The Original National Lacrosse League (NLL) Retro Games

Here is a New Year’s treat for you!  Two games (unfortunately not complete games) involving the Philadelphia Wings and the Long Island Tomahawks!

A big thank you to “GetBenched” on YouTube for originally posting the videos, and following detailed descriptions of both games…

Long Island Tomahawks at Philadelphia Wings

This week I’ve got a cool 1975 regular season tilt between the Philadelphia Wings and the Long Island Tomahawks from the Spectrum!

There are only 2 periods in this video as they were all that remains of this game. If anyone has the 3rd period feel free to drop me a line!

As a bit of a warning, the video quality is not great and on some occasions unviewable but overall it is an extremely rare find.

The action is very back and forth and we even see a few good fights. The thing I really enjoy about this video is just how dynamic the Wings’ offence was with the late Wayne Platt QBing the fast break from the goal crease and frequently joining the rush. When you have offensive weapons like John Grant Sr., the Lloyd brothers and Jim Wasson, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be treated to the lacrosse equivalent of Showtime.

To get an understanding of the success of the 70s Wings you have to understand what was going on in Philadelphia in that era. The Flyers touched off a sporting explosion in the city with the Broad Street Bullies being a national sensation, (for better or for worse,) and winning the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975. The Wings rode that wave to success in their own right as the NLL’s top draw by a considerable margin. To their credit, the Wings did everything in their power to emulate the Flyers’ success. They wore similar uniforms, (even their name and logo was designed to remind sports fans of the Flyers.) and the same colors as the Flyers, hired Gene Hart to be the TV voice of the team and even the notorious “Sign Man” who’s crazy signs cheering the team and taunting the opposition, brought his talents and signs to the Wings. (Gene makes references to some of these very funny signs during this game.)

These Tomahawks are actually the former Rochester Griffins, the NLL’s first Nations’ Cup Champions from the year before. Which is super confusing because the year before there was another team known as the Tomahawks based in Toronto. Those Tomahawks became the Boston Bolts for 1975.

The Wings, along with the Maryland Arrows, innovated sports with the use of “turf board” on the Spectrum floor. Turf board is a wood floor with Astroturf overtop. No other NLL team up to my knowledge used this surface and this was a few years before the North American Soccer League launched their first indoor season. Without the Wings proving this surface was viable it is doubtful that the Major Indoor Soccer League would have gotten off the ground as they played in the winter months and would have needed such a surface to exist in hockey/basketball arenas.

Things to watch for in this video:

How awesome are these referee uniforms? From the black and white “V” design on the shirts, (with fly collars no less,) to those bitchin’ bright red bell bottoms, those have to be the grooviest ref outfits of all time. Even the high flying ABA didn’t have referee uniforms this cool.

The equipment was anything but uniform at this point as the NLL never had a full equipment outfitter unlike virtually all other pro lax leagues since. The facemasks are all over the place and Platt, the Wings’ goaltender, wears a tiny baseball catcher’s mask that looks like it came from a local community centre.

The Wings’ broadcast team and even the Spectrum management, (who put their name on the scoreboard,) couldn’t seem to agree on whether or not the Tomahawks were the NEW YORK Tomahawks or the LONG ISLAND Tomahawks as they go back and forth on that.

The NLL average salary was $10,000 per season for 40 games in the summer of 1974 and 48 games in the summer of 1975. An amazing salary for the time and the kind of money the TOP players in the MILL wouldn’t see until well into the 1990s.

Philadelphia Wings at Long Island Tomahawks

This is from the Nassau County Coliseum, August 29th, 1975. This is the last game of the regular season for the Wings and Tomahawks. Unfortunately only the first period and the intermission remain from this game. If anyone has the remainder of this game, definitely let me know in the comments.

This would turn out to be the final game the original Wings would ever play as the NLL would cease operations after the season. The Tomahawks would play one round of playoffs before being eliminated by eventual champions the Quebec Caribous. By January, 1976, the NLL would cease operations. Which brings me to the question of the hour: What the hell ever happened to the original NLL?

Like my relationship status on Facebook, it’s complicated.

The “official” reason given to the players and media was that it was a combination of the league’s inability to attract expansion teams, (and the revenue expansion would have generated,) and the Montreal Quebecois’ being forced to suspend operations for 1976 due to the Forum being booked for the balance of the summer for prep, training and then all indoor events at the Olympics which were held in Montreal that year. This would have left them with less than 5 teams with the likelihood of Boston AND Long Island shutting down.

25 years later on Be-Lax.com’s message board, (this was the then official site for the 1997-present day NLL,) former Wings like Jim Wasson had theories of their own and discussed them in the forum. The main theory for the league’s inability to attract expansion teams and the dissolution of existing teams aside from Montreal, was the changing of the tax laws that had dominated the Nixon era. For much of that era investing in start up sports teams amateur or professional could be written off as a tax shelter. This was a big reason why the ABA, WHA, WFL, NLL and World Team Tennis popped up almost all at the same time. Once the tax laws changed it’s no co-incidence that all of said leagues either shrank into oblivion, contracted with the more serious teams remaining until a merger with an established league could occur or simply disappeared.

There are plenty of articles about the successes and failures in the NLL at Fun While It Lasted. http://www.funwhileitlasted.net/other… The main

issue the league had was few Northeastern arenas in the US or Canada had air conditioning and a summer league with that many games, (40 in 74 and 48 in 75,) was just not attractive to sports fans in places like Toronto and Boston, both of whom only lasted a single season each.

It would be 11 years before someone would attempt to make pro box lacrosse work in the US again. It would be a radical contrast and the results would be far better.

Things to watch for:

The Tomahawks played on a wooden floor over the ice painted WHITE. This made for very slick playing conditions and also made it extremely difficult for fans to see the ball while it was in play. It could not have been fun for fans seeing the game live,

I kept the commercials from the original broadcast in the video. Why? BECAUSE THEY’RE AWESOME!!! Datsun Saves. To think I always thought it was Jesus! 🙂

Gene Hart does an interview with Wings’ president and future owner of the Philadelphia 76ers Ed Tepper about the season that was and a look forward to a 1976 season that would never take place.

Sit back, relax, and see how the game has evolved to where it is today.  I’m sure you will be able to find pros and cons comparing them to today’s game.

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