Lacrosse is America’s oldest sport, much older than baseball. But the story of how three men founded the sport’s only professional outdoor league is rather new.
In 1997, Jake Steinfeld, a personal-fitness pioneer maybe best known as “Body by Jake”, was on a plane going from Detroit to Los Angeles with David Lauren, a son of the clothing designer Ralph Lauren. He was in Detroit trying to sell ads for his magazine, also called Body by Jake. Lauren was there working on his magazine Swing. Lauren gave Steinfeld an issue and he turned to a page with a guy holding a lacrosse stick.
“It interested me because I played this game back in high school and I hadn't seen it played since,” Steinfeld told Patch in an interview, explaining that the article was about David Morrow, the founder of the lacrosse equipment company Warrior Sports, and how lacrosse as a sport was gaining popularity.
“What intrigued me was that he was making lacrosse a lifestyle,” Steinfeld said, who played lacrosse in Baldwin, Long Island as a teenager, after moving from Sea Gate, Brooklyn.
Before founding Warrior Sports, Morrow played lacrosse at Princeton from 1990 to 1993, making the all-Ivy League first team three times. He is the only defenseman to earn the NCAA lacrosse player of the year, was a two-time NCAA defense of the year and was a three-time United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association All-America.
Steinfeld then did what he refers to as “dialing for dollars” and reached out to Morrow.
“I called him up and asked, ‘Is there such a thing as professional outdoor lacrosse?’”
Morrow said, “No.”
“I then said, ‘Well, there is now.'"
That was May 1998 and three years later, after teaming up with Tim Robertson who is the son of famous television evangelist Pat Robertson, they had the first Major League Lacrosse (MLL) game.
In order to tell the story of how MLL was created, Steinfeld and Morrow co-wrote “Take a Shot!: A Remarkable Story of Perseverance, Friendship, and a Really Crazy Adventure”, which was published on Wednesday, Aug. 15 by Hay House.
The book focuses mostly on the league’s first three years, from when it was just a handshake agreement between Morrow and Steinfeld in 1998 to the league’s first game in 2001.
“There is no reason on God’s green Earth that this league should be here today. We never should have made it out of season one,” Steinfeld explained, recalling the hardships in getting capital funds to starting a professional sports league from scratch. “Meeting Dave for the first time, meeting potential investors, meeting Hollywood producers who actually wanted to have incendiary bombs blow up during the games… these are all true stories.”
Steinfeld, who is the Chairman of the National Foundation for Governor’s Fitness Councils, said that he, Morrow and Robertson needed perseverance, patience and passion to create the MLL.
“Every meeting we took, people told us that MLL wasn’t going to exist. Every step of the way, every person told us, ‘no,’” Steinfeld said, explaining that when they ran out of money after the first season they had a capital funds call with an investor, but the deal fell through for it was scheduled on Sept. 11, 2001 at 9 a.m. “But we just believed that it was going to happen, no matter what.”
One of the first scenes of the book brings the readers to the 2011 MLL Championship Weekend, the last games of the season, in Annapolis, MD during Hurricane Irene.
Steinfeld explained that before they started to play the tournament that would determine the league’s best team, Hurricane Irene was roaring up the East Coast and the mayor of Annapolis shut the city down. Even President Barack Obama said that this was going to be one of the worst storms this country has ever seen, Steinfeld said.
“We were like, ‘We gotta play,’” Steinfeld remembered, explaining that if they didn’t go forward with the Championship Weekend, they might not get a chance to do it since most of the players have other jobs and families to get back to. “We had to make some decisions.”
Luckily, the field they were playing on, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, is privately owned and stayed open.
Steinfeld explained that Navy-Marine said, “If you guys are crazy enough to play, we’ll keep the doors open.”
And ESPN was down to roll the cameras, he said.
So they played, and the “Hurricane Games” became an instant classic on ESPN.
“We might not be the NFL yet,” Steinfeld said. “The NFL had the Ice Bowl and now the MLL has the Hurricane Games.”
The MLL is in its 12th season and is comprised of eight teams across the US and Canada, including the Boston Cannons, Charlotte Hounds, Chesapeake Bayhawks, Denver Outlaws, Hamilton Nationals, Long Island Lizards, Ohio Machine and the Rochester Rattlers. In the next ten years, they want to add 16 more teams.
This weekend, Aug. 25 to 26, the MLL will play their 2012 Weekend Championships in Boston, MA. The first game will be Denver versus Long Island and the second game will be Chesapeake versus Boston. The winner will receive the Steinfeld Trophy.
There are 56 regular season games from April to August in 2012, with 230 players. During the season, 14 games can be watched live on the CBS Sports Network, ESPN2 will air six live games and you also can catch 46 games on ESPN3.com live. For more information about when and where to watch, click here.
Steinfeld said that the one major motivation for creating the MLL was to help make kids’ dreams come true.
“The reason why I wanted to start this league was so kids who play lacrosse could have the dream of playing professionally, and now they can do it,” Steinfeld said, whose son was just recruited to play lacrosse at Bucknell. “I want every kid growing up who has a poster of Derek Jeter or Kobe Bryant to also have a poster of an MLL star.”
Steinfeld’s and Morrow’s book, “Take a Shot!: A Remarkable Story of Perseverance, Friendship, and a Really Crazy Adventure,” is available on Amazon.com. To check it out, click here.