys Duch / Mark Matthews kind of rookie season is a bit much to ask for, but a solid 30-35 points would be great.

If all four of those things happen, the Rock are in good shape. If they get two or three of them, they’ll be fine. But if none of those things happen, barring a huge trade, we may see the same level of playoff success as that 2009 Rock team.

NLL players and their alternate careers

We all know that NLL players frequently have other jobs outside of being a lacrosse player. A number of them are teachers or firefighters. Former Toronto Rock players Dan Ladouceur and Bob Watson are police officers. There are white-collar and blue-collar workers. There are university and college students. And there are entrepreneurs who run their own businesses.

But some of the players external jobs are a little more unusual. For example, everyone knows that legendary Bandits forward and captain John Tavares is also the captain of the the New York Islanders in the NHL. Here are a few others you may not have known about.

Buffalo’s Shawn Williams is also a safety on the Cincinnati Bengals.

Rock captain Colin Doyle is not only a part-time lacrosse goaltender but also a full-time soccer goaltender in Ireland.

2012’s Rookie of the Year Adam Jones is a very busy guy. Not only does he play with Shawn Williams on the Bengals as both a cornerback and a video game character, but he also plays center field with the Baltimore Orioles in the summer, and in whatever spare time he has left, he’s the guitar player for the band Tool.

Jones is not the only part-time musician in the NLL; Buffalo’s Anthony Cosmo is the former rhythm guitar player of the band Boston, Bob Snider is a folk musician, and both Shawn Evans and John Grant are singer-songwriters. Both Snider and Grant look older with beards.

Calgary’s Andrew McBride does a little bodybuilding on the side. See his picture on the right. Hair makes a big difference in his case as well – he looks quite different with the short hair and without the ‘stache.

Edmonton forward Mark Matthews is a glass artist while teammate Jeremy Thompson is a former football player, having played for the Green Bay Packers back in 2008.

Toronto goalies Nick Rose and Brandon Miller are also both former football players. In 2013, Rose was a kicker for the University of Texas Longhorns, while Miller is a defensive end who’s played for the Falcons and Seahawks.

Paul Dawson has a Ph.D. in food science and when not protecting the Knighthawks from opposing forwards, he’s either teaching food and nutrition at Clemson University or producing hip hop artists under the name “Hollywood Hot Sauce“.

The most famous aside from Adam Jones is likely Vancouver forward Cliff Smith, who made a name for himself as rapper and producer Method Man before chucking it all for the relative obscurity of pro lacrosse.

And the oddest of them all: When Rochester’s Jordan Hall isn’t playing lacrosse, he transforms into a building, spending his time hosting concerts in Boston.

Controversy at the Mann Cup

Some controversy has erupted after game 5 of the Mann Cup. If you haven’t heard about it, Victoria Shamrocks goaltender Matt Flindell started games 1 through 4 but after getting hit partway through game 4 and missing the rest of the game, he did not play in game 5. There have been suggestions (I’ve seen them on Twitter, Facebook, and the IL Indoor message board) that Flindell is not as injured as he says he is and that he has therefore bailed on his team. The alleged reasons for this are varied – one person said he “couldn’t stand the heat” while another said that he “didn’t want to play bad and ruin his NLL stock”. I don’t know Matt Flindell and I haven’t talked to anyone on the Shamrocks so these rumours are all I have to go by. But I find either of these ideas a little hard to swallow for a few reasons.

First of all, he got hit pretty hard in game 4. I was sitting right behind the net and saw him go down. He was down on the floor for a couple of minutes, at the same time his teammate Tyler Burton was also down. Burton was helped off the floor while Flindell eventually walked off on his own, but neither player returned to the game. One newspaper report said he got hit in the head, though I thought it was in the chest. Another report simply said he was “bowled over”. Here’s a picture from twitter (credit: Jules) showing both Flindell and Burton on the floor.

Burton missed the rest of the game. Nobody complained. Jon Harnett missed games 3 and 4. Nobody complained. Dhane Smith missed game 2. Nobody complained. Then Flindell misses game 5 after possibly getting hit in the head and he’s a selfish quitter?

At the World (Field) Lacrosse Championships in Denver this past summer, John Grant was not allowed to take the medication he’s been taking since his life-threatening illness in 2009. He decided to sit the tournament out rather than risk his health by not taking the meds. Nobody called him a quitter or said he was bailing on his country. Everyone was all “health is more important” and they were right. Is that not true anymore? Have we learned nothing from head injuries in hockey and football as well as lacrosse over the last decade? If an athlete may potentially have a concussion, shouldn’t he be encouraged to sit out rather than ridiculed for it?

Couldn’t he have pulled himself from the lineup because he feels his injury means that he can’t play at his best? Perhaps he decided that the team has a better chance of winning with Cody Hadegorn at 100% than Flindell at 80%. Sounds like a team player to me.

Secondly, Flindell is an athlete playing at the highest level of his sport. He’s 27 years old and has likely been playing lacrosse for 20+ years, including 6 in the WLA. You don’t get to be the starting goalie on a Mann Cup team without playing through injuries once or twice. He’s also a goaltender and we all know that they play under pressure all the time.

In a baseball game, when it’s tied in the bottom of the ninth and the game is on the line, there are some players who want the ball to be hit to them – they want the pressure because they thrive under pressure. They have the confidence that they will make the play. Others think “Don’t hit it to me! I don’t want to screw it up!” People who have the personality that would put them in this second group do not generally become goaltenders and they certainly don’t make it to the highest level of their sport. So how likely is it that Flindell plays 6 seasons in the WLA and finally gets to the Mann Cup, plays 3½ games (winning two of them), and then folds under the pressure?

And thirdly, not playing won’t help him gain favour with the NLL GM’s. Not playing because he’s injured won’t help either, and it might hurt him a little. And if he’s not injured but says he is, he’s got to know that it’ll get out and then he’s got no chance of ever seeing action in the NLL again. But you know what would help his chances? Playing as much as he possibly can in the Mann Cup, even if his team loses. So why would he voluntarily give that up?

Conclusion: The only reason for Flindell to be faking an injury would be to get out of playing in the tournament he’s been dreaming of playing in for his entire lacrosse career. It’s unlikely that a 27-year-old goalie with 6 years of experience in the WLA would fold under pressure of playing in the Mann Cup, particularly halfway through the tournament when he’s been playing well. Nobody knows the real extent of his injury except him and his doctors. Nobody knows what kind of pain he’s feeling except him. Given the number of careers that have been cut short by concussions, tempting fate by continuing to play when you may have one is dangerous.


Now, I could be way off here. I’m freely admitting the possibility that I’m dead wrong. It’s true that some of the people who have been talking about this situation know the Shamrocks players, while I do not. In particular, Teddy Jenner (a former Shamrock himself) knows everyone in lacrosse, and he’s not likely to throw a player under the bus if it’s not deserved. It’s also true that I have not seen any tweets or other public comments from Shamrocks players defending Flindell. Maybe it’s the critical thinker in me who doesn’t believe stuff just because someone said it – I want proof, or at least evidence, none of which seems to be available.

But if the only source for actual evidence would be the Shamrocks, it’s likely that even if they’re angry, nobody will be calling Flindell out publicly. So perhaps evidence is simply not forthcoming. But until I see it, I’m giving Flindell the benefit of the doubt, and I wish him a speedy recovery.

The Wings fly away, Part 2

In Part 1, I looked at how great the Philadelphia Wings were from 1987 until their 2001 Championship. And make no mistake, they were great. Then I asked how a team as successful as the Wings could possibly fold or move.

To answer that, we need to realize that all of the great numbers I mentioned in that article were only for the first half (well, about 57% to be accurate) of the Wings tenure in Philadelphia. To say the rest of their tenure (2002-2014) was less successful would be quite the understatement.

Instead of being 42 games over .500, they were 30 games under at 82-112. They allowed 161 more goals than they scored. In 12 seasons, they made the playoffs three times (losing all three games) and finished over .500 only once. Their last playoff win will forever remain that 2001 Championship, thirteen seasons ago.

Things got so bad for the Wings that even the loyal fans started to abandon them. In the years following their sixth Championship, attendance dropped, rebounded again, and then dropped again. In 2005, it dropped over 14%, falling below 12,000 for the first time since their 1987 debut. 2008 saw a little rebound once again but after that it dropped between 5 and 10% every year. In the last fourteen years of the team’s existence (starting the year before their last Championship), the Wings reported year-over-year attendance increases only three times.

In 2014, their final year in the league, the Wings averaged a paltry 6,864 fans per game. Only the Vancouver Stealth drew fewer. If your attendance is being compared to that of the Stealth (whether Vancouver, Washington, or San Jose), you’re in trouble.

WingsAttendance

It’s not that ownership didn’t try. The Wings had more rebuilds than Joan Rivers’ face. After Marechek, Bergey, and Ratcliffe it was supposed to be Sean Greenhalgh, Athan Iannucci, and Merrick Thomson. But Greenhalgh was sent to Buffalo, concussions ended Thomson’s career early, and Nooch missed almost two entire seasons with injuries. Kyle Wailes scored 50+ points in 2009 and 2010 and never played again. The Dan Dawson experiment got them to the playoffs but no further than the first round before he was off to Rochester. Brodie Merrill has played well since coming to the Wings in 2012 but the price for landing him was steep – Iannucci, Alex Turner, Brodie McDonald, and three first round draft picks, one of which won’t happen until this coming fall.

They tried having a morning game on a Friday. I’m not sure if this was a conscious decision and they were trying to draw school trips (as it was advertised) or if it was required because of arena availability. It ended up as a dismal failure, drawing the lowest crowd (5139) in Wings history. They tried putting the players’ Twitter handles on their uniforms to draw attention. It did, but not from anyone outside of the lacrosse world, or at least not for more than a few seconds.

They tried rebranding themselves as “America’s team”, drafting and signing lots of American-born players. Most of these guys were field players who had played very little or no indoor lacrosse, and this strategy had varying degrees of success. Some guys like Drew Westervelt took to the game and became strong indoor players, while others like Ned Crotty never saw the same level of success indoors that they had seen outdoors. In 2014, this plan was further scuttled by a number of players including Crotty, Paul Rabil, and Brendan Mundorf bailing on the team sitting out the season to prepare for the World Field Championships.

Can we find someone to blame for the failure of the Wings? Ownership? Players? Fans? Is there really so much competition for your entertainment dollar in Philadelphia that the Wings can no longer compete? Well, when you only play 3 playoff games in twelve years (and lose them all), it’s hard to convince people to continue paying money to watch your team (unless you’re the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they’re a huge anomaly in the world of sports). You obviously can’t blame the fans who kept going to games, and considering the lack of on-floor success over the last twelve years, it’s also pretty tough to blame the ones who stopped.

If we must blame someone, I suppose it’ll have to be ownership, since they’re the top of the food chain and therefore ultimately responsible. But playing the blame game really doesn’t buy us anything. It doesn’t bring the Wings back, and it doesn’t make losing them any easier for fans of the league, least of all the Philly fans.

The Philadelphia Wings were the cornerstone of the NLL for half of its existence. They were so good for so long and were as close to being a solid fixture in a city’s sports scene as the NLL has ever seen. It’s unfortunate that we now have to add Philadelphia to the long list of cities in which the NLL ultimately failed.

The Wings fly away, Pt. 1

Wings

The 2015 NLL season will not include the Philadelphia Wings. For longtime fans of the league, this is unfathomable. It’s the NHL without the Leafs or Canadiens. It’s the American League without the Yankees. It’s the NFL without the Packers. After 28 seasons, the franchise is moving, though we don’t yet know where. It’s possible that they’ll find a new home fairly close to their old one but even if they do, it won’t be the same.

Starting in 1987, they were outstanding. In their first sixteen seasons, they missed the playoffs once, finished under .500 only three times, and appeared in nine Championship finals, winning six of them. They won 100 games while only losing 58, and they scored 316 more goals than they allowed. They had future Hall-of-Famers all over the place: Gary and Paul Gait, Tom Marechek, Tony Resch, Dallas Eliuk, and owners Mike French, Russ Cline, and Chris Fritz. In 2001 they won their sixth Championship, the same number (at the time) as the Rock, Bandits, and Knighthawks combined.

The Wings had arguably the most loyal fans in the league. In 1987, the league’s inaugural season, their average attendance was 10,972 when the other three teams in the league had averages under 8,000. Their average attendance increased each of the next four years, and stayed above 13,000 for sixteen straight seasons from 1989 to 2004.

So how is it possible that a team that successful could ever fold or move? We’ll get into that in part 2.